Cynthia Kadohata’s Work Reviewed and Highly Recommended

kira-kiraAfter our discussion of Cynthia Kadohata’s kira-kira, it was clear to me that kira-kira was among our favorite novels of the semester. This is especially significant when you consider that we’ve read several Y.A. classics and bestsellers from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Outsiders. Kadohata’s prose is simple yet profound, and her story is universal yet infused with Japanese culture. Not to mention the fact that her protagonist, an elementary school-aged middle child named Katie, is perfectly loveable. Kira-kira deals with topics as difficult as growing up Japanese-American in 1960s Georgia and caring for a terminally ill sibling, who, it should be said, is Katie’s beautiful and charismatic sister and best friend, while also dealing with topics as commonplace as parent-child conflict. It is the sort of Newbery Medal-winning novel that might be enjoyed and analyzed in a middle school classroom or just as easily swallowed whole on a rainy afternoon, no matter the reader’s age.

the thing about luck

Kadohata’s most recent publication—the National Book Award-winning The Thing About Luck—has all the charm of kira-kira. Its 12-year-old, Japanese-American protagonist, Summer, is much like kira-kira’s Katie. In fact, you might think of Summer as an older Katie—one who is sometimes embarrassed by her Japanese-American grandparents in her pursuit of the attention of a cute teenage boy. But Summer’s story takes place during the wheat-harvesting season in the Midwest, rather than in and around the Georgian poultry farms. Like Katie, Summer makes mistakes, and her family is rather poor. As a result, Summer has to find a way to turn her family’s luck around—an endeavor that leads to an exciting finale.


Down These Mean Streets Reviewed: Hate, Heart and Self-Discovery

Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas, 1967Down These Mean Streets

Warning: This book contains extreme language, violence, drug use and scenes of a sexual nature. Reader discretion is advised.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its explicit content, Down These Mean Streets seems honest and in earnest. It is the memoir of author Piri Thomas, a man who knew that “since the Reconstruction days following the Civil War, racists in white hoods or dressed otherwise have worked very hard to return things to their version of the good ol’ plantation days,” but also believed that “love [was] the barrio’s greatest strength” (334-335). These ideas are among the many rooted in Thomas’s memoir.

The story begins in 1941 when Piri is just twelve years old and, as Thomas writes, “the Great Hunger called Depression was still down on Harlem” (8). Thomas’s authorial voice is natural—born in the streets—and his diction seems to echo the language of struggle and strife. On page one, for instance, Thomas writes: “The streets of Harlem make an unreal scene of frightened silence at 2 a.m. Like everything got a layoff from noise and hassling. Only the rumbling of a stray car passing by or the shy foraging of a cat or dog make the quietness bearable (emphasis added).” In addition to this skillful use of language, Thomas peppers the memoir with Spanish words, giving it its own sound.

At just twelve years of age, Piri, whose mother describes him as a Puerto Rican moreno (which translates to dark brown, almost black), begins to consciously experience racism. The Italian boys on his block call him “n*****” and pick fights with him. Piri even feels isolated on the basis of color in his own home because his mother and his siblings are several shades lighter than him. Only Piri’s father’s skin is as dark as his own, but Piri cannot connect with him because he is distant and rejects his own African blood. Although Piri initially clings to the idea that he is “Puerto Rican” and not black, one of his friends, Brew, engages him in a serious conversation about his appearance and his racial identity, causing the two to venture down South. While the trip helps Piri better understand his identity, it sharpens his hatred of white people and the pain they have caused both in his lifetime and throughout history.

Piri’s pain and rage drive him to street fighting, drugs and armed robbery—a downward spiral that culminates when he is sent to prison for shooting a police officer at twenty-two years of age. Yet Piri’s heart, which is often conceived as steadfastness in conflict despite its going way beyond this, is not exhausted by the hardship he endures.

Down These Means Streets is a tour de force, which touches on subjects as great and universal as racism, alienation, poverty, hate, love, friendship and sexuality and others as specific as the WPA, Jim Crow law, the hypo-descent rule, “passing” and the Nation of Islam. It is a gripping story, a literary phenomenon and, as written by The New York Times Book Review, “a linguistic event.”


The Outsiders: “For Teenagers, About Teenagers, Written by a Teenager”

The OutsidersAccording to a New York Times essay written by Dale Peck in 2007, The Outsiders was an instant hit when published in 1967 and has remained an all-time best seller for more than forty years. I believe that these facts say a great deal.

