Tag Archives: reading guide

Champion: The Comeback Take of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker

Champion: the Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker. March 6, 2018. Henry Holt & Co., 144 p. ISBN: 9781250125231.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.1; Lexile: 1070.

American chestnut trees were once found far and wide in North America’s eastern forests. They towered up to one hundred feet tall, providing food and shelter for people and animals alike. For many, life without the chestnut seemed unimaginable—until disaster struck in the early 1900s.

What began as a wound in the bark of a few trees soon turned to an unstoppable killing force. An unknown blight was wiping out the American chestnut, and scientists felt powerless to prevent it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Today, the American chestnut is making a comeback. Narrative nonfiction master Sally M. Walker tells a tale of loss, restoration, and the triumph of human ingenuity in this beautifully photographed middle-grade book.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Related Videos

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 5-8. When Hermann Merkel was hired in 1898 to be New York Zoological Park’s chief forester, the 1,500 American chestnut trees were his favorites. In 1904, Merkel noticed a blight that was quickly destroying these beloved trees, and by 1911, only 2 remained. Merkel’s observations were the start of a scientific mystery with ramifications that still continue. Walker documents some of the many scientists, from the beginning of the blight to today, who have worked to save this American icon. Why all the interest in a tree? The author first explains the importance of the American chestnut on the eastern forests’ environment. The bulk of the investigative text, however, concentrates on the source of the blight and three different approaches to saving the American chestnut. In the process, Walker shows how the comeback of this tree can serve as a model to restore other species. The niche subject may be a hard sell to recreational readers, but with additional photos of scientists in action, this STEM volume is a boon to life-science and engineering units.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Once a ubiquitous presence in North America’s eastern forests, the American chestnut tree was nearly brought to extinction by a deadly blight, but it was brought back from oblivion through the ingenuity of determined scientists. In 1904, forester Hermann Merkel discovered ugly wounds on some of the American chestnut trees in the New York Zoological Park. No other trees in the park were affected. By 1911, only two of 1,500 trees in the park remained. A scientist with the New York Botanical Garden identified the disease as a blight fungus. All attempts to find a remedy failed. A U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist discovered that the blight originated in Asia, brought to the United States through the cross-breeding of the American and Asian chestnuts. By 1940, nearly 4 billion trees succumbed to the devastating blight. Using clear, accessible language, Walker explains how research scientists have developed three promising approaches to restoring the American chestnut: backcross breeding, using weak strains of virus-infected fungus to attack lethal strains, and engineering transgenic American chestnut trees. These approaches are cause for cautious optimism for restoration of the trees, which Walker describes as a “gargantuan task,” requiring “time and patience.” Walker’s passion for her subject and her ability to convincingly explain how the American chestnut is an icon worth saving makes this stand out. A compelling, inspiring true story of a species rescued from extinction through decades of determined innovation. (photos, appendices, source notes, glossary, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Sally M. Walker is the author of the Sibert Medal winner Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books, including Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation. Sally M. Walker lives in Illinois.

Her website is sallymwalker.com

Teacher Resources

American Chestnut Foundation Educational Resources

American Chestnut Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Champion on Amazon

Champion on  Goodreads

Champion Publisher Page

Advertisements

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake. March 6, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780316515467.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.3.

