The Most Exciting YA Books Coming Out This Year!

The link that is being provided connects readers to the teen vogue website, in which the magazine gives their opinion on recent books that they think adolescents in this age group will love and appreciate. During my adolescent years, teen vogue was a magazine that was always kept in my room, because of the relevance that it had to my demographic. Although Vogue magazine is a company that is geared towards fashion, it does render a significant amount of insight into helping teens pick books and music that identifies with their struggles as adolescents. Thus, you should really check out this website link, because some of their reading suggestions appear to be very exciting, pertinent and interesting in connection to the common plights that teens experience, in which these texts may prove to be useful resources in your high school or junior high classrooms.- JC




Magic in Maniac Magee


Although Jeff Magee seems like an idealized adolescent in many ways in Maniac Magee (even-keeled, accepting of others, good instincts, resourceful),  he also shows a visceral response to loss and pain by running,  a totally realistic boy response. One could argue his easygoing ways are a result of being shutdown. Maniac’s creative solutions to taking care of himself are brave and exciting, but also exhibit a certain lack of interest in himself, others and possible consequences. His feats of daring-do create a legend amongst the young, but could come about from an emotional disconnect. His other choices about how to live day to day after losing one’s parents and getting an inadequate substitute, reflects the loss of everything important: home, school, friends, community, belonging. So the wish fulfillment embodied by a boy running his way through a series of temporary families, and discovering that they all hold pain, loss, trouble and uncertainty, is a beautiful construct with lots of room for magic.

One beautiful magic in Maniac Magee is the examination of racism and prejudice through Maniac. His apparent indifference to accepting people’s judgements and prejudices, begs the question about how racial assumptions passed onto children by  unthinking elders can be shaken loose by the children themselves without their being completely emotionally unmoored first, with nothing to lose, like Maniac. This is not an easy question.

Although we want to believe that racism can be reduced to rubble through individual bridges like those shown in Maniac Magee,  this is like thinking one can reform a sociopath, someone incapable of empathy towards others, by modelling “nice” behavior.  This is mistaking the symptoms for the problem. The larger forces of societal bigotry are reinforced through many physical manifestations like neighborhood segregation: “our” part of town, “your” part of town. The same goes for our schools. This monolith of passive social acceptance of  an “us” vs “them” mentality through neighborhoods, communities, schools and places people live in, is difficult to face.

One way I might try to examine the issue of societal segregation in Maniac Magee would be through the two elements of neighborhoods and schools in the book.  We would examine the ways racism is shown in the towns, areas, streets and neighborhoods that Maniac runs through, especially “East” and “West” parts of Two Mills. We would look at the narrower glimpse into schools depicted in Maniac Magee. We would then try to imagine the schools the “East” kids attend, followed by imagining the schools  the “West” kids attend, with group creations of buildings, classes, teachers, curriculum, grading and sports, some created physically, some written out, some put together digitally, all stemming from clues in Maniac Magee. We would do the same for our imaginings of more positive, idealistic schools, for both the “East” and “West” schools. (These two extremes would point us towards utopian and dystopian YA fiction, to be explored at a later date.) Then we would discuss the differences between these imaginary schools, and vote on which we prefer; which we believe more realistic; how we might blend the two into both more idealistic, and more realistic models.

We would also explore people’s specific experiences with racism in their schools and neighborhoods, and ask the question: How could these deeper roots of racism be changed? How can individual actions change the systemic reinforcement of inequality and prejudice? These discussions and brainstormings might lead us into civics and self-government questions, leading us back to Maniac Magee by asking: Could Maniac have found any other places, maybe public places, to go with his loss, abuse and misery? Can society, while creating racial division an separation, also create places where young people, children and adolescents, can take themselves to be with each other, free of demands and expectations? What would this place look like?

While all this is deep work, students see all too well what doesn’t work, what hurts, what restricts, what is deadening themselves and others all around.  It is important to know that we can create alternatives, beginning in our minds, through collective investigation and exploration, as does Jeff Magee in Maniac Magee.

