Tag Archives: reading guide

The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts. February 12, 2019. Delacorte Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9780525644767.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.5; Lexile: 1080.

In this inspiring young readers adaptation of Elizabeth Letts’ New York Timesbestseller, one American troop will save the world’s most precious horses during the final stretch of World War II.

When a small troop of American soldiers capture a German spy, they uncover an unexpected secret: Hitler has kidnapped the world’s finest purebred horses and hidden them in a secret Czechoslovakian breeding farm. But, starving Russian troops are drawing closer and the horses face the danger of being slaughtered for food. With little time to spare, Colonel Hank Reed and his soldiers cross enemy lines to heroically save some of the world’s most treasured animals.

In this thrilling young readers’ edition of her New York Times bestselling book, Elizabeth Letts details the terrifying truth of Hitler’s eugenics program during World War II and shares the story of the courageous American troop dedicated to stopping it.

Highlighting bravery in the face of incredible odds, this tale will shed light on a little-known piece of our past and speak to history fans and animal lovers of every age.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals

 

Author Talk

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Grades 4-8. In this young-readers’ edition of her New York Times best-seller, Letts captivates readers from beginning to end. Even before WWII, Hitler’s Nazi agenda to make everything German “the best” involved confiscating champion horses from countries in Eastern Europe. Thoroughbred Arabians and Lipizzaners were especially prized. Under the leadership of Gustav Rau, Hitler’s choice for leading a eugenics horse-breeding program, the horses were held in Hostau, Czechoslovakia. As the war’s end approached, the Germans in charge of the horses realized that in order to protect them they must surrender the horses to the Americans. The glitch in this arrangement was that the Americans couldn’t cross into Czechoslovakia, but, under the command of Colonel Hank Reed (with General George Patton’s tacit approval), they did. Letts traces the dangerous mission of rescuing the horses, transporting them to the U.S., and transferring the horses to the Department of Agriculture, after which they were sold to private owners. This account of the heroism and cooperation of unlikely people to protect these horses is spellbinding. The author’s impeccable attention to detail and exhaustive sources make this a must-read.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
Letts adapts her bestselling 2016 work of the same title for young readers. As World War II sweeps across Europe, the fates of several master horsemen become entwined. In Poland, Andrzej Kristalovich, head of the national stud farm, sees his life’s work disappear when Russian soldiers capture his horses. Nazi Germans, invading next, restore some of the animals in order to breed them for the Third Reich. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Olympic medalist Alois Podhajsky is desperately trying to care for the Lipizzan stallions at the famed Spanish Riding School even as the invading Germans capture the Lipizzan stud farms and move most of the horses to Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, at an American Army base in Kansas, Maj. Hank Reed is overseeing the cavalry’s transition from horses, no longer useful in warfare, to mechanized vehicles. These threads come together at the end of the war when Reed orchestrates a complex rescue of both sets of horses. This is not a particularly successful adaptation. It’s shorter than the original, but both the storyline and timeline are fragmented, making it difficult for the putative audience of 8- to 12-year-olds to follow, and extraneous details fail to advance the main narrative. Aside from a map and archival images (both not seen), there is no timeline or other visual aid to help organize the narrative. Characters are all white. If readers can make sense of this story, they’re likely able to tackle the original instead. (author’s note, characters, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Elizabeth Letts is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children’s book, The Butter Man. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.

