New ALAN Picks Launches

New ALAN Picks Launches

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

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

A Teen Seeks Truth, Trust and Freedom in 1989 Romania

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

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

Find on Bookshop

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


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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Identity and Self-Discovery in the McCarthy Era

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

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

Find on Bookshop

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


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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

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

Essential Questions:

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

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

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

Formative and Summative Assessments:

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

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

TAR Call for Student Cover Art!

TAR Call for Student Cover Art!

The ALAN Review (TAR) is looking for cover art from students for our next 2 issues:

  • YA in Action (activism in YA) due by 1/30
  • Unthemed issue due by 5/01

As many of us are back with students in the classroom, we wanted to remind you of this opportunity for students to get a piece of their poetry published as cover art for TAR.

The guidelines are as follows:

  1. Art must be in the form of a found poem (See previous cover examples below)
  2. Must be in portrait orientation
  3. Text must be from a YA novel
  4. Poem should correspond to the theme of the issue (something about being online/virtual, activism, and then unthemed can be anything!)
  5. We prefer color, but black and white is fine as well.

If your student wants to submit a piece or has questions about the process, email us at

Your student would receive a copy of the journal upon publication and a byline if they want to reveal their name! Feel free to circulate this with all the ELA teachers and librarians in your lives.

Cover Art Examples from Past TAR Issues

2021 ALAN Election Results

2021 ALAN Election Results

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s ALAN election! We’re thrilled to announce the newest additions to the leadership team:


Jewel Davis is an Education Librarian in a PreK-12 Curriculum Materials Center at Appalachian State University. Jewel is an active member of ALAN currently serving as an ALAN Board member, chair of the ALAN Award and Cart/Campbell Grant, 2021 workshop program consultant, and peer reviewer for The ALAN Review. She has also served on the Nilsen-Donelson Committee. Jewel is committed to furthering ALAN’s work promoting the value of young adult literature and empowering teachers’ use of it in the classroom. Jewel is also a former high school English teacher and is devoted to advocating for youth. She works with pre-service teachers on evaluating representation in youth literature and building inclusive classroom libraries. Jewel is active in local and national youth organizations and has served as chair of the North Carolina Library Association’s Round Table for Ethnic Minority Concerns, a judge for the We Need Diverse Books author mentorship, a member of the 2020 and 2021 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury, and is currently on the 2022 Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Translated YA Book Prize Committee.

Incoming Board of Directors Members (2021-2024)

Robert Bittner has worked as a sessional instructor for the last decade, teaching gender, sexuality, and children’s and young adult literature to aspiring teachers and librarians. He also completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship focusing on trans young adult readers and representation in YA fiction. Rob is also currently the President of the BC and Yukon Book Prizes board of directors and serves on numerous committees for the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). These committees include the Newbery, Children’s Literature Legacy, and Printz awards, and he is chairing the upcoming 2023 Caldecott Medal committee. He served for three years on the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, and has been a moderator, presenter, and workshop consultant with both ALAN and NCTE over the last six years.

Morgan Jackson, a high school English teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada, is committed to everything ALAN represents. She serves on the planning committee for ALAN 2021, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award committee, and chairs ALAN’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee. She has presented at ALAN and UNLV’s Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature. Morgan is passionate about reading.  She maintains a fully accessible classroom library and provides for each student to receive an e-library card giving them access to their public library’s electronic materials. She also writes about YA literature. Most of her writing centers around the importance of equitable representation of cultures and identities in YA texts and the processes by which texts are selected for use in classrooms. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction, focusing on literacy.

Jung Kim is an Associate Professor of Literacy at Lewis University. A former high school English teacher and literacy coach, she debated leaving her doctoral program to get her MLIS (and sometimes still wonders…). She has co-authored two books on teaching with graphic novels and just finished a third book on Asian American teachers. She has been an active member of NCTE for almost two decades, starting the NCTE Asian American Caucus, and serving on multiple committees over the years. Jung has attended and presented at ALAN for the last several years, serving on the ethics committee, and has recently joined the Walden Award committee. She believes fiercely in the power of literature to heal, excite, expand minds, and engage—and the importance of representation in children’s and YA literature. Book nerds unite!

2021 ALAN Award Winner

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN) is pleased to announce Ellen Oh as the 2021 recipient of the ALAN Award.

The ALAN Award is given to someone who has made “outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature.” For more information about the ALAN Award, click here

Join us at the ALAN 2021 Virtual Breakfast on November 20th from 9:30-10:45 AM EST to honor Ellen Oh! The event is free to all ALAN and NCTE attendees!