Sunday, November 29, 2015

YA Favorites: Fall Term 2015

From my reading this summer & fall -- here are my 16 favorites (fiction and non-fiction) for the classroom (otherwise known as the ones that never stay long on the shelves in our classroom library!)!!


FICTION

Another Kind of Hurricane
by Tamara Ellis Smith
Another Kind of Hurricane tells the story of ten year old Zavion, a black boy who loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, and Henry, a ten year old white boy from Vermont whose best friend Wayne just died. A marble connects these two boys from opposite sides of the East Coast as they each are on their own journey of healing. Inspired by Hurricane Irene and the wreckage of that hurricane along with Katrina, this beautifully braided narrative inspires reflection, hope and courage in the reader.



Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories
by R.J. Palacio
Auggie & Me was a beautiful, beautiful continuation of the story so many of us know and love, Wonder. The way he pulls out characters, especially, Julian, who we think is so terrible makes you think more not just about the story, but about how the characters are so much deeper than we may ever see! Absolutely so many good lessons and themes in this story - plan on reading aloud and using in my classroom! Fabulous, once again from R.J. Palacio.



Blue Gold
by Elizabeth Stewart
A stunningly written braided narrative from three teenage girl's perspective, Blue Gold, while a fictional story will leave the reader questioning the daily devices they use, and if they are part of this disgusting cycle of exploitation, hate, and cruelty. Sylvie is a refugee from the Congo in a Tanzanian refugee camp who is faced with pursuing her dreams or giving into cyclical intimidation by the local warlord. Laiping is a young Chinese teen who lies about her age to work in the city's factories to earn money for her rural family. And Fiona is a Canadian teen who finds herself in the middle of both stories, as she tries to write her own. Cannot say enough about how great this text is! For teachers -- upper middle/high school -- recommend with caution -- detailed description of drinking/sex/sexual assault.




Fish in a Tree 
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Fish In a Tree delicately addresses the common fear of any child who has ever felt out of place in school through the incredibly courageous sixth grader, Ally. Ally describes having been at seven different schools and takes you through her routine of just trying to make it through her school day without being picked on by teachers and her classmates. With an older brother she idolizes, and a hard-working mom trying to keep things afloat while her dad is deployed, Ally wins the heart of the reader fast. She's a creative, spirited, spunky girl, who with the help of a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, and her new trio of friends, is getting ready to conquer her previously undiagnosed dyslexia and social fears. Charming and uplifting!



Redeployment
by Phil Klay
Redeployment is a raw, un-flinching portrayal of the war in Iraq and the impact it has wrought on the men soldiering behind the lines. Each short story offers a unique angle: from corrupt alliances and the horrors of PTSD to play-by-play firefights and the details of psychological operations work. Written by a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq, this collection of short stories deserves every comparison and more that is made to O'Brien's Things They Carried. The authenticity that breathes through the writing leaves you hearing stories not from a far-away author, but a brother, cousin, or friend down the street. Graphic imagery, language, alcohol, and sexual content is present in the book.



The Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds
The Boy in the Black Suit intrigues from the beginning with Reynold's well crafted protagonist, Matt. Matt is a young teen who lost his mom, and nearly loses his dad as he can no longer keep his drinking in check without his wife alive. Matt’s dad ends up in the hospital after being hit while stumbling around, drunk. Matt, in search of a job, ends up working at the funeral home that his mom was buried at, and finds solace in the pain of fellow funerals, where he can watch the "break down" moment of each loved one. Through this, he feels not so alone in his pain. This novel is definitely your average teen pick, Matt’s grief is what draws you in as you want to see how he is coping and changes with it, especially as a sub-plot of a love interest comes full circle. Few language spots that are inappropriate, and mentions of alcohol but nothing too bad for middle school.



The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander 
Crossover is a beautiful portrait of brotherhood, family, adolescence and just being a kid. With twin brothers competing for stardom and girls, in the shadow of their father who was a pro-baller, this storyline in addition to the writing will draw you in. Written in verse, this poem reads smoothly, rhythmically, and with great soul. "In this game of life/ your family is the court/ and the ball is your heart./ No matter how good you are,/ no matter how down you get,/ always leave/ your heart/ on the court" (20).


When I Was The Greatest
by Jason Reynolds
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds is an urban, contemporary bildungsroman: the fast-moving tale of sixteen-year-old Ali. He befriends his new neighbors, lovingly nicknamed Needles and Noodles by Ali's younger sister Jazz, and discovers a lot about himself and his values in the process of defending Needles, who has Tourettes. Author Jason Reynolds was well-deservedly given the 2015 John Steptoe Award for New Talent for a much needed urban novel not just about stereotypical themes. Does contain some language and allusion to sexual acts.