Her website is www.elizabethletts.com

Teacher Resources

The Perfect Horse Discussion Questions

Around the Web

The Perfect Horse on Amazon

The Perfect Horse on Barnes and Noble

The Perfect Horse on Goodreads

The Perfect Horse Publisher Page

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean. October 16, 2018. Simon Schuster, 310 p. ISBN: 9781476740188.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Libraries pulse with stories and not only those preserved in books. When creative nonfiction virtuoso Orlean (Rin Tin Tin, 2011) first visited Los Angeles’ Central Library, she was “transfixed.” Then she learned about the 1986 fire, which many believed was deliberately set and which destroyed or damaged more than one million books and shut the library down for seven years. Intrigued, Orlean embarked on an all-points research quest, resulting in this kaleidoscopic and riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism. While her forensic account of the conflagration is eerily mesmerizing, Orlean is equally enthralling in her awestruck detailing of the spectrum of activities that fill a typical Central Library day, and in her profiles of current staff and former head librarians, including “brilliant and forceful” Tessa Kelso, who ran into censorship issues, and consummate professional Mary Jones, who was forced out in 1905 because the board wanted a man. Orlean widens the lens to recount the crucial roles public libraries have played in America and to marvel at librarians’ innovative and caring approaches to meeting diverse needs and cutting-edge use of digital technologies. She also attempts to fathom the truth about enigmatic Harry Peak, the prime arson suspect. Probing, prismatic, witty, dramatic, and deeply appreciative, Orlean’s chronicle celebrates libraries as sanctuaries, community centers, and open universities run by people of commitment, compassion, creativity, and resilience.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down. In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all. Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

About the Author

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin TinSaturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York.

Her website is www.susanorlean.com

Teacher Resources

The Library Book Discussion Questions

Around the Web

The Library Book on Amazon

The Library Book on Barnes and Noble

The Library Book on Goodreads

The Library Book on LibraryThing

The Library Book Publisher Page

Dark Sky Rising by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. January 29, 2019. Scholastic, 240 p. ISBN: 9781338262049.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1200.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America’s past and our nation’s attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War’s conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.

This is a story about America during and after Reconstruction, one of history’s most pivotal and misunderstood chapters. In a stirring account of emancipation, the struggle for citizenship and national reunion, and the advent of racial segregation, the renowned Harvard scholar delivers a book that is illuminating and timely. Real-life accounts drive the narrative, spanning the half century between the Civil War and Birth of a Nation. Here, you will come face-to-face with the people and events of Reconstruction’s noble democratic experiment, its tragic undermining, and the drawing of a new “color line” in the long Jim Crow era that followed. In introducing young readers to them, and to the resiliency of the African American people at times of progress and betrayal, Professor Gates shares a history that remains vitally relevant today.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 7-11. A striking image on the book jacket will draw readers to this richly informative but uneven presentation on the many progressive changes during the Reconstruction era, as well as their later dismantling, which led to a resurgence of intolerance, injustice, and violence against black Americans, particularly in the South. The book is well researched, though densely packed with facts and often written in complex sentences, including many quotes from nineteenth-century documents and later historians. The writers assume that their readers have a fuller knowledge of the period and a larger vocabulary than can be expected of most middle-grade readers. Attempting to clarify a quote from Andrew Johnson, inchoate is defined within the text as embryonic, a word nearly as puzzling to most young readers. Black-and-white reproductions of archival photos, prints, and documents illustrate the text. While the topic is complex and perhaps too broad for one book, it’s also fundamental to understanding the background of racial issues in America. A challenging but worthwhile choice for somewhat older readers.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
“In your hands you are holding my book…my very first venture in writing for young readers,” Gates writes in a preface. And readers can tell…though probably not in the way Gates and co-author Bolden may have aimed for. The book opens with a gripping scene of formerly enslaved African-Americans celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. It proceeds to engagingly unfold the facts that led to Reconstruction and its reaction, Jim Crow, until it disrupts the flow with oddly placed facts about Gates’ family’s involvement in the war, name-dropping of other historians, and the occasional conspicuous exclamation (“Land! That’s what his people most hungered for”). Flourishes such as that last sit uneasily with the extensive quotations from secondary sources for adults, as if Gates and Bolden are not sure whether their conceptual audience is young readers or adults, an uncertainty established as early as Gates’ preface. They also too-frequently relegate the vital roles of black women, such as Harriet Tubman, to sidebars or scatter their facts throughout the book, implicitly framing the era as a struggle between African-American men and white men. In the end, this acts as a reminder to readers that, although a person may have a Ph.D. and have written successfully in some genres and media, that does not mean they can write in every one, even with the help of a veteran in the field. Well-intentioned, well-researched, but awkwardly written considering the caliber of the scholar and his expected scholarship. (selected sources, endnotes, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is well-known as a literary critic, an editor of literature, and a proponent of black literature and black cultural studies.