Maniac Magee Mini-lesson

I hope you all enjoyed my mini-lesson on Maniac Magee. It was so great and insightful to see how you guys illustrated your family. Some drew their family in a setting (e.g. having dinner, watching TV), some wrote their family names in flower petals, each flower representing a group of people. It was also interesting to who or what was considered family, one student included their characters they create in their fiction writing as a part of their family, another student included friends and even family members who were deceased. ImageImage

I loved reading your comments and suggests. There was a common thread in the reflections asking to tie the activity to the text. I think it’s important for students to establish their opinions on a unit before entering it. Asking students the essential questions before a unit can help also the teacher on grouping students with different or similar views. It can also help to determine how much knowledge students have on the unit topic. It terms of a unit for Maniac Magee having the students illustrate their family is a fun, relaxing project. I thought students drawing their families would give me a similar insight to the insight I received about you guys.

I hope you guys had fun and that you found some benefits in adding art projects to your lesson.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Mini-Lesson

photoI want to start out by thanking you, my peers, for your insightful feedback on my mini-lesson. I hope you won’t mind that I’ve decided to use this post to reflect on your suggestions and questions. All of your suggestions and questions addressed aspects of the mini-lesson that could’ve used improvement.

Here’s one of my favorite questions/suggestions: “Would you consider a ‘banned books’ unit? Maybe kids can further explore why books get banned and challenged.” This is a fantastic idea! It might not go over too well in some school districts, but I feel confident that students would really enjoy a unit on banned books. After all, young people seem intrigued by all things forbidden, don’t they? (I know I was!)

Another insightful critique suggested that I provide more examples of diction and tone, or even a handout that would give students an opportunity to connect samples of diction with appropriate tones. This piece of advice, like the metaphor post-it game we played yesterday, underscored the importance of helping students handle literary terms before asking them to analyze complex texts.

A couple of the other suggestions I received had to do with my close reading questions. One person suggested that I leave the first question (which dealt with the essentiality of the passage) for last because it involved higher-order thinking. The other person advised that some of the questions seemed similar to others. Both of these critiques are spot-on. For me, the “lesson learned” here is: take the time to sit down and answer your own questions. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve discovered the flaws of the questions I’ve created and improved them. I wish I had taken the time to do this with the close reading questions!

Another comment asked that I not answer the “do now” question so quickly. It’s another unarguable critique. I shouldn’t have shared my thoughts, or even my knowledge about Chris Crutcher’s opinions, until everyone who wanted to respond was given a chance to do so.

Another helpful suggestion read: “[You] may need to define words like ‘profane,’ ‘controversial,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘unjustified’ and ‘contention’ for high school students.” This is absolutely right. I guess that’s the advantage of teaching a mini-lesson in front of graduate students!

Finally, I want to share one of my favorite questions from the feedback sheets: “What would happen if the students were given the option to ban their own choices?” How thought provoking! I chuckled to myself imagining the joy students would take in banning the books they dislike…

Thanks again to everyone!

Posted by SD

Shapeshifter David vs Hydra-headed Goliath: Chris Crutcher


Well, as I finish Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, I have to stop and dash off my pink cloud valentine to Chris Crutcher, the pen warrior. I see some patterns between Deadline and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes that I consider noteworthy and even admirable. Like a good baker, Crutcher knows that if you stay true to the right measurements of your ingredients, you can be creative with substitutions, and come out with something original each time.

His adolescent boy-protagonists: two extremes in one body, usually the asset hidden behind the hairline, the deficit visible to all the world – what a great way to shape the representative of the Age of Development. Hence, Ben in Deadline is undersized and terminal, and Eric in Sarah Byrnes is fat; both smart. In this way, our hero can discover and discuss thorny social and political dilemmas from a variety of angles  (because he is not scared to use his intelligence) while retaining the essential vulnerability of anguished physicality, the most painful aspect of adolescence, in my experience.  Religion, nationalism, racism and sexuality, even death, are brought into play, through our flawed protagonist. We can love him, since his imperfections are always visible, and we feel his experiences, as his vulnerabilities bring us into his world.

His superheroes are female: they embody the feminine mystery of life by carrying a secret, or more, of the painful realities of an oppressive and misogynistic culture; unveiling these drive the story towards its ultimate goal: the truth. These females have greater spunk and grit while showing how to overcome, or at least resist, the  abuse of a hypocritical society; another set of contradictions. They inspire our protagonist, and us, to face the truth, however horrible it is.