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 4-7. Ivy Aberdeen is not in a good place. She’s lost her house to a massive tornado, her mother seems to barely notice she exists (because of the new twins), and her sister is being really mean. In the aftermath of the storm, Ivy and her family must decide what to do, and one solution means leaving Ivy with a new family until their house can be rebuilt. But when she begins to develop romantic feelings for a girl in her class, and her private notebook of sketches goes missing, everything starts to unravel. Blake (How to Make a Wish, 2017) brings Ivy and her family to life in her examination of familial connections, friendships, art, and first-time crushes, which is poignantly set against a background of destruction and displacement. This necessary and emotionally complex addition to the body of middle-grade literature offers readers a positive, complex, and courageous portrayal of burgeoning sexuality and relationships within the world of junior high.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2017)
Twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen finds comfort in drawing; she keeps a private sketchbook the way other kids her age keep written diaries.After a tornado destroys her home, her notebook, filled with things Ivy isn’t ready to talk about or trust with anyone, goes missing, and she feels the last bit of her world drop out from under her. The images are telling; there can be no doubt that the white girl with the “coiling mane” of wild strawberry-blonde hair is 12-year-old Ivy or that she’s holding hands with a dark-haired white girl in every picture. When her drawings begin turning up in her school locker, Ivy’s biggest fear comes true: someone knows her secret. The mystery person encourages Ivy to come out, but whom can she trust? Is she even ready? Blake’s (Suffer Love, 2016) first middle-grade novel is characterized by rich, descriptive prose. The tornado scene is filled with breathtaking urgency as Ivy and her family run for safety, and the descriptions of Ivy’s contradictory and confusing feelings capture the heartbreaking difficulty of a non-normative early adolescence filled with questions of identity and belonging. Most characters are assumed white; the black lesbian who owns the inn where the Aberdeens stay after the storm and who steps in as a surrogate mother while Ivy’s own is occupied with insurance and a sick baby, is engaged to a brown-skinned Latina. Ivy’s story is no mere niche-filler in LGBTQ middle-grade realism—it’s a standard-setter. (Fiction. 8-14)

About the Author

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars, as well as the middle grade novel, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. Her website is www.ashleyherringblake.com

Teacher Resources

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World Book Club Guide

Around the Web

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World on Amazon

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World on Goodreads

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World Publisher Page

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone. October 17, 2017. Crown Books for Young Readers, 224 p. ISBN: 9781101939505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League–but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up–way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Racially motivated violence, Racist slurs

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Perhaps a bright young man who is fourth in his graduating class, captain of the debate team, and on his way to an Ivy League school shouldn’t have too many worries. But Justyce McAllister’s grades have no influence on the police officer who handcuffs him while he’s trying to help his inebriated ex-girlfriend. The African American teen is shocked and angered when the officer is cleared of all charges, and so he turns to the written work of Martin Luther King Jr. for direction, inspiration, and therapy. He presents a simple question to the late civil rights leader: “What would you do, Martin?” After Justyce witnesses the fatal shooting of his best friend by an off-duty officer, and his name is negatively spread through the media, he begins to withdraw from friends and family, only finding solace in his teacher, new girlfriend, and his continued ruminative letter writing to Dr. King. Stone’s debut confronts the reality of police brutality, misconduct, and fatal shootings in the U.S., using an authentic voice to accurately portray the struggle of self-exploration teens like Justyce experience every day. Teens, librarians, and teachers alike will find this book a godsend in assisting discussions about dealing with police, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of King’s work. Vivid and powerful.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2017)
“I know your kind: punks like you wander the streets of nice neighborhoods searching for prey. Just couldn’t resist the pretty white girl who’d locked her keys in her car, could ya?” So seventeen-year-old Justyce McAllister, who is black, hears after being shoved to the ground by a police officer (“CASTILLO [the officer’s nameplate] reads, though the guy looks like a regular white dude”). Thing is, the girl is mixed-race and is Justyce’s sometime-girlfriend (and drunk), and he was helping her get home. The opening scene is one of several that illustrate Justyce’s feeling that “no matter what I do, the only thing white people will ever see me as is a nig–an ‘n’-word.” Ranked fourth in his class at exclusive Braselton Preparatory Academy, he’s been accepted to Yale, but his classmates assume it’s only because of affirmative action. In his own neighborhood, people criticize him for being a “race-traitor” who’s “gotta stay connected to the white man for the ride to the top.” To sort his life out, Justyce begins writing “Dear Martin” letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Alternating with the main narrative, the letters are an effective device. What would Dr. King think about recent events surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the many others who have died and become headlines, the real-life people who inspired this novel? Stone veers away from easy resolutions while allowing hope to reside in unexpected places. dean Schneider

About the Author

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons. Her website is www.nicstone.info

Teacher Resources

Dear Martin Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

Dear Martin on Amazon

Dear Martin on Goodreads

Dear Martin Publisher Page

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. January 2, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9781481472173.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.9.