His website is https://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/people/henry-louis-gates-jr

Teacher Resources

Dark Sky Rising Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Dark Sky Rising on Amazon

Dark Sky Rising on Barnes and Noble

Dark Sky Rising on Goodreads

Dark Sky Rising on LibraryThing

Dark Sky Rising Publisher Page

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. September 4, 2018. Sky Pony Press, 256 p. ISBN: 9781510737488.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.0.

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Seventh-grader Zoey doesn’t think she’s as good as other kids at school who have nice things. She also doesn’t have the inclination to do homework because she’s too busy taking care of her siblings—Bryce (four), Aurora (three), and baby Hector—all offspring of different fathers. They and their mother live in a trailer with Mom’s fussy bully of a boyfriend, Lenny, and his cantankerous father. When Zoey’s social-studies teacher makes her join the school debate club, she begins to see situations with fresh eyes and from both sides—an ability she courageously applies to the gun debate after a school lockdown occurs. She also comes to understand that instead of succumbing to Lenny’s intimidation, Zoey’s mother has choices, including moving out and getting a protection order. This engrossing debut novel, narrated by the resourceful Zoey, takes the reader on her journey from the dire side of the class divide to a life of cautious hope as she learns the world is big enough for choices, actions, and results.

School Library Journal (August 1, 2018)
Gr 5-8-Zoey is a seventh grader in rural Vermont. Her mother works a low-wage job and the family is impoverished. Zoey must care for her three younger siblings, there often isn’t enough food to eat, and her clothes are almost never clean. Completing homework is often impossible. On top of all this, they live with her mother’s boyfriend, Lenny, who is moody and sometimes mean. Zoey knows that if she could be like an octopus, her favorite animal, she would be better able to handle all these demands, as well as camouflage herself when necessary. Zoey’s English teacher reaches out and convinces her to join the school debate club. While the protagonist is reluctant at first, she finds she enjoys it. Over time, she learns about debate tactics, like discrediting your opponent, and realizes that Lenny has been manipulating her mother. Another plot point involves gunshots in the school parking lot, which are blamed on a student who lives in the same trailer park as Zoey. This heartbreaking, beautifully written book about finding one’s voice will offer some readers a relatable reflection and others a window that can help build empathy and understanding. VERDICT Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of gun violence. Highly recommended.-Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, MA

About the Author

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. She lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

Her website is www.annbradenbooks.com

Teacher Resources

The Benefits of Being an Octopus Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Amazon

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Barnes and Noble

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Goodreads

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on LibraryThing

The Benefits of Being an Octopus Publisher Page

Attucks!: Oscar Robinson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

Attucks!: Oscar Robinson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose. October 23, 2018. Farrar, Straus and Girou, 212 p. ISBN: 9780374306120.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1110.

The true story of the all-black high school basketball team that broke the color barrier in segregated 1950s Indiana, masterfully told by National Book Award winner Phil Hoose.

By winning the state high school basketball championship in 1955, ten teens from an Indianapolis school meant to be the centerpiece of racially segregated education in the state shattered the myth of their inferiority. Their brilliant coach had fashioned an unbeatable team from a group of boys born in the South and raised in poverty. Anchored by the astonishing Oscar Robertson, a future college and NBA star, the Crispus Attucks Tigers went down in history as the first state champions from Indianapolis and the first all-black team in U.S. history to win a racially open championship tournament—an integration they had forced with their on-court prowess.
From native Hoosier and award-winning author Phillip Hoose comes this true story of a team up against impossible odds, making a difference when it mattered most.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Strong language

 