His villains are male: their destructiveness is two-fold, coming from the inability to question oneself, i.e. use one’s intelligence; and believing that physical domination is a solution. Despite their darkness, sometimes they are a mixed bag, like Sooner in Deadline, who is redeemed by his athleticism, team spirit, and the possibility that his death will change his abusive father; and Dale in Sarah Byrnes, who is brought onto the winning team by Sarah Byrne’s tactical strategies.

He has two kinds of families, too: the ones that are able to support each other in a healthy way, despite obstacles (Eric and his single mom in Sarah Byrnes; Ben and his brother Cody in Deadline); and families that have threads of violence, abuse and fractured relationships (Sarah in Sarah Byrnes; Dallas in Deadline). He also depicts families ruled by single obsessions, like Sooner’s dad in Deadline, and Ellerby in Sarah Byrnes.

Crutcher challenges the reader to think about issues raised by the smarter kids in the school; he alternates that heady thinking with pulse-racing descriptions of athletic competitiveness, an all-American pursuit. In this manner, he keeps his polarized balance by offering critiques of our political and social culture while cheering us on with the adrenaline of sports.

So, I am warmed by Crutcher’s big, democratic, all-American heart that believes that engaged young people, thinking, feeling, reasoning, will find solutions to the complex, unfair world they are inheriting, despite dark endings.  The desire to have young people commit to their intelligence, their uniqueness, their strengths, is an evident pattern in his books, and in the funny and loving way he depicts all  his young people.

A.K.B- Turning Ideas into Metaphors in StarGirl

Turning Ideas into Metaphors in StarGirl


Targeted Grade Level: 6th grade

  1. CCS RL 1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what text says explicitly as well as inferences from the text.
  2. Larger context for activity: The theme of this unit may be whether or not people can live in society without conforming to what society says is the norm. This activity will take place at the end of the unit or close to the end of the unit, so that students will have read enough of the story to develop ideas that they could turn into metaphors. Some possible next steps to this activity is to have students continue collecting evidence concerning a key idea in Stargirl and compose essays at the end of the unit. In addition, students can continue to collect information for these metaphors and at the end of the unit create photo essays that are dependent upon the evidence that they have collected.
  3. Assessment design:

This activity is a formative assessment and is low stake assessment. I am assessing my students by the evidence that they use to create their metaphors (This means I am looking to see if the metaphors connect with the evidence). I am still monitoring and helping to identify strengths and weaknesses in the evidence that my students are collecting. I can identify where my students are struggling in collecting and placing evidence with the right arguments for future essays.

Challenging Perspectives


“Miss, miss…why do we have to study literature? What makes it literature, anyway?”

“Well, its writing that we have decided holds enough layers, meaning, subtlety and complexity that it is elevated to a higher designation: literature.”

“You mean like Push?”

“Well…do you think Push falls into all those categories? For example, tell me about the layers in Push.”

“The layer I liked was when Precious started to write poetry; when she could hardly read or write at the beginning.”

“Yeah…and how about the way she figured out how to get her breakfast, but left her book behind? And the other girl saw it?”

“And meaning?”

“Her teacher knew that writing in her journal would help her in alot of ways.”

“Ok…did you find Push subtle or complex?”

“Sure…the way Precious had to figure out how to talk to the principal, and the social worker, not giving anything away…and how she thought it was better to pee her pants than walk in front of her classmates and get dissed.”

“Well, do you think Push should be called literature?”

“Yeah, sure, why not? It had alot of different language in it, and alot happened to her; she showed courage, and we all wanted her to succeed by the end. I would call it literature. Hood literature.”

“Well, then, let’s put Push on our list of Personal Literature Favorites.”