NON- FICTION


Elena Vanishing
by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle
Elena Vanishing is an extremely raw, impactful glimpse into the tortured life of Elena, who struggles with her eating disorder. This book could be a great piece for expanding students’ worldview to a perspective and experience very different from their own, or extremely valuable for a specific student in need. However, read the wrong way, this could also be read as a "how to" guide. Proceed with extreme caution, as it also contains explicit sexual content (abuse), and drug use. An important piece to recognize the struggle and depth of these diseases, giving greater understanding to the reader who may not even begin to grasp the depth of these diseases. Provides a strong view of her distorted "anorexia voice," great for teaching point of view and internal dialogue structures for characterization.




Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
by Margarita Engle
Enchanted Air is a beautiful memoir, told in verse, of Margarita Engle's struggle between two countries: Cuba and America. Her passion for both cultures is clear, but the lines drawn by the Cold War as she grew up are even clearer. As she writes, "Living in between two ways of speaking and hearing makes me feel as divided as the gaps between languages." Once a girl of two countries, she's not sure where she belongs, and with current events, this piece couldn't be more timely!


Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern Day Slave
by Shyima Hall
Hidden Girl is the story of Shymia Hall, a girl born in 1989 and enslaved at the age of 8. Shymia takes the reader from her childhood in the slums of Egypt to the harrowing life of being enslaved to a wealthier family she knows as "The Mom" and "The Dad." A story of remarkable struggle, courage, and bravery -- her memoir joins many others throughout history which show the incredible nature of the human spirit. Interwoven with many facts about the modern-day slave trade we all too often forget out of the convenience of our lives, her story will leave you inspired to join her work of fighting human trafficking, humbled, and thankful for all you have. References to sexual activity/abuse but no graphic discussion.

Navy Seal Dogs: My Tale of Training Canines for Combat
by Mike Ritland
Navy Seal Dogs is a portrait of Mike Ritland's journey, from childhood to being a SEAL, and then switching gears to full time dog training and advocacy with his Warrior Dog Foundation. It's an important glimpse into the life of men, women, and canines in service. He shares the selection and training process of the dogs, stories of service from his canines and trainers, and discusses the "now what?" of after service where he often helps with dog placement either into retirement or to police work. Vivid without being gruesome, a must for those with military interests!




No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits
by Jordan Romero
No Summit Out of Sight tells the story of Jordan Romero, the youngest person to climb all seven (technically 8) summits. Told climb by climb, this book is a great read for anyone who has a goal, dream, or wish that has seemed impossible or bizarre to anyone else. He describes setting the goal in 4th grade based on a mural of the summits at his school and then training with his dad and step-mom, Karen, who are both endurance/adventure athletes and racers. He begins with Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2006, setting a world record for climbing it at 10 years old, and finishes with eighth climb to Antarctica's Mount Vinson in December 2011 at age 15. While the writing can get a bit bland and predictable at times, the book makes up for it in its great lessons in determination, teamwork, and Romero's beginning lessons in cultural appreciation as his worldview widens with each adventures.


Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!
by Kate Schatz
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz is the book I want each and every student in my classroom to read (male and female). A fabulous non-fiction mentor text, the book goes through 26 women who would otherwise not likely be in a history book: Hazel Scott, an early prodigy of Juilliard who went to be the first African American to host her own TV show, Nelly Bly, who in the late 1800s changed journalism by going undercover in a mental institution for 10 days, and then traveled around the world in a record time of 72 days. Schatz also honors 'X,' by saving it for "the women whose names we don't know... for the women we haven't learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read." The moving tribute ends by asking, "What will you do to make the world rad?" leaving the stories of inspirational woman in the hands of the reader - and giving them tips for "being rad" and changing the world, as well as further reading suggestions.




Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
by Michaela DePrince
Taking Flight is the story of Michaela DePrince, an accomplished classical ballerina who is also the subject of the documentary "First Position." Her path to many renowned ballet companies was anything but traditional -- as an orphan from Sierra Leone, she was adopted with a friend Mia by a loving family in the United States who encouraged her dream to be a ballerina. In the book, she pens her story from her childhood in Sierra Leone to the contemporary life she leads. Acutely aware of structures around her, she challenges the bigotry she sees in the dance world: "there is one form of racial discrimination that I am unable to ignore, and that is the racial bias in the world of ballet" (120). Timely text for continuing discussion of race, class, empathy, and biases both at home and abroad.


Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom is an absolutely riveting read, GREAT for upper elementary/middle schoolers. What a story worth telling, her first-person account of the events in Selma leading to Bloody sunday, as well as the Selma-Montgomery March is invaluable and full of great detail. So often we forget the myriad of people it took to create such history, and Lowery deftly tells her story, and the story of others whose lives were sacrificed for the betterment of our country and the freedom of its peoples.

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