Book Trailer

Related Video

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Anyone who’s seen Hoosiers has an idea how crazy Indianans are about basketball. What it doesn’t hint at, though, is the story Newbery Honor Book author Hoose tells—that not only was Indiana, and its capital, Indianapolis, nuts about b-ball, but that the success of a black high school, built in the 1920s at the instigation of the Ku Klux Klan, would through its hardwood success drive integration in the 1950s in a place known as “the South of the North.” Crispus Attucks High School didn’t even have an adequate gym, nor were they initially allowed to play other public schools, but in the early 1950s, things slowly began to change. The 1954–55 team won the state championship, finally overcoming bad officiating and gaining the respect of the still largely segregated city. As Hoose puts it, “Attucks varsity were becoming activists for racial justice by excelling at something that was dearly prized by whites.” The story of triumph covers personalities as well as history: Oscar Robertson, the NBA basketball great, was the centerpiece of a team led by Ray Crowe, a remarkable coach. Their backgrounds and what drove them are woven into the exciting descriptions of games. Excessively readable, this should appeal to sports fans and those looking for a good book about the civil rights era. Exemplary notes and sources will push readers—adults included—to learn even more.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2018)
Acclaimed author Hoose (The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, 2015, etc.) returns to his home state with the true story of the all-black high school basketball team that broke the color barrier in segregated 1950s Indianapolis, anchored by one of the greatest players of all time. Recently honored with the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Oscar Robertson is known for his accomplishments both as an athlete and advocate for NBA players. However, few know the story of how the Naptown basketball savant was able to lead his segregated high school to back-to-back state championships. Hoose does a brilliant job of portraying the surrounding historical context, exploring the migration of black families from the South to Indiana, showing how Jim Crow practices were just as present in the North as in the South, and describing the deep groundswell of support for basketball in Indiana. The inspiration for the book was the Big O himself, who told Hoose that the Ku Klux Klan “did something they couldn’t foresee by making Attucks an all-black school. The city of Indianapolis integrated because we were winning.” Could basketball have served as a pathway to racial progress within the Hoosier state? Attucks! doesn’t pretend that we’ve outlived the racism of the American past, all the while showing readers how being grounded in one’s self-worth and committed to the pursuit of excellence can have a lasting impact on a community. A powerful, awe-inspiring basketball-driven history. (biographies, sources, notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Phillip Hoose is the widely-acclaimed author of books, essays, stories, songs, and articles, including the National Book Award winning book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice.

A graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, Hoose has been a staff member of The Nature Conservancy since 1977, dedicated to finding and protecting habitats of endangered species.

A songwriter and performing musician, Phillip Hoose is a founding member of the Children’s Music Network and a member of the band Chipped Enamel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

His website is philliphoose.wordpress.com/

Teacher Resources

Attucks! Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

Attucks! on Amazon

Attucks! on Barnes and Noble

Attucks! on Goodreads

Attucks! on LibraryThing

Attucks! Publisher Page

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich. October 9, 2018. Poppy, 368 p. ISBN: 9780316420235.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 590.

From the show’s creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Suicide, Suicidal thoughts

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Evan Hansen, a teen crippled by anxiety, starts each day by writing a letter of encouragement to himself. When loner Connor Murphy finds one of the letters at school and dies by suicide days later, his parents deliver the “Dear Evan Hansen” to Evan, who lies about being Connor’s best friend. As the Murphys embrace Evan, his lie goes viral, giving comfort to the grieving family and making him a social media darling. But as the lies build, Evan’s guilt forces him to admit the truth. In this stage-to-page adaptation, characters’ back stories offer depth only hinted at by the Tony Award–winning musical. Connor’s posthumous narration offers insights into his mental state, while Evan’s voice and interior monologues reveal the intensity of his own. The ending eases some of the rockiness of Evan’s life, and while there are no overt consequences for his deception, he is seemingly left to ponder his actions. Readers who long for acceptance will welcome this opportunity to experience Evan’s story.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
Emmich (The Reminders, 2017) joins the team behind the Tony-winning musical to create this novel adaptation. Awkward high school senior Evan Hansen has zero friends and a debilitating mixture of depression and anxiety. As a coping mechanism, his therapist assigns him to write letters to himself to reframe his thinking. When one of those letters is found on the body of Connor Murphy, a loner classmate and brother of Evan’s crush, Zoe, the Murphys assume that Connor addressed a suicide note to Evan and that the boys were secretly friends. Evan does nothing to dissuade this notion, and soon his lies build as he experiences belonging and acceptance for the first time. But as his anxiety winds ever tighter and others notice loopholes in his story, Evan begins to unravel as he fears exposure. Evan’s first-person narration is simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating, female characters feel underdeveloped, and the story’s representation of mental health issues is at times underwhelming. Inserted interludes of Connor’s ghostly first-person, post-death perspective provide marginal insight into his character, although it is here that readers learn of Connor’s fluid sexuality. Whether or not they’ve seen or listened to the musical, many readers will latch on to the story’s message that “no one deserves to be forgotten.” Evan presents as white, and other major characters are African-American and Latinx. Without the rich music and stage performance it’s a middling story with themes better handled elsewhere; impeccably timed for the musical’s national tour, however, teens will clamor to read it. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Dubbed a “Renaissance Man” by the New York Post, Val Emmich is a writer, a singer-songwriter, and an actor. His first novel, The Reminders, was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection and his follow-up, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, based on the hit Broadway show, was a New York Times bestseller. He’s had recurring roles on Vinyl and Ugly Betty, as well as a memorable guest role as Tina Fey’s coffee-boy fling, Jamie, on 30 Rock. Emmich lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

