School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:05:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Top 10 Latinx | 2016 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:00:47 +0000 2016-top10-libroThe 2016 picks for children and adolescents by and about Latinxs represent a range of genres, formats, age levels, and countries/regions of origin. Whether seamlessly weaving Spanish into an English narrative or providing complete text in Spanish and English, these books present compelling stories of humorous escapades, traditional songs, life struggles, and the importance of art and music. It was difficult to narrow the list to just 10, so a few additional titles include Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe, The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh, and Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas by Yuyi Morales.

latinx-medina-burnbabyburnBurn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. Candlewick. Gr 9 Up.
This coming-of-age novel takes place in Queens, NY, during the summer of 1977. A serial killer is terrorizing the city; arson is epidemic; and a blackout has led to citywide looting. Seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez’s home life is equally precarious. Her violence-prone brother is dealing drugs, and unable to pay the rent, the family is confronting eviction. Nora’s journey through tough decisions will keep readers engaged to the end.

latinx-wood-esquivelEsquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood. illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Charlesbridge. Gr 2-6.
This book features musician, composer, and bandleader Juan García Esquivel (1918–2002), who removed the paper roll in his family’s player piano when he was a child so that he could make his own music. At 14, he worked as a paid pianist for radio shows, and at 17, he was an orchestra leader in Mexico City. Later, he created music from his New York City studio, experimenting with tempos, dynamics, and chords. Tonatiuh’s distinctive drawings, with collage textures and photographic elements, aptly capture Esquivel’s jazzy style, as do an appended author’s note, resource listing, and photograph.

latinx-medina-juanalucasJuana and Lucas by Juana Medina. illus. by author. Candlewick. Gr 2-4.
In this story of a Colombian girl who does not want to learn English, Medina imaginatively infuses an expressive narrative with her own illustrations. Featuring appealing design elements, strong writing, and a delightful protagonist, this outstanding title is sure to foster international awareness while inspiring giggles.

latinx-jaramillo-lospollitosLos Pollitos/Little Chickies by Susie Jaramillo. illus. by author. Encantos. Toddler-PreS.
The traditional Spanish nursery song is presented in an accordion-style board book format. One side has the lyrics in Spanish; the English translation is on the flip side. The clean-lined illustrations are playful and striking against a white background. Preschoolers can double the pleasure by lifting flaps or spinning a wheel, sending Mother Hen off in search of food for her pollitos.

latinx-camper-lowriderstothecenteroftheearthLowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper. illus. by Raúl the Third. Chronicle. Gr 4-8.
Camper and Raúl the Third have crafted a suavecito graphic novel blending Chicano folkore, Aztec mythology, and a superpowered lowrider. Protagonist Lupe Impala and her companions search for their beloved cat, Genie, and encounter La Llorona, the Chupacabra, lots of calaveras, and Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld. Raúl the Third’s culturally evocative art and the chulo text, which effortlessly combines Spanish and English, distinguish this outstanding book.

latinx-arena-martabigsmallMarta! Big and Small by Jen Arena. illus. by Angela Dominguez. Roaring Brook. PreS-Gr 1.
With repetitive text and child-friendly illustrations, this wonderful read-aloud invites the younger set to experience the tension, relief, and satisfaction of a great plot. Marta meets animals large and small, and to each, she is considered loud, very loud; slow, very slow; and so on. But when she meets the snake, she definitely demonstrates how bright she is: “Clever, very clever, like una niña.”

latinx-campoy-maybesomethingbeautifulMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. PreS-Gr 2.
Mira wants to bring color to her gray city, so she is delighted to meet a man with paintbrushes in his pockets who looks at walls and sees something beautiful. After he gives Mira a brush, the neighborhood joins her, painting, dancing, and singing together. This true story, based on illustrator López’s experiences, is written in a joyful cadence that, together with the brilliantly colored artwork, makes a stunning offering.

latinx-stork-memoryoflightThe Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Gr 9 Up.
Vicky Cruz wakes up in a hospital after a failed suicide attempt. What follows is a slow path toward recovery as she learns coping tools to help her understand and counter her anxiety and depression. Within a caring community of Latinx teens from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, Vicky learns about her strengths and her need for relationships, as well as new ways to talk with her family. An elegant story and a must-read for teens and their parents.

latinx-delacre-olinguito¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el bosque nublado/Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest by Lulu Delacre. illus. by author. Children’s Book Pr. Gr 1-4.
Using the alphabet as a device, this title introduces readers to the habitat of the olinguito, a newly discovered mammal of the cloud forest in the Ecuadorean Andes. The information is presented via poetic text in English and Spanish, highlighting each language’s natural rhythms. The beautiful mixed-media illustrations include rich details that invite readers in for close looks.

latinx-argueta-wearelikethecloudsSomos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta. illus. by Alfonso Ruano. Groundwood. Gr 3-6.
Through haunting free-verse poems in Spanish and English, Argueta provides a voice for Central American child refugees, speaking of their fears and dreams. Forced to leave all behind, they cross the region on top of the train called “La Bestia” and on foot through the desert. An encounter with Border Patrol agents leaves them waiting, feeling like the clouds. Ruano’s acrylic paintings poignantly depict the children’s emotions.