Isn’t it ironic

OM- As I read Linstrom’s Last Ram, I couldn’t help but think “how ironic” a Caucasion (white man) writing about Native American (Indians). I also  could not control my mind  from drifting into netherlands of white men and Indians (pg 131 ” Those cowboys  have that Indian.” There were  many other themes that occurred in other literature about Native Americans such as loneliness  and racism that paralleled “Last Ram.” Nevertheless, I want to focus on the ironic events that occurred  in Last Ram.   Irony is simply the opposite of what is expected; and that is what caught my utmost attention.   First of all I thought it was “ironic” that Evan and David were friends.  Their relationship basically contradicts the lone Indian idea that we see many times in books about Native Americans.  Fire Brush and Stone Eagle’s relationship also seem to contradict the lone Indian idea too (pg 131)  “My name’s Fire Brush”, he said  “I’ve been traveling with Stone Eagle.” Page 28 represented one of the earlier situation where the lone Indian idea was contradicted as Fire Brush came to the rescue of  Stone Eagle “Run, man,” “get outta here! Get out of the Hills!” One of the strongest Irony in my opinion occur with David.  This boy is presented to the readers, as Native American, but he was not the epitome of Native Americans.  He was simply “White on the inside” and Indian on the outside. On page 12 Evan had mentioned ” David ain’t a real Indian, he’s my friend. He ain’t like the reservation kids.”  It is ironic in the sense that David ( a Native American) without a name like “Stone Eagle” seem to have adapted to society’s expectation of decorum etc, therefore earning him a place in the “white world.” It is quite ironic that David’s friend Evan, however, acted in ways in which the people didn’t find socially acceptable. Evidence of this comes from page 5 “but mom, David’s coming back this week, and I need to scout where we’ll hunt.” My reason for this irony is simply because it was more acceptable to think of Native Americans being hunters and part taking in such activities. On page 7 Evan’s mother responded ” you act like you’re one of those damed Indians yourself with no respect for learning, no respect for money, no ambition.” It was even more Ironic that the last of the Audubon sheep was to be hunted. In my opinion, and I think  many people would agree; why wouldn’t we preserve the last of it’s kind. Page 147 states  “a loud crack shattered the quiet of the badlands… the of the Audubon sheep  was dead.”


New(ish) in YA Lit: The Novel/Photo Book

I’ll  begin this post by freely admitting that I’m a  bit off topic. And by a bit, I mean these are definitely nowhere on our reading lists. However, inspired by the articles posted for us on the benefits of the graphic novel in adolescent classrooms, I went out to the bookstore and library “exploring” how authors in YA are playing with this idea. What I found was somewhat interesting. 


Previously, I had read Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a strange jumbly mix of story narrative with creepy pictures used by the author throughout the narrative to tell the story. This is not your basic graphic novel, by any means. It’s actually a novel that just happens to use intriguing photos like hooks to tell the story and keep the students coming. And come they do! I taught this abroad several times and, by the last time I taught it, I had learned either not to hand it out until the end of class or risk losing students to photo ogling for the remainder of class. Alternatively, I could hand it out and assign an in-class writing assignment: pick a picture and write your own story about what’s happening in it. (I personally really enjoyed the creative aspect of the stories the students dreamed up on that one).

To my surprise and curiosity, the author now has a sequel out, Hollow City. I haven’t read it yet, but I have a feeling it’s in much the same vein: weird kids collected in a fantasy situation facing unspeakable big bad things. Notably, I just read an article announcing that the first book in the series is being made into a movie, due out in 2015, and (yay!) being directed by Tim Burton. 

However, Riggs isn’t the only author fiddling with this. I just read the notably creepy YA book simply titled Asylum by Madeleine Roux. This is more of a classic haunting/things that scare you and go bump in the night book, but with some classic YA themes sprinkled in for good measure. It, too, uses suggestive photographs throughout to build the tension in the narrative. There are a few differences, though. Where Riggs uses (from what the book notes say) only real photographs, Roux has a few real ones but many engineered ones. Also, where Riggs actively uses the photos to move along the plot, Roux uses hers as more of a prop–an addition to what she’s saying, but not a central one. 

AND now that I continue to do research, I see that Miss Peregrine’s has actually been published also as a full-on graphic novel:

I’m thinking that this movement to add a graphic novel in addition to the regular novel may be huge in YA lit–especially with the relative success of (like em or not!) the Twilight saga’s graphic novelization. 

I know that there are more books along these lines being published, and it’s not hard to imagine why these would capture the fancy of the teen reader crowd. What do you think? Does anyone know of others out there? Would you give these a try in your classrooms/classroom libraries?