His website is valemmich.com

Teacher Resources

Dear Evan Hansen Educator’s Guide

Dear Evan Hansen review on Common Sense Media

Around the Web

Dear Evan Hansen on Amazon

Dear Evan Hansen on Barnes and Noble

Dear Evan Hansen on Goodreads

Dear Evan Hansen on LibraryThing

Dear Evan Hansen Publisher Page

7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. September 18, 2018. Sourcebooks Landmark, 438 p. ISBN: 9781492657965.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…

Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Mild language, Violence

 

Video Reviews

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 17))
The Hardcastle family has decided to throw a party at Blackheath House as a memorial to their son, who was killed there years before. At 11 p.m., during the party, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. Aiden Bishop is trapped inside a time loop with this murder mystery at its center. Each morning he awakens in another guest’s body and relives that same day until Evelyn’s death. If he does not find the killer by 11 p.m., Evelyn will die, and the cycle will begin again. However, there is a catch: he’s racing against time—he has eight days, eight do-overs, to solve the mystery. If he fails, he will be killed himself. This novel is so ingenious and original that it’s difficult to believe it’s Turton’s debut. The writing is completely immersive. The reader slips into the pages right beside Bishop, following closely in the adrenaline-packed hunt for the killer. Evelyn’s time line could easily be confusing, but Turton masterfully creates a natural flow while jumping through different characters on different days. There are certainly echoes of Agatha Christie here, but it’s Christie ramped up several notches, thanks to the malevolent twist on the Groundhog Day theme. Readers may be scratching their heads in delicious befuddlement as they work their way through this novel, but one thing will be absolutely clear: Stuart Turton is an author to remember.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
In this dizzying literary puzzle, the hapless protagonist is doomed to relive the same day over and over unless he can solve a murder at a masquerade ball. The narrator, Aiden Bishop, wakes up in a forest outside Blackheath House, “a sprawling Georgian manor house,” not knowing who or where he is—or why he’s screaming the name Anna. A man in a beaked plague-doctor mask brings him up to speed: For eight days, Aiden will wake up in the body of a different witness to the shooting of young beauty Evelyn Hardcastle. If at the end of that extended week, during which Aiden will remember all that occurs, he fails to identify the killer and break the bizarre murder cycle, he will have his memory wiped and be forced to start from the beginning. “It’s like I’ve been asked to dig a hole with a shovel made of sparrows,” Aiden moans. To be real or not to be real, that is the question for Aiden, who struggles after his own identity while being “hosted” by individuals who include the lord of the manor, a doctor, and a butler. Borrowing liberally from such cultural milestones as Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap, and Eyes Wide Shut—and, of course, the stories of Agatha Christie—the book has a built-in audience. It’s a fiendishly clever and amusing novel with explosive surprises, though in the absence of genuine feeling, it tends to keep its audience at arm’s length. Turton’s debut is a brainy, action-filled sendup of the classic mystery, though readers may be hard-pressed to keep up with all its keenly calibrated twists and turns for more than 400 pages.

About the Author

Stuart lives in London with his amazing wife and daughter. He drinks lots of tea.

​When he left university he went travelling for three months and stayed away for five years. Every time his parents asked when he’d be back he told them next week, and meant it.

Stuart is not to be trusted. In the nicest possible way.

He’s got a degree in English and Philosophy, which makes him excellent at arguing and terrible at choosing degrees.