Lucia Acosta is a children’s literature specialist and reviewer; Ruth Quiroa is an associate professor of reading and language at National Louis University, IL; and Tim Wadham is SLJ’s Libro por libro columnist.

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour | SLJ Review Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:00:31 +0000 LACOUR, Nina. We Are Okay. 240p. Dutton. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525425892. POP

Gr 8 Up –Her first semester of college behind her, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break, even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories lurk. Her best friend Mabel comes to stay with her, and over the next few days, Marin contemplates the events of last spring and summer and deals with her complicated [...]]]> redstarLACOUR, Nina. We Are Okay. 240p. Dutton. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525425892. POP

ya-hs-lacour-weareokayGr 8 Up –Her first semester of college behind her, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break, even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories lurk. Her best friend Mabel comes to stay with her, and over the next few days, Marin contemplates the events of last spring and summer and deals with her complicated relationship with Mabel. Slowly, readers learn more about Marin’s life: the surfer mother who drowned when Marin was young, the father she never knew, the loving grandfather who raised her but whose concealed secrets kept a wall between them, and the painful events that sent Marin fleeing San Francisco. LaCour’s use of settings is masterly: frigid and desolate upstate New York reflects Marin’s alienation, while vibrant San Francisco evokes moments of joy. Though there’s little action, with most of the writing devoted to Marin’s memories, thoughts, and musings, the author’s nuanced and sensitive depiction of the protagonist’s complex and turbulent inner life makes for a rich narrative. Marin is a beautifully crafted character, and her voice is spot-on, conveying isolation, grief, and, eventually, hope. With hauntingly spare prose, the emphasis on the past, and references to gothic tales such as The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre, this is realistic fiction edged with the melancholy tinge of a ghost story. VERDICT A quietly moving, potent novel that will appeal to teens, especially fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2016 issue.

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Stars? He’s Got It Covered: Introducing Artist Christian Robinson | Up Close Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:00:17 +0000 Photo by Anastasiia Sapon

Photo by Anastasiia Sapon

Christian Robinson is a relative newcomer to the children’s book world, yet suddenly his name is everywhere, on award-winning books such as Last Stop on Market Street, on distinguished panels, and on best illustrated lists far and wide. Two of his titles, School’s First Day of School and Little Penguins, appear on our Best Books list, and a third, The Dead Bird, was recently named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2016. His work is hip and cool and loaded with child appeal. This San Francisco–based rising star was the unanimous choice to be our December cover artist.

Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for this cover?
I was given only one request from the art director, which was to find a way to incorporate stars into the illustration. I think I was inspired by those little plastic glow-in-the-dark stars that kids sometimes stick on the ceiling of their room. Then I thought it might be easier just to place the stars on a blanket and have a child reading a book while getting ready for bed.

At what age did you know that you were an artist?
I believe we’re all artists in some form or another. I don’t know if there ever was a realization; I just know I love making things and hope to make things all my life.

What is it about the picture book form that appeals to you? Who are your touchstone artists or role models?
I love what Margaret Wise Brown said about her interest in picture books: “I don’t think I’m essentially interested in children’s books. I’m interested in writing, and in pictures. I’m interested in people and in children because they are people.” I think that rings true for me as well.

How do you pick your projects? This must get harder and harder since you are in such demand.
Honestly, I just ask myself if I can see myself having fun or enjoying the process while making pictures for a project. Now the challenge is simply finding the time to work on all the things I love—a good problem to have.

Can you tell us a bit about your time at Sesame Street Workshop and Pixar and how your background in animation has informed your picture books?
I studied animation in college and have a deep love for the art form. To animate means to bring to life. I really like this idea of thinking of a drawing or a character as something that can be brought to life or have a life of its own. I think it informs how I illustrate in some way. My time working with both studios was great. It was actually at Pixar where I got my very first book illustration job. The title of the book was Beware of Dug! (Disney Pr.).

Do you have any interest in writing your own picture book texts?
Lots of interest! Although I would say I’m more confident in my voice as a visual storyteller than as a writer. I feel as though I’m still learning how to write a good picture book, and with each book I work on, I think I’m learning more and more from the author about writing for children.