Nadia’s family is forced to flee their home in Aleppo, Syria, when the Arab Spring sparks a civil war in this timely coming-of-age novel from award-winning author N.H. Senzai.

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress. 

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Animal cruelty, Harsh realities of wars

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 4-7. Nadia is enjoying the best day of her life as her friends and loved ones are gathered around her, ready to sing “Happy Birthday,” when news arrives of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire to protest harassment and corruption of government officials in Tunisia. Nadia is not aware, but the elders in her family look on as the protests of the Tunisian Revolution begin to grow and spread into the Arab Spring, which soon finds its way to Nadia’s doorstep. As her family attempts to flee to Turkey and reunite with her father, their home is bombed and Nadia is left behind. With her cat, Mishmish, and the help of an old, mysterious man—Ammo Mazen—Nadia begins the journey. Flashbacks of Nadia’s life before the war are interspersed with those detailing her struggles to find her father. Nadia gains courage and trust throughout her journey, thanks to her companions, all while struggling to understand why there is such sadness and unfairness in this world. Filled with kindness and hope, but also with the harsh realities of the horrors of war, this heartbreaking book is a necessary reminder of what many people live through every day.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2017)
Senzai (Ticket to India, 2015, etc.) tells the story of 14-year-old Nadia’s narrow escape from the ancient city of Aleppo in war-torn Syria as she desperately seeks her family, who accidentally left her behind.Two years into Syria’s civil war, the many armed rebel groups and the government forces are descending on Aleppo. Traumatized since her bomb injury, Nadia is pulled from under her bed as her family prepares to leave their home for a safer place. Although a relative has been assigned to monitor her, another bomb falls as they are exiting, and in the confusion, Nadia is left behind. Now she must recover from the shock and rely on her instincts, a seemingly kind old man she meets, and, ultimately, her own intelligence to make it out of Aleppo alive and find her family at the Turkish border. All of this she manages to do in fairly short order, with a series of rather abrupt changes in her psychological state. Through Nadia’s conversations with other characters and through extensive exposition, readers learn about the impressively vast and complex history of Aleppo and of Syria. The Arab Spring is also treated in detail. Nadia’s flashbacks give insight to life under dictatorship and the drastic changes introduced by war. Arabic words are italicized once, then printed in Roman type. Despite narrative hitches, a valuable introduction to the issues plaguing modern Syria and the costs of war in historically rich locales. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

N.H. Senzai is the author of Shooting Kabul, which was critically acclaimed and on numerous award lists. Publishers Weekly called it “hard hitting, emotionally wrenching.” Her second book, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. She is also the author of Ticket to India and Escape from Aleppo.

Ms. Senzai lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. Her website is www.nhsenzai.com.

Teacher Resources

Escape from Aleppo Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Escape from Aleppo on Amazon