Although The Outsiders has been criticized for its “sometimes workmanlike prose” and intermittent clichés, such as, perhaps, the novel turning out to be Ponyboy’s crucial English theme, these elements might also be considered those which make the novel authentically Y.A. (Peck, 2007). That is, because The Outsiders was written for teenagers, about teenagers and by a teenager, it is distinctly reflective of the adolescent experience. In fact, the authenticity resulting from these circumstances is said to have profoundly influenced subsequent Y.A. works because after the publication of The Outsiders, young readers began to insist that Y.A. fiction mirror their realities. This meant that from 1967 on, Y.A. fiction would not only need to recount the teenage experience, but recount it in a voice that rang true to young readers.

As for the so-called clichés, these may be considered amateurish, or they may be considered reimaginings of various aspects of quintessential American stories (think “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story”). And given that the novel’s author, S. E. Hinton, was only fifteen when she began writing the novel, the term “amateurish” hardly packs a punch. No matter what its toughest critics say, the popularity of The Outsiders speaks for itself. Hinton has clearly given the people what they wanted.


Top Ten-Books or Short Literary Works for Adolescent Readers-PB

Top Ten Books or Short Fiction Stories
I recommend for adolescents to read

1. “An American House,” novel by Paul Bland
2. “The Book Thief,” novel by Markus Zuzack
3. “The Diary of Ann Frank,” diary by Ann Frank
4. “Maus,” graphic novel by Art Spiegelman
5. “Raisin in the Sun,” play by Lorraine Hansberry
6. “Of Mice and Men,” novel by John Steinbeck
7. “The Pearl,” novel by John Steinbeck
8. “A Christmas Story,” short story by Truman Capote
9. “A Diamond Guitar,” short story by Truman Capote
10. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Hunger Games

hunger gamesI finally read The Hunger Games! Now I know what all the fuss was about. The plot unfolds at just the right pace. As the New York Times’ Stanley Fish wrote, “you’re always on the hook.” And if you have (or had) an experience like mine, you form such a bond with the protagonist – Katniss Everdeen – that it becomes almost impossible to put the book down without knowing her fate. Although Haymitch Abernathy (Katniss’ mentor) at one point calls her “sullen,” “hostile” and having “about as much charm as a dead slug,” Katniss is honest – at least in her behind-the-scenes dealings – and as the reader, you somehow understand just about every move she makes. When she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games, for instance, you might think: I would do the same for my little brother or sister. And as for me, when Katniss’ feelings for Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne begin confusing her, well, let’s just say I’ve been there…

Another beautiful and relatable aspect of the story is Katniss’ friendship with Rue. Rue is the answer to Katniss’ loneliness. She is sweet as pie and reminiscent of Katniss’ sister, Prim. I was heartbroken when she died, but at the same time, given my strong alliance with Katniss, I couldn’t help but feel relieved because in order for Katniss to survive the Games, Rue needed to die. But Katniss doesn’t seem at all relieved. She genuinely mourns the loss of her friend, and though risky, decides to honor Rue following her death.

Katniss “decorates” Rue’s body in flowers not only to honor her, but also to take revenge on the “Capitol.” In doing this, Katniss defies the norms of the Games outright, but this would not be her last act of defiance.

In all honesty, the Capitol’s reaction to Katniss’ final rebellion has made me uneasy about reading the second book. In a way, I feel lucky that Katniss walked away from the Games, and I wish that she could return home and put the Games behind her, but I know this won’t happen… Okay, okay, I admit: I’ll probably pick up the next book in no time, but still I’m apprehensive. Is it just me?

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’d like to think that first of all, Katniss could live happily ever after and second of all, the world would never come to this. It may surprise you to learn that the Games themselves upset me less than the socioeconomic disparities between the “Districts.” The extreme hunger the people of Districts 11 and 12 endure on a daily basis was so upsetting to me, I think, because it’s not farfetched like the Games; it’s not off-base. Poverty and hunger are real, observable problems in today’s world. So, as I reflect on this book, a desire to address existing inequalities expands in me. Perhaps this is the lens through which I’ll present The Hunger Games if I use it in one of my classes someday.

Posted by SD

Top 10 YA Fantasy

Breathtaking Fantasy Landscapes & Scenery

LD: I found choosing a top list the hardest thing to do, having so little YA reading experience to draw on. I chose this because of…wait for it…the covers! No, just kidding…the artwork does help, but it was the throughline of fantasy that made me feel I might work my way through this list for fun this summer. See if I can get a short handle on fantasy options in YA. Does anyone know any of these titles or authors? Forgive the stab in the dark…

Obsessed with Dystopias: Satisfying Your Reading Needs with a Top 50 List

Dystopian Fiction is my thing. For real-sies. Some of my favorite adult novels fall under this umbrella (The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, to name a few). I even took an elective in college entitled “Apocalyptic Literature.”

That being said, I must be out of the loop because I haven’t heard of quite of few of the YA dystopian novels that make this list. I’m super pumped the author of this blog gave a nod to Lois Lowry’s The Giver series, as it has been widely considered to be one of the first YA dystopian novels published. You might also notice that Meg Rosoff’s How I live Now was given a nice little nod as well.