What’s your favorite place in San Francisco?
That’s a tough question. I would say I love Crissy Field Beach on a really hot and clear day. It’s always vibrant when the sun is out; plus you get the most amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Can you talk about some of your forthcoming projects?
Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio comes out in February 2017, and it’s a companion book to Gaston (both S. & S.). Also, When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks.), [comes out in] spring 2017.

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Discovery Education Makes E-Textbooks Easy | Reference Online Sun, 04 Dec 2016 14:00:05 +0000 1612-ref-discoveryedu-onlineSchool districts looking to make the digital shift to e-textbooks will find a wealth of information and valuable resources in Discovery Education’s “Techbook” series.

Discovery Education

Grade Level Math: 6-8; science: K–12; social studies: 6-8

Cost The average cost of a traditional textbook is approximately $70 per student, and the Discovery Education “Techbook” series is $45 to $55 per student for a six-year subscription.
Ease of Use and Visual Appeal The thoughtfully innovative design is as functional as it is aesthetically appealing. Simple point-and-click navigation, drop-down menus, and keyword searches provide users with quick access to content pages and invite exploration of the vast resources available. Visual learners will appreciate the graphical user interface (“Course View”/”Visual Overview”), which is easy to navigate and a pleasure to look at. A “Table of Contents” alternative is more text-heavy but no less valuable for its organization and clarity. It offers a familiar, book-based approach for finding information.
Overall, the user-friendly design is intuitive, responsive, and consistent, and the page layout is purposeful in its placement of items, facilitating readability and scanning. Bold colors, vibrant graphics, straightforward language displayed in large typeface, and other design elements work together seamlessly to engage the senses and create flow from page to page.
Content While the layout and design of the math, science, and social studies techbooks may vary from one to the next, the comprehensive nature of the information remains constant throughout. Thoroughly researched, each offering is updated regularly, providing educators and their students with material that is current, relevant, and authoritative. A flexible, multimodal framework that includes embedded videos, audio recordings, and interactive modules addresses individual learning styles and interests.
The “5E Model of Instruction”—engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate—is at the heart of each lesson and is used effectively to pique curiosity while simultaneously encouraging inquiry-based critical thinking and student-directed learning.
Furthermore, educators can customize content to meet classroom requirements that are aligned with national and state standards, including Next Generation Science Standards, Core Curriculum Content Standards, and Common Core State Standards. In fact, there are currently 35 state-specific science techbooks available for most grades. They cover three major scientific disciplines—physical science, earth and space science, and life science. Each subject—in this example, physical science—is subdivided into smaller units, including “Sorting and Changing,” “Motion,” “Heat,” and “Sounds,” and from there broken down into concepts such as “On the Move” or “Warming Up.” Within each unit are model lesson plans, a teachers guide, and assessment questions corresponding to specific standards; educators can personalize lessons by selecting videos, reading passages, and ebooks, among other options, to store in a folder for later use. These items can be quickly accessed, updated, or deleted as warranted via the “My Content” and “QuickList” tabs on each page.
Student and Teacher Resources An abundance of resources are available. Educators have direct access to the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), a community approach to resource and idea sharing that also provides networking opportunities. Here, teachers can obtain other free resources, including puzzle makers and additional lesson plans.
A “Professional Learning” tab offers information regarding online and in-person training events, virtual field trips, and more. “Builder Tools” assists teachers with the creation of everything from quizzes to writing prompts, while “Classroom Manager” enables them to organize and maintain student and class results.
From within each techbook, students can access an interactive glossary arranged alphabetically or by unit, as well as homework help, games and other interactive activities, and archived webinars via Discovery Education’s home page. Free parent resources include all of the above, plus “Motivation Station,” a collection of helpful tips to motivate children in and out of school.
Verdict Comprehensive and content-rich, the three techbooks currently available through Discovery Education are well-designed multimodal resources that not only enhance learning but are also adaptable to individual student needs. These relevant, reliable digital textbooks are a welcome addition to classrooms and school districts that value 21st-century learning skills.

Audrey Sumser, Akron-Summit County Public Library, OH

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Engineering, Inspired by Kid Lit Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:17:08 +0000 novel_2

A student works on a Novel Engineering technical challenge.

Conventional wisdom says that students tend to either be drawn to math and problem solving or to reading and language arts. But a program for STEM learning developed at Tufts University has been proving that assumption wrong since 2010.

Novel Engineering provides a unique way to get students excited about both reading and problem solving.

Through the program, elementary and middle school students read a book, identify what problems the characters face, and work in teams to design prototypes to solve it. The students test the prototypes and receive feedback from their teacher and peers before presenting their creations to their classmates.