Having trained for no particular career, he has dabbled in most of them. He stocked shelves in a Darwin bookshop, taught English in Shanghai, worked for a technology magazine in London, wrote travel articles in Dubai, and now he’s a freelance journalist. None of this was planned, he just kept getting lost on his way to other places.

He likes a chat. He likes books. He likes people who write books and people who read books. He doesn’t know how to write a biography, so should probably stop before he tells you about his dreams or something. It was lovely to meet you, though.

Her website is stuturton.wordpress.com/

Teacher Resources

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Reading Guide

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7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle on Amazon

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle on Barnes and Noble

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle on Goodreads

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Publisher Page

The War Outside by Monica Hesse

The War Outside by Monica Hesse. September 25, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316316699.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.

It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Mild language, Racism, Accidental death of children

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 9-12. It’s 1944 and WWII is raging, and Japanese American Haruko and German American Margot and their families—both regarded by the U.S. government as enemy aliens—have been remanded to the Crystal City, Texas, family internment camp. Though the German and Japanese populations there are largely self-segregated, Haruko and Margot meet and become unlikely friends. As their friendship intensifies, the two girls begin to fantasize about a life together outside the camp, but then two momentous things happen: they experience a moment of unusual, almost frightening intensity, and two little girls, one German and one Japanese, drown in the camp pool. After that, things change dramatically and irredeemably. Hesse (Girl in the Blue Coat, 2016) has written an extraordinary novel of injustice and xenophobia based on real history. The Crystal City camp actually existed, as did a few characters and situations portrayed in the novel. Hesse does a superb job of recreating life as it was lived by innocent people forced to exist surrounded by barbed wire fences and guards. In Haruko and Margot, she has written developed, multidimensional characters who live dramatically on the page. Readers will empathize with them and their plight, wishing the best for them but also understanding, thanks to the author’s unsparing honesty and integrity, that not all endings are happy ones.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
Interned in a Texas camp during World War II, Japanese-American Haruko and German-American Margot watch their families fall apart and are driven to depend on each other, even if they should not. In 1944, teenagers Haruko Tanaka and Margot Krukow are imprisoned with their families in Crystal City, a Department of Justice family internment camp for Japanese- and German-born prisoners of war. Different from the War Relocation Authority internment camps, these are specifically meant for enemy aliens, with the possibility of repatriation to their birth countries. Haruko, fearing for her brother, Ken, serving in the 442nd division of the U.S. Army, and resenting her secretive father for their situation, starts pulling away from her family. Margot tries to keep her small family together as her pregnant mother sickens and her father is pushed by frustration and persecution into Nazi ideology. Though vastly different, the two girls find themselves attracted to each other in more ways than one. Hesse (American Fire, 2017, etc.) painstakingly researched accounts from various archival records to convey the rich and complex emotions surrounding a shameful episode of injustice in American history, during which human beings were involuntarily and irrevocably changed through the choices of others. An exploration of lesser-known aspects of Japanese-American and German-American internment during World War II. (map, historical notes) (Historical fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Monica Hesse is the national bestselling author of the true crime love story American Fire, and the historical mystery novel Girl in the Blue Coat, which has been translated into a dozen languages and won the 2017 Edgar award in the Young Adult category. She is a feature writer for the Washington Post, where she has been a winner of the Society for Feature Journalism’s Narrative Storytelling award, and a finalist for a Livingston Award and a James Beard Award. Monica lives in Maryland. with her husband and a brainiac dog.

Her website is www.monicahesse.com

Teacher Resources

The War Outside Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

The War Outside on Amazon

The War Outside on Barnes and Noble

The War Outside on Goodreads

The War Outside Publisher Page

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera. October 9, 2018. HarperTeen, 437 p. ISBN: 9780062795250.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Homophobia

 

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Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (July 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Arthur’s interning in New York for the summer, but even the proximity to Broadway can’t stop him from missing his life in Georgia. Ben’s an Alphabet City native, reeling from a breakup that fractured his friend group. When they meet by chance, Arthur is sure the universe has spoken, but Ben isn’t convinced. After several false starts, miscommunications, and second guesses, they have to wonder—how much of a say does the universe really get? Albertalli (Leah on the Offbeat​, 2018) and Silvera (They Both Die at the End​, 2017) each provide a first-person narrative for one of the boys, rounding out the will-they-won’t-they love story with a vibrant supporting cast. In the coauthors’ capable hands, Arthur and Ben are distinct, empathetic heroes; Broadway-loving Arthur, who has Ivy League aspirations, adapts to the ways his recent coming out changed his friendships, while Ben struggles in school but dreams of writing, and sometimes isn’t sure how to connect with his Puerto Rican heritage when he passes as white. A comforting exploration of self-discovery and self-creation.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
Ben and Arthur meet-cute in a Manhattan post office, leave without exchanging contact information, and spend the first act trying to track each other down, with a little help from “the universe.” When they finally locate each other, a series of creative attempts at first dates and “do-over” dates ensues before the relationship turns more serious. Underlying issues propel their conflicts: class differences, Arthur’s impending return to Georgia, misunderstandings about Ben’s ex-boyfriend. Homophobia plays a brief role; newly out Arthur’s insecurities play a more extended one. But mostly, the novel is a happy and often laugh-out-loud-funny rom-com, full of theater and other pop-culture references (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, lots and lots of Harry Potter) and silly banter between Ben and Arthur and within their friend groups. (Particularly Ben’s, whose straight best friend is refreshingly comfortable being close with him.) The alternating-POV chapters make each protagonist’s concerns believable and sympathetic as we see the story unfold through their individual perspectives, even as much of the plot hinges on unbelievable luck. shoshana flax

About the Authors

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction.

Her website is www.beckyalbertalli.com.

 

Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx. He has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, marketing assistant at a literary development company, and book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller, and Adam was selected as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. He writes full-time in New York City and is tall for no reason.

His website is www.adamsilvera.com.

Teacher Resources

What If It’s Us on Common Sense Media

What If It’s Us Reading Guide

Around the Web

What If It’s Us on Amazon

What If It’s Us on Barnes & Noble

What If It’s Us on Goodreads

What If It’s Us Publisher Page

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

Code Girls: The True Story of the American Women Who Secretly Broke Codes in World War II by Liza Mundy. October 2, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316353731.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.6.

Code Girls is the true story of the young American women who cracked German and Japanese military codes during World War II.
More than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II, recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to the nation’s capital to learn the top secret art of code breaking.
Through their work, the “code girls” helped save countless lives and were vital in ending the war. But due to the top secret nature of their accomplishments, these women have never been able to talk about their story–until now.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Racism

 

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Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
When the United States entered World War II, it quickly became clear that, in order to win the war, the military must break enemy code. With so many men serving as soldiers, smart women were called upon to join this secret effort. Initially, upper-level female college students were invited to apply. As the need for codebreakers grew, schoolteachers, especially those skilled in mathematics and sciences, were also called upon. The work was top secret. For many participants, these jobs offered opportunities that far surpassed their culturally circumscribed expectations, since young white women were, at the time, mostly viewed as destined for lifelong roles of wives and mothers. While the text acknowledges the existence of the Army’s segregated, black codebreaking unit, it focuses on the work of the white women. In this adaptation of Mundy’s book for adult readers, the text alternates between descriptions of the progress of the war and the lives of a few of the codebreakers. Sidebars offer additional information, but much of it is later repeated in the narrative. Well-integrated black-and-white period photographs (the adult version’s are presented in one sheaf of plates) and the additions of a timeline, glossary, and further reading in the backmatter round out this adaptation. It’s an entertaining presentation on a fascinating topic, but given its length, it doesn’t extend the audience too much beyond what its original could expect to reach. (timeline, glossary, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 11-15)

About the Author

Liza Mundy is the New York Times bestselling author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family and Michelle: A Biography. She has worked as a reporter at the Washington Post and contributed to numerous publications including The Atlantic, TIME, The New Republic, Slate, Mother Jones, and The Guardian. She is a frequent commentator on countless prominent national television, radio, and online news outlets and has positioned herself at the prestigious New America Foundation as one of the nation’s foremost experts on women and work issues.

Her website is www.lizamundy.com

Teacher Resources

Code Girls Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Code Girls on Amazon

Code Girls on Barnes and Noble

Code Girls on Goodreads

Code Girls Publisher Page