So if you’re suffering from Divergent withdrawal and need something to get you through those lonely book-less nights, take a look at this list and tell me what you think.


An Almost Top 10 List…

So, in reading When You Reach Me, I was inspired to search out what the Internet had to say about Young Adult Science Fiction, which is how I discovered this curious top 9 list I wanted to share with everyone.  Huffingtonpost created a list of the 9 Best Science Fiction Novels For Young Adults Besides Mockingjay, which really caught my attention.  Don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed the Hunger Games books, but I’d also love to expand students’ Sci-Fi reading lists to include some classics of the genre.

But since this is only a Top 9 list, I felt the need to include the Top Science Fiction Novels for Young Adults I am Most Nostalgic About.  They are not in order of preference, but these are 3 (technically 5 if you split the trilogy up…) Sci-Fi classics I’d recommend to young readers to throw into the mix:

1.  The Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher:


These are the first sci-fi books I read all on my own, and even though I was fairly young, I think that young adults, especially struggling readers would benefit from reading this series.  If not, it’s an awesome story about the nature of freedom and resistance to oppression with young adult protagonists attempting to overthrow their evil alien overlords!

2.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne:

20000 leagues

Ok, so the language may be a bit challenging for students, and it is quite long for some of our more attention-challenged readers.  However, it’s a tale of classic under-the-sea adventure that I found particularly engaging.  I know that when I finished reading it I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and this is something that I think is important for young readers to experience.

3.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


I thought this cover image was really awesome even though it wasn’t the one that I owned as a young adult.  But the story is incredible and the messages it contains are powerful.  In this story, set in dystopian future, firemen don’t put fires out…they start them.  Their target:  books.  This is a great story about the power and importance of books and the dangers of stifling the transformative power of literature.  Highly, highly recommended!




“Please lie about this book”

Made it to last night’s book launch. Results:

Lizzie Ross

wewereliars e. lockhart,  We Were Liars (2014)

This post’s title is what Lockhart wrote when she signed my copy of We Were Liars at her book launch last night.

I’m usually willing to comply with authors’ requests, but any lie I told would be a tip off to the truth, because you’d know I was lying.

So: two truths and a lie (your task is to spot which is which).

1. At last night’s book launch, Lockhart had TRY written on the back of her right hand, and AGAIN on the back of her left. She was quirky, lively, at times silly, and never uncool. She was happy to sign not just my copy of this book, but also my copy of Disreputable History (on which she added “WOOF” in a speech bubble coming from the basset hound’s mouth). She is funny, but she can also be serious. Her summer reading list includes AS…

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Alternative Book Report: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Book Cover


We’ve all heard the adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” However, there are questions that are presented in this idea. Namely, why not? What’s missing that would make this such a bad idea? This project allows students to delve into the world of creating a cover that reflects on the book, the author and what critics have said about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, while allowing them to demonstrate their creativity in a book-centric manner. This semi-autobiographical book is ideal for this activity, as it incorporates the context of the author’s background in the assignment.

Placement in Unit:

This project would be assigned towards the end of the unit studying this novel. We would have spent time in class discussing the novel in depth, as well as trying to isolate the themes in the book.

Instructions to Students:

Once you’ve finished reading your novel, you’re going to create your own complete Book Cover/Dust Jacket (including front, back, and 2 side flaps) to the book. You should look carefully at the cover the book currently has, and think about how you could revise this and make it more accurately reflect what the book is about. Make sure your full book cover includes the following:

1.     Your own back cover summary of the book outlining the main events, main characters, setting and what you deem to be the most pertinent relevant details. Do NOT give away any of the story’s surprises, though!

2.     At least 3 critiques by professional sources, found independently online (credit will not be given for sources currently already cited on the book cover). You should include the name of the reviewer as well as the source at which you found the review.

3.     A brief summary of the author’s biography, paying special attention to those details which you feel are most relevant to this text.

4.    Your own cover art work! Make sure it differs from what is already on the book’s cover but is still relevant. If the relationship of the book’s new cover art to the text is unclear, I will ask you to write a brief explanation for why you chose it.

NOTE: You may either design your own using your own sources, sites and supplies or you may use the book cover creator on the website

Assessment Rubric (20 points total):

⃟     Book title/author (1 point)

⃟     Back Cover Summary (1-5 points)

⃟     Author Biography (1-5 points)

⃟     Cover Art Work (1-3 points)

⃟     Three Professional Source Critiques (1-2 points each)

Common Core Standards:


Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question . . . or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.

Foreseen Challenges:

Creating this book cover may be a challenge for students who have difficulty with the creative aspect of the project. Students will be encouraged to utilize the Book Cover making tool if they are having great difficulty with this project.