So far about 700 educators from around the country have been trained in the program, enabled by a National Science Foundation grant, with teachers and librarians working together to implement it in some schools. The selected books present a variety of challenges for different ages. For instance, third graders reading Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) honed in on the problem that Hugo spends too much time winding the clock; he also has to figure out how to break into a dresser. The protagonist in Ezra Jack Keats’s Peter’s Chair doesn’t like having his stuff painted pink and has grown too big for his chair; first graders devise solutions. In Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, the peach gets stuck on the Empire State Building.


Above: Students’ notes about problems a main character faces in Linda Sue Park’s ‘A Long Walk to Water.’ Below: devising a solution.

long_walkElissa Milto, director of outreach at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and project director for Novel Engineering, says that in the past, when she approached educators about engineering projects they could bring to their students, their eyes would often glaze over at the mention of the word “engineering.” This approach, however, is more in teachers’ and school librarians’ wheelhouse.

“We’re using books they already know,” Milto says. “We’re not asking them to do an entirely new curriculum. They already have expertise in reading. They already know the conversations to have with kids. They feel so confident in teaching literacy and can just add this on.”

For example, a fourth-grade class may read Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, in which protagonist Fudge goes into Peter’s room and messes with his turtle. Students then work together to build something to keep Fudge away from the turtle, and then test their design to make sure it actually works.

These types of projects draw in all kinds of kids, Milto says. “We’ve seen kids who are more readers really get into it, because they feel that there are so many elements from the book that they’re including in their design,” she notes.

novel_5Maggie Jackson was one of the first teachers to use Novel Engineering with her students when it was a pilot program, six years ago. The fifth grade teacher at Vinson-Owen Elementary School in Winchester, MA, says that one of the things she likes most about the program is its ability to reach students at all levels.

“No matter the student’s ability as a reader, scientist, or mathematician, all of them seem to be engaged,” Jackson says. “The fact that everyone is participating, everyone is excited for Novel Engineering time—that’s probably the biggest thing.”

These activities are also a big help when it comes to getting students to think critically, Jackson adds. “A lot of that is because they’re not finding connections between different subjects, and I like that Novel Engineering gives them the opportunity to make connections,” she says. “They may critically think about a character without even realizing it because they’re trying to solve a problem through engineering.”

She often starts her students off with a short book like Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming (Atheneum, 2002). In the book, Mr. McGreely is having trouble keeping rabbits out of his garden. While he tries several strategies to thwart them, none work—allowing students to learn from his mistakes while engineering an outcome that works. Once Jackson’s students have the hang of brainstorming in this way, she introduces more complex books, such as the The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Yearling, 2004).

novel_3Marty Daignault teaches fourth grade at Winthrop Elementary School in Ipswich, MA. He just started using Novel Engineering with his students this year to tackle challenges presented in Kate DiCamillo’s The Tiger Rising (Candlewick, 2011).

“The kids loved it—all of my kids,” Daignault says. “Even the kids who are special needs for reading did a fabulous job really thinking deeply.”

He also had his students use the program in reading a book in the “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshis. After reading I Survived the Joplin Tornado 2011 (Scholastic, 2015), his students went to work building tornado-proof structures.

“At first they wanted to make dioramas to show cute little house scenes and models of rescue bunkers,” Daignault said in an email. “That all changes, though, when I tell them they should try to crush their tornado-reinforced shelter to see how strong it is….before I try to crush it to replicate the twister’s path of destruction.” Students who had initially built plastic structures moved on to wood, and then rock. “When the whole thing doesn’t collapse under eight or even sixteen pounds of weight, they [feel] proud and accomplished,” Daignault noted.

Meanwhile, the team at Tufts is continuing to refine the program. Right now they’re determining the most effective assessment for it and identifying the books that work best. They also want to bring the initiative to more teachers and school librarians.

Debra Mayer, a librarian working with Pre-K to eighth grade students at Saint Luke School in McLean, VA, hopes to start using Novel Engineering with her middle school students. “This provides us a way to extend the classroom reading,” she says. “In middle school, their interest in reading is waning because [they have] a lot of required reading—a lot of reading that they don’t want to do, and their opportunities to free read are very limited,” Mayer adds. “This gives them something interesting to do with text” and “start asking, ‘what if?’”

Those wanting to learn more about Novel Engineering should contact Milto at the school’s Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.

marva_head_shotMarva Hinton is a contributing writer for Education Week and the host of the ReadMore podcast, a show that features interviews with authors including Nicola Yoon and Daniel José Older.

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The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by JooHee Yoon | SLJ Review Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:00:40 +0000 ANDERSEN, Hans Christian. The Steadfast Tin Soldier. retold and illus. by JooHee Yoon. 64p. Enchanted Lion. Nov. 2016. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781592702022.