Escape from Aleppo on Goodreads

Escape from Aleppo Publisher Page

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. February 6, 2018. Algonquin Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781616201340.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Married for just over a year, Roy and Celestial are still navigating their new dynamic as husband and wife. Then their lives are forever altered when they travel to Roy’s small Louisiana hometown for a visit, and Roy is falsely accused of a harrowing crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The strain on their relationship is intense during Roy’s incarceration, especially once Celestial’s career takes off while he struggles with loss and feelings of abandonment. Nearly halfway through Roy’s sentence, his conviction is vacated. In the aftermath of his unexpected release, the couple must confront difficult questions about the choices they’ve made as well as the expectations of others. For Celestial, it means reconciling the relationship with her husband with that of a longtime friend turned lover. Roy, on the other hand, faces the complexities of a life he no longer recognizes. Jones (Silver Sparrow, 2011) crafts an affecting tale that explores marriage, family, regret, and other feelings made all the more resonant by her well-drawn characters and their intricate conflicts of heart and mind.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2017)
A look at the personal toll of the criminal justice system from the author of Silver Sparrow (2011) and The Untelling (2005).Roy has done everything right. Growing up in a working-class family in Louisiana, he took advantage of all the help he could get and earned a scholarship to Morehouse College. By the time he marries Spelman alum Celestial, she’s an up-and-coming artist. After a year of marriage, they’re thinking about buying a bigger house and starting a family. Then, on a visit back home, Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Jones begins with chapters written from the points of view of her main characters. When Roy goes to prison, it becomes a novel in letters. The epistolary style makes perfect sense. Roy is incarcerated in Louisiana, Celestial is in Atlanta, and Jones’ formal choice underscores their separation. Once Roy is released, the narrative resumes a rotating first person, but there’s a new voice, that of Andre, once Celestial’s best friend and now something more. This novel is peopled by vividly realized, individual characters and driven by interpersonal drama, but it is also very much about being black in contemporary America. Roy is arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the United States, and where the ratio of black to white prisoners is 4 to 1. There’s a heartbreaking scene in which Celestial’s uncle—Roy’s attorney—encourages her to forget everything she knows about presenting herself while she speaks in her husband’s defense. “Now is not the time to be articulate. Now is the time to give it up. No filter, all heart.” After a lifetime of being encouraged to be “well spoken,” Celestial finds that she sounds false trying to speak unguardedly. “As I took my seat…not even the black lady juror would look at me.” This is, at its heart, a love story, but a love story warped by racial injustice. And, in it, Jones suggests that racial injustice haunts the African-American story. Subtle, well-crafted, and powerful.

About the Author

Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University.

She is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.  Her website is www.tayarijones.com.

Teacher Resources

An American Marriage Reading Guide

Around the Web

An American Marriage on Amazon

An American Marriage on Goodreads

An American Marriage Publisher Page

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson. February 6, 2018. Simon Pulse, 448 p. ISBN: 9781481498548.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes.

 

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. Elena was the product of a virgin birth, but it wasn’t a miracle; just garden-variety, statistically improbable, yet no less possible, parthenogenesis. What is a miracle, however, is her ability to heal people, which she discovers when her crush gets shot right in front of her. Healing powers are pretty cool, but whenever Elena heals someone, several other people disappear in a beam of golden light. Compounding the problem, a chorus of bossy voices, which appear in a variety of objects, tell Elena that she should heal as many people as possible, because the ones who disappear are being saved from a terrible future. With crackling banter and vivid characters, Hutchinson offers readers an enjoyably weird, poignantly philosophical exploration of friendship, duty, and free will. There’s lots to like here: Elena’s relationship with her best friend, Fadil (a devout Muslim boy), is refreshingly, unquestioningly platonic, and Hutchinson touches on such important topics as sexuality, mental illness, and grief in a lighthearted yet sincere and sensitive way. And, especially for a book addressing such tough topics, it’s often just plain funny. While the overarching premise sounds a bit like an ethics-class thought experiment (in a good way!), Hutchinson always keeps the story firmly grounded in Elena’s relationships and, more important, her believable growth, particularly when it comes to her own faults. Surreal, brainy, and totally captivating.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
A coffee chain is the unlikely setting of a miracle healing that sets in motion events that herald a coming apocalypse. Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza was the product of a virgin birth. While unkind classmates taunt her with the nickname “Mary,” there is a scientific explanation for her existence: parthenogenesis. Essentially a clone of her half-Cuban, half-white mother, she also hears voices emanating from inanimate objects. When Elena saves the life of her longtime crush, Freddie, after she is shot at a Starbucks, she discovers the trade-off: with each healing, random people disappear from Earth, beginning with the shooter himself. Freddie, whose race is not described, struggles with depression and has mixed feelings about her role as the involuntary recipient of a miracle cure even as the two embark on a rocky flirtation. Elena must decide whether to listen to her best friend, Fadil, a devout Muslim boy who believes her powers are God-given; the clamoring voices speaking through a My Little Pony, Lego Gandalf, and other objects that tell her she is destined for greatness; or her own doubt-ridden conscience. Fantasy fans who desire intricate technical explanations may be disappointed at what is left unexplained, but the story is about faith, after all, and readers who appreciate relationship-driven novels will have much to savor. Elena’s bisexuality is refreshingly unproblematic—simply another aspect of her nature that is accepted by those around her—an echo of the deft treatment of differences among the diverse cast of characters. A creative and original tale shot through with quirky humor that entertains while encouraging readers to ponder questions of free will and social responsibility. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of We Are the Ants, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, The Deathday Letter, fml, and the editor of the anthology Violent Ends.

He currently lives in South Florida with his dog and watches way too much Doctor Who.

His website is www.shaundavidhutchinson.com.

Teacher Resources

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza on Amazon

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza on Goodreads

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza Publisher Page

La Sombrilla Roja (The Red Umbrella) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

La Sombrilla Roja by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. September 26, 2017.  Gables Publishing, 300 p. ISBN: 9780999214602.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.8; Lexile: 590.

(Spanish version of the award-winning novel, The Red Umbrella)

In 1961, two years after the Cuban Communist revolution, LucIa Alvarez continues to live a normal teenage life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But things in her country are changing. Freedoms are being stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution’s impact becomes more oppressive, LucIa’s parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States–through a secret, clandestine movement to save the children.

Arriving in the United States, LucIa is eventually sent to live with well-meaning strangers in Nebraska, but she struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. And what of her old life? Will she ever see her parents, friends, or country again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

Based on the real events of Operation Pedro Pan where over 14,000 Cuban children were sent to the U.S. in the two year period between 1960-1962 and the author’s own family experience, this novel depicts the pain of losing one’s homeland and showcases the generosity of the American spirit.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2010 (Online))
Grades 6-10. When Castro comes to power, teenage Lucía wants nothing to do with the revolution; she is more worried about what to wear to the school dance. Then she witnesses the horrifying public hanging of her father’s boss, and her parents send her and her little brother, Frank, to safety in the U.S., where a church places them with a kind foster home in Nebraska. Based on the author’s parents’ story, Gonzalez’s first novel captures the heart-wrenching, personal drama of family separation. At the start of each chapter, a brief newspaper headline gives a glimpse into Cuban politics and history, but the core of Lucía’s first-person narrative is her emotional upheaval as she cares for Frank and tries to fit into her eighth-grade class, where everything is strange and different. The characters, including the loving, imperfect adults, are authentic, and teens will recognize Lucía’s rebellious moments, which sometimes get ugly, as well as her anguish over costly long-distance calls “home” and her hope for reunion with her family.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2010)
This is the story of Lucía, a Cuban girl who, at the age of 14, leaves her hometown of Puerto Mijares and flies to the United States from Havana with her little brother, Frankie, but without their parents. After arriving at a temporary shelter, they are soon transferred to the Baxters’ home in Nebraska. Through Lucía’s captivating voice, readers travel in time to the year 1961, when members of the Cuban bourgeoisie witnessed the drastic transformation of their society into a communist system. While Lucía’s best friend, Ivette, and her secret sweetheart, Manuel, embrace the revolution and become, with their parents’ support, “brigadistas,” Lucía’s parents, a banker and a housewife, refuse to accept the changes imposed by the new government and make the heartbreaking and, for the times, shocking decision to send their daughter and son to a foreign country, without knowing if they would be able to see them again. Gonzalez enters the literary scene with this exceptional historical novel that portrays the beginning of the Cuban exodus. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)

About the Author

Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of several books including The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, Moving Target, Return Fire, and an upcoming book in the Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts series. Christina’s books have received numerous honors and recognitions with publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, The Miami Herald, School Library Journal, and The Washington Post calling her novels engrossing, compelling, and inspirational.

Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.  Her website is www.christinagonzalez.com.

Teacher Resources

The Red Umbrella Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

La Sombrilla Roja on Amazon

La Sombrilla Roja on Goodreads

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. January 30, 2018. Knopf, 352 p. ISBN: 9781101947319.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The true story of a young Yemeni-American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee but finds himself trapped in Sana’a by civil war.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco, one of seven siblings brought up by Yemeni immigrants in a tiny apartment. At age twenty-four, unable to pay for college, he works as a doorman, until a chance encounter awakens his interest in coffee and its rich history in Yemen. Reinventing himself, he sets out to learn about coffee cultivation, roasting and importing. He travels to Yemen and visits farms in every corner of the country, collecting samples, eager to improve cultivation methods and help Yemeni farmers bring their coffee back to its former glory. And he is on the verge of success when civil war engulfs Yemen in 2015. The U.S. embassy closes, Saudi bombs begin to rain down on the country and Mokhtar is trapped in Yemen. This is a heart-pounding true story that weaves together the history of coffee, the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through civil war and the courageous journey of a young man–a Muslim and a U.S. citizen–following the most American of dreams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, War, Mild sexual themes, Drugs

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
Journalism is integral to Eggers’ (Heroes of the Frontier, 2016) many-faceted, socially responsible literary life, and his nonfiction forte is telling the story of compelling individuals who have faced unfathomable adversity, as in Zeitoun (2009), the story of a Syrian American in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Here Eggers portrays Yemeni American Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who, after an unruly childhood in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, a transformative stay in Yemen with his grandfather, and success as a car salesman, finally finds his calling, which proves to be quixotic and dangerous: he commits himself to restoring Yemen’s long-forgotten standing as the world’s first and best coffee producer. Eggers crisply recounts coffee’s delectably roguish history, into which Mokhtar’s Sisyphean struggles fit perfectly. Just as fast-talking, improvisational, kind, and monomaniacal Mokhtar attempts, against epic odds, to rekindle the lost art of quality coffee cultivation in Yemen, the country descends into a civil war made worse by al-Qaeda, Saudi bombings, and U.S. drone attacks. He repeatedly ends up in terrifying and dire situations, relying on his wits and bravado to save him and his companions. Readers will never take coffee for granted or overlook the struggles of Yemen after ingesting Egger’s phenomenally well-written, juggernaut of a tale of an intrepid and irresistible entrepreneur on a complex and meaningful mission. This highly caffeinated adventure story is ready-made for the big screen.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2017)
For a son of Yemeni immigrants, the American dream takes the form of reawakening his ancestral homeland to its coffee legacy, the foundation for the industry he hopes to build.In his latest book, acclaimed novelist and McSweeney’s founder Eggers (Heroes of the Frontier, 2016, etc.) offers an appealing hybrid: a biography of a charming, industrious Muslim man who has more ambition than direction; a capsule history of coffee and its origins, growth, and development as a mass commodity and then as a niche product; the story of Blue Bottle, the elite coffee chain in San Francisco that some suspect (and some fear) could turn into the next Starbucks; an adventure story of civil war in a foreign country; and a most improbable and uplifting success story. The protagonist, Mokhtar Alkhanshali, not only made it back from Yemen after the U.S. Embassy had closed, leaving remaining American citizens to their own devices, but he was followed by a boatload of some of the richest, best coffee the world has known, “the most expensive coffee Blue Bottle has ever sold…$16 a cup.” One delicious irony is that neither the author nor his subject had been much interested in coffee exotica, with the former initially dismissing anyone “who waited in line for certain coffees made certain ways…[as] pretentious and a fool,” while the latter had only had a couple dozen cups of coffee in his life before he became a grader of beans and then an importer. But this book is about much more than coffee or Muslim immigrants or the conflicts in Yemen—it is about the undeniable value of “U.S. citizens who maintain strong ties to the countries of their ancestors and who, through entrepreneurial zeal and dogged labor, create indispensable bridges between the developed and developing worlds, between nations that produce and those that consume.” Eggers gives his hero a lot of thematic baggage to carry, but it is hard to resist the derring-do of the Horatio Alger of Yemenite coffee.

About the Author

Dave Eggers is the author of ten books. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible.

He lives in Northern California with his family. Her website is www.mcsweeneys.net.

Teacher Resources

The Monk of Mokha Reading Guide

Around the Web

The Monk of Mokha on Amazon

The Monk of Mokha on Goodreads

The Monk of Mokha Publisher Page

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. October 24, 2017. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781481438254.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Smoking, Gun violence

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 7-12. Spanning a mere one minute and seven seconds, Reynolds’ new free-verse novel is an intense snapshot of the chain reaction caused by pulling a trigger. First, 15-year-old Will Holloman sets the scene by relating his brother Shawn’s murder two days prior—gunned down while buying soap for their mother. Next, he lays out The Rules: don’t cry, don’t snitch, always get revenge. Now that the reader is up to speed, Will tucks Shawn’s gun into his waistband and steps into an elevator, steeled to execute rule number three and shoot his brother’s killer. Yet, the simple seven-floor descent becomes a revelatory trip. At each floor, the doors open to admit someone killed by the same cycle of violence that Will’s about to enter. He’s properly freaked out, but as the seconds tick by and floors count down, each new occupant drops some knowledge and pushes Will to examine his plans for that gun. Reynolds’ concise verses echo like shots against the white space of the page, their impact resounding. He peels back the individual stories that led to this moment in the elevator and exposes a culture inured to violence because poverty, gang life, or injustice has left them with no other option. In this all-too-real portrait of survival, Reynolds goes toe-to-toe with where, or even if, love and choice are allowed to exist.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
After 15-year-old Will sees his older brother, Shawn, gunned down on the streets, he sets out to do the expected: the rules dictate no crying, no snitching, and revenge. Though the African-American teen has never held one, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun tucked in his waistband. As he travels down on the elevator, the door opens on certain floors, and Will is confronted with a different figure from his past, each a victim of gun violence, each important in his life. They also force Will to face the questions he has about his plan. As each “ghost” speaks, Will realizes how much of his own story has been unknown to him and how intricately woven they are. Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending. There is considerable symbolism, including the 15 bullets in the gun and the way the elevator rules parallel street rules. Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share. This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion. (Verse fiction. 12-adult)

About the Author

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. His website is www.jasonwritesbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Long Way Down Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Long Way Down on Amazon

Long Way Down on Goodreads

Long Way Down Publisher Page

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. September 5, 2017. Scribner, 285 p. ISBN: 9781501126062.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 840.

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Clinical description of slaughtering an animal

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children’s own spiritual gifts. Ward alternates perspectives to tell the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
Ward (Men We Reaped, 2013, etc.) follows her excellent, National Book Award–winning novel Salvage the Bones with her third book-length work of fiction, a searching study of all the ways in which people damage each other, sometimes without meaning to.Leonie, a young African-American woman, lives in the eternal childhood of addiction and dependency; her life revolves around trying to escape from herself, which is no help to her children, one a toddler named Kayla, the other a 13-year-old boy named Jojo. The three live with Leonie’s parents, the gruff but tender grandfather a font of country wisdom (“Goats is mean and pigs is smarter than you think. And they vicious too”), the grandmother steadily being eaten alive by an aggressive cancer. “Each time Leonie told me something mean, Mam would tell her to leave me alone,” a grateful Jojo recounts, devastated to see his mother hollowed by her illness. Clearly the older couple cannot take care of the children, but when Leonie’s white boyfriend is released from prison—Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm, no less—things go from bad to worse. It’s not necessarily that the drugged-out couple is evil, but that they can’t take care of themselves, much less anyone else, leaving the children to their own resources—and, as the story progresses, Ward makes clear that those resources are considerable, just as Leonie, who is haunted by the ghost of her dead brother, realizes that she has been dealt a hand that, while tragic, is simply part of the business of life: “Growing up out here in the country taught me things,” she thinks. “Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants.” Time doesn’t improve most people, either: it leads them into adulthood, makes them mean and violent and untrustworthy, all lessons the kids must learn the hard way. Though rough and cheerless, Ward’s book commemorates the resilience of children, who, as in the kindred film Beasts of the Southern Wild, are perforce wise beyond their years. Not as strong as its predecessor, but expertly written all the same, proving Ward’s position at the forefront of modern Southern letters.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Teacher Resources

Sing, Unburied, Sing Reading Guide

Around the Web

Sing, Unburied, Sing on Amazon

Sing, Unburied, Sing on JLG

Sing, Unburied, Sing on Goodreads

Sing, Unburied, Sing Publisher Page