Gr 2-4 –The steadfast tin soldier has only one leg. There was not enough tin to fill the mold, but this soldier can stand just as well as the others. The soldier falls for a beautiful paper ballerina in the child’s playroom and catches the wrath of a frightening jack-in-the-box troll. This tale has love, envy, adventure, [...]]]> redstarANDERSEN, Hans Christian. The Steadfast Tin Soldier. retold and illus. by JooHee Yoon. 64p. Enchanted Lion. Nov. 2016. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781592702022.

steadfast-tin-soldierGr 2-4 –The steadfast tin soldier has only one leg. There was not enough tin to fill the mold, but this soldier can stand just as well as the others. The soldier falls for a beautiful paper ballerina in the child’s playroom and catches the wrath of a frightening jack-in-the-box troll. This tale has love, envy, adventure, and the traditional tragic Andersen ending. Yoon has retold the story for a new generation of readers and illustrated it with her distinctive graphic-style mixed-media art. Done with a limited palette, the intense visual elements complement the high drama of the plot, and the detail and use of perspective are exquisite. There are many other picture book versions of this story, yet Yoon brings a fresh look and an accessible narrative. VERDICT This imaginative and appealing interpretation of the classic story is a must-have for any fairy-tale collection.–Kris Hickey, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2016 issue.

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Parent Objects to Depiction of Islam in Textbook Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:24:45 +0000 A middle school parent has asked the Sullivan County Schools in Blountville, TN, to immediately remove a seventh grade Pearson textbook, My World History, from its curriculum. “She says that it presents a distorted view of Islam,” reported the Times News.

pearsontextbook“[The request] was by one parent,” says Pat Hull, an attorney who has represented the Sullivan County school system for about 30 years. “As I understand it, her concern is districtwide and not just wanting the book removed from one particular school.”

The parent, identified as Michelle Edmisten by the Times News, spoke before the Sullivan County school board on November 7 to make her request, notes Hull, who was present at the meeting. He says during his tenure representing the district, he “doesn’t recall” any request like Edmisten’s being made.

According to the Times News, Edmisten wrote on a complaint form submitted to the county department of education that the book “gives false claims and views on Islam, trying to ‘normalize’ through our children,” and that it is “disproportionate regarding Islam and other religions, teaching doctrine from Islam and not the others.”

The Times News also reported that Edmisten noted that her daughter took a zero and that Edmisten expressed concern that her daughter was not allowed to complete an alternate reading assignment and test. A video posted to a Facebook page for the Sullivan County Parents Against Islam Indoctrination group shows Edmisten thanking people for their support and encouraging them to go to the November school board meeting.

Hull says that the district is in the process of convening a committee to review the textbook. The committee will be comprised of the principal of the student’s middle school, at least one certified media specialist, one or more parents, one or more students, and a representative of the classroom teachers. (There are nine middle schools within Sullivan County Schools; the one Edmisten’s daughter attends was not identified.)

Hull adds, however, that while he would not personally see the request, he does not think the committee has to make its recommendation by a predetermined deadline. “Obviously it’s going to require the people on the committee to review [the textbook],” he says.

Pearson sent representatives to Tennessee in September and October 2015 to meet with parents, advocacy groups, and policymakers to “address their specific questions about the depiction of religion in textbooks,” said Scott Overland, director of media and communities for Pearson, in a statement sent to School Library Journal. “We continue to be committed to presenting balanced, unbiased, and accurate material. In addition, our offer stands to answer questions directly from concerned groups in Tennessee.”

Pearson representatives have not been contacted by the state nor the school about the current request, but learned about the situation involving My World History through various news accounts, says a Pearson official.

However, the National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Sullivan County Schools in defense of the book. In its letter, the group stated that “Educating students about Islam does not constitute indoctrination.”

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Categories Blur as Teen Lit Comes of Age Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:55:01 +0000 1611-teenlit-comesofage-cvs1It’s been a few years since the New Adult (NA) category made a big splash in the publishing world. Popularized by self-published authors, NA features stories with characters between the ages of 18 and 25, often in a college setting. The plots are fast-paced and emotionally intense and center primarily on romantic relationships. The NA designation became official in 2013 when it received its own BISAC code (“FICTION/Romance/New Adult”). Some commentary heralded the category as the potential “next big thing” and the “hottest category of books.” But others wrote it off as a passing craze, marketing ploy, or a “sexed-up” version of young adult literature. Meanwhile, studies show more than half of those who read YA are beyond their teenage years.

All of this calls into question how categories and genres are conceived, or at least how readers’ advisors help match readers to books. The science of adolescent development indicates that adolescence doesn’t end for most people when they reach 18, as prominent scholars such as Laurence Steinberg and others have maintained. According to Steinberg, it is not until the mid-20s that the adolescent brain is fully developed and capable of consistent independent and controlled thinking. Just as there isn’t a firm line between childhood and adulthood, the differences and appeal of young adult fiction vs. books published for adult audiences exist on more of a continuum, in my view, especially as many adults continue to be avid readers of YA.

Luckily, there are increasing options for readers looking for stories that explore this stage of life. As NA has gained momentum, there have also been more YA titles that are pushing the upper edge of the age designation, following stories of teens the summer after graduation, on into college, and beyond.

Pushing the Boundaries of YA

The following books are published by YA imprints and marketed as YA, following the coming-of-age stories past high school and beyond.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013) and All the Feels by Danika Stone (Swoon Reads, 2016) feature college freshmen who are deeply engaged in online culture and fandom. In Fangirl, Cath struggles to establish her identity outside of her relationship with her twin sister and her life as an author of popular fan fiction. In All the Feels, Liv’s campaign to bring the character from her favorite show back sparks a geeky romance.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (Holt, 2015) follows Skylar, a recent high school graduate who is ready to escape her small town for art school. Unfortunately, her mom’s depression and the rekindling of a budding romance with former coworker Chris, a wounded veteran a couple years her senior, complicate her plans.

How To Love by Katie Cotugno (HarperCollins, 2013) tells a love story in alternating time lines: “then,” when high school couple Reena and Sawyer get pregnant and become estranged, and now, three years later, as they reconnect. One section is firmly YA, but the “after,” which shows Reena as a mother of a young girl, has much in common with the perspective and plot of typical NA novels that focus on experiences of emerging adulthood.

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall (Swoon Reads, 2015) revolves around two students in a college creative writing class who have crushes on each other but just can’t seem to get together—until they do. The first of a new imprint that uses crowd-sourcing to determine which manuscripts to publish, this novel is also unique in that it is a romance told through dozens of secondary points of view.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen, 2015) is about Toni and Gretchen, a lesbian couple whose solid relationship starts to crumble when they attend different colleges. Toni’s gender identity shifts between genderqueer and trans as she meets new people at school, and Gretchen struggles with fitting into Toni’s new life. The plot centers on how college experiences impact the characters, but with a voice and writing style very consistent with YA fiction.

Some projects initially announced as NA have abandoned the term. Prepub announcements for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas framed the novel as New Adult, but it was released by the YA imprint of Bloomsbury in 2015. The fantasy title features many of the hallmark characteristics of NA: a sexy alpha male love interest and a feisty, headstrong protagonist in a steamy and dangerous relationship.

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016) is a heartfelt story of a long-distance friendship between Cath, who moves away to attend college, and Scott, who stays behind to work after high school, told through correspondence. The story offers teenagers a glimpse at what roommate situations, dating, and family drama look like after high school. Set in the 1980s, it’s sure to appeal to older readers who remember life before instant communication and who will appreciate the musical references with nostalgia.

Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell (Flatiron, May 2017) is the story of Flannery, who is just biding time enduring the smirks of mean girls at her Catholic high school until she starts Columbia University. But it’s equally about her 25-year-old English teacher, Caitlin Sweeney, and her grief after learning that her first love, a U.S. Marine, has died in action. The novel treads the line between young adult and adult fiction, and much of the story is focused on the college experience.


Before there was the term New Adult, there was no shortage of adult books with teen appeal. YALSA and ALA have curated the best published each year in the Alex Awards list since 1998, and School Library Journal has curated a list for years as well. In fact, St. Martin’s Press is launching Wednesday Books, a new imprint to publish both YA and adult books that focus on coming-of-age themes.

A number of new releases focus on the conflict that results from the transition from childhood to adulthood. To satisfy readers looking for novels about emerging adulthood in literary or genre fiction, consider these recent releases in adult fiction.

Tender by Belinda McKeon (Little, Brown, 2016) focuses on an intense, passionate relationship against the backdrop of higher education in 1990s Ireland. Instead of a “happily ever after” romance, it’s a novel of longing and obsessive infatuation. As the protagonist’s mental state deteriorates, the prose becomes more fractured. Hand this to readers looking for complicated stories set in college, but without the promise of a happily ever after.

1613-teenlit-comesofage-cvs2Science meets magic in All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor, 2016), a book that will surely appeal to millennials with a penchant for the weird and wondrous. In this debut novel, an accomplished witch and an engineering genius who were childhood friends meet again as the end of the world nears. A genre-bending exploration of nature and technology, life and love.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (HarperCollins, 2014) will appeal to fans of adult and YA fantasy alike. A queen raised in exile must reclaim her throne now that she’s reached the age of maturity at 19. Her kingdom is threatened by the legacy of her lazy, corrupt uncle who ruled for years in her stead, as well as the tyrannical rule of the mad queen in the neighboring land. Blending magic in a futuristic but feudal fantasy world, this novel balances political intrigue with the journey of a young queen coming into her own and learning how to harness her power.

What NA Can Be

Laura Buzo’s Love and Other Perishable Items (Knopf, 2012) features the unlikely friendship and ill-timed crush involving 15-year-old Amelia and Chris, an older college student, who work at a grocery store. Told through Amelia’s first-person perspective and Chris’s journals, it gives equal time to both characters and their challenges. Since the novel focuses on a relationship that crosses the divide between younger teen and older young adult, it’s a great way to illustrate the commonalities that YA and NA share as well as highlight their differences.

Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son (Candlewick, 2011) also examines life after high school. It follows the same characters introduced in Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca, this time focusing on 19-year-old Tom Mackee, who is grieving and estranged from his friends and family. By rebuilding relationships with them, he finds his way back to himself. The narrative is unusual for YA fiction because it offers not only Tom’s point of view but also that of his 42-year-old aunt. It’s published as YA and has the voice and urgency that is the hallmark of the category, but also explores the challenges and conflicts of older adult relationships.

A new collection of short stories from Australian author Abigail Ulman, Hot Little Hands (Penguin, 2016), highlights young women navigating the end of adolescence and their own burgeoning adulthood as they balance innocence with sophistication and nostalgia with the eager anticipation of the future.

In Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Knopf, 2016), a college graduate embarks on an adventure to make it in New York City and lands a waitressing job at a posh restaurant. As she becomes entangled in the complex web of her coworkers’ relationships, she is particularly drawn to a worldly, sophisticated waitress and a damaged bartender in a motorcycle jacket. In intimate, intoxicating prose, Danler explores the self-destructive tendencies and heartbreak that many still struggle with in their 20s.

The NA trend was a result of the rise of self-publishing, a gap in the romance market for readers interested in novels with college-age protagonists with first-person viewpoints, the maturation of the YA market, and the increased popularity of YA fiction with adult readers. But will it have a lasting impact?

Only time—and the whims of editors and marketing teams—will tell. There will always be a demand for coming-of-age stories.

Molly WettaMolly Wetta is the member manager at YALSA’s “The Hub,” and collection development librarian at the Lawrence (KS) Public Library. She blogs at “Wrapped Up in Books.”

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Books as Allies: SLJ’s Best Books Help Kids Find Their Way | Editorial Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:27:59 +0000 slj_cv_dec2016With the 2016 list of Best Books, SLJ celebrates 50 years of acknowledging the top titles in publishing for kids. The list, the reviews editors note, “represent the books that opened our minds, lifted our spirits, and help us see the world with fresh eyes.” Importantly, they provide 66 unique tools with which to make a difference in a child’s life.

“We know that books can change—even save—lives, that handing children or teens the right book at the right moment can alter the course of their lives,” says Kiera Parrott, SLJ reviews director. “And because of the way children absorb information about themselves and the world around them, children’s books in particular are some of the most powerful forms of media. Books can build empathy, show a positive way forward, and help young people find and nurture their strengths. When the editors sat down to select the best books published this year, we were conscious about the impact of these titles in the hands of librarians and, ultimately, readers. We looked for books that reflect the experiences of a diverse array of readers and respect the cognitive and emotional intelligence of kids and teens.”

The resulting list offers much for any reader to chew on and creates pathways for children and teens to learn about the diversity of human experience. It also offers stories that will support our kids as they find their way in the angry and often frightening cultural climate that has emerged during the presidential campaign and after the election.

1612-gn-top10-march-book-threeNotably, among them is March: Book Three, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell, it is a graphic memoir of Lewis’s life and work in the civil rights movement. Katherine Paterson, chair of the committee that determined the winner, said the judges considered these key things: how does the book speak to the head, heart, and ear; how does it contribute to the vast conversation it joins; and is it a book for our time that will also stand the test of time? The “March” trilogy uses the graphic format to create access to this important part of our history, offering insight for those who want to stand up to injustice, to be brave in the face of oppression, and to build a kinder, more inclusive world.

We Are the AntsWhen I think about the power of books, I imagine pleasure, learning, and transport, but I also often think of a sort of salvation, if not actual survival. The increasing body of LGBTQ literature, for instance, provides a much-needed haven for kids and teens desperate to see themselves reflected positively in media. This was the experience that Shaun David Hutchinson, author of SLJ Best Book We Are the Ants, shared in his presentation at the SLJ Leadership Summit.

In my experience as a tween and teen living in a disrupted home and riddled with anxiety about nuclear holocaust and earthquakes, books helped me cope. I never had enough of them. How lucky I was to have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read 17 times). I am still thankful for Scout’s companionship—and I am acutely aware of the disparities in our society that mean too many children grow up without books as allies.

All this informs much of my work with literature and libraries and fuels my belief that books are transformational tools at all ages. They are especially powerful when the right story finds its way into the hands of a child who needs it at the right moment. This is what libraries are all about, and their important work in this regard has never been more critical than it is today.


Rebecca T. Miller

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The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond | SLJ Review Thu, 01 Dec 2016 14:00:26 +0000 DESMOND, Jenni. The Polar Bear. illus. by Jenni Desmond. 48p. Enchanted Lion. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781592702008.

Gr 1-4 –From the author/illustrator of The Blue Whale comes another enchanting and informative title about a threatened species. With a touch of metafictional flair, a young girl pulls this very book down from the shelf to read about polar bears and is immediately immersed in their fascinating world. She learns about their habitat, physical characteristics and adaptations, and feeding and [...]]]> redstarDESMOND, Jenni. The Polar Bear. illus. by Jenni Desmond. 48p. Enchanted Lion. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781592702008.

polar-bearGr 1-4 –From the author/illustrator of The Blue Whale comes another enchanting and informative title about a threatened species. With a touch of metafictional flair, a young girl pulls this very book down from the shelf to read about polar bears and is immediately immersed in their fascinating world. She learns about their habitat, physical characteristics and adaptations, and feeding and hunting habits. The writing is engaging, and facts come at a fairly quick pace. The mixed-media artwork is charming; broad washes of color are balanced by lovely details of polar bears as they go about the business of their lives. The young girl turns up as a witness in many of the scenes; an especially sweet one depicts the bear and the girl peering into a hole in the ice as they wait for a seal to pop up for air. Perspectives vary from high overhead to up close and personal with the bear. The thick pages only add to the lush feel and quality of the work. VERDICT With beautiful, creative illustrations, this is a must-have for elementary nonfiction collections everywhere.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2016 issue.

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Top 10 Music | 2016 Thu, 01 Dec 2016 14:00:06 +0000 2016-top10-musicAn exciting year for children’s music is celebrated with this eclectic mix of outstanding albums featuring traditional and not-so-traditional children’s music genres. While the diverse styles range from folk, rock, and pop to bluegrass, classical, and jazz, these selections do have one thing in common: their universal themes. These albums cover topics important to the development of children— discovery, imagination, empowerment, respect, and love. Chosen by the reviewers from SLJ’s ClefNotes music column, these works will appeal to children and adults and include a wide variety of songs that can be used in storytimes or other classroom or library programs. All of the selections below are must-haves for every collection.

music-francesengland-exploreroftheworldExplorer of the World. Performed by Frances England. Redeye Distribution. PreS-Gr 3.
This album, the perfect antidote to today’s technology-driven world, invites listeners to take time to appreciate all of the amazing, simple things around them. Spot-on harmonies combine with fantastic instrumentations on songs that draw listeners into the heart of city life.

music-lisaloeb-feelwhatufeelFeel What U Feel. Performed by Lisa Loeb. Furious Rose Productions. PreS-Gr 5.
In this joyful celebration of childhood, Loeb hits on the universal themes of individuality, respect for one another, and all of the feelings that come along with being oneself. The selections includes two terrific duets with actor Craig Robinson.

music-dianapanton-ibelieveinlittlethingsI Believe in Little Things. Performed by Diana Panton. Entertainment One Music. PreS-Gr 5.
In her debut disc for families, Canadian jazz vocalist Panton weaves a beautiful spell with a delightful selection of classics from children’s movies and television. Perfect for those quieter times of day or just before bed.

music-deanjones-inmydreamsIn My Dreams. Performed by Dean Jones. Dean Jones. PreS-Gr 3.
Dog on Fleas leader Dean Jones explores the imagination and so much more in this fun-filled collection. Several songs use rhythm to create a hypnotic feeling that will mesmerize listeners, while others will have kids moving with their groove and joining the refrain.

music-justinroberts-lemonadeLemonade. Performed by Justin Roberts. Carpet Square. PreS-Gr 3.
Employing a creative mix of instruments from cardboard boxes and paint cans to cello and ukulele, Roberts crafts another enjoyable set of songs. Young audiences will delight in these relatable tunes, sung from a child’s perspective.

music-recessmonkey-novelties-revNovelties. Performed by Recess Monkey. Amazon Music. K-Gr 4.
Often compared to the Beatles, this fun-loving, creative trio from Seattle employ their quirky blend of rock and pop styles from across the decades to draw listeners into silly songs on such subjects as a unicorn that is in love with a narwhal, a sweaty Yeti, and the mustaches of the world being set free.

music-drnoize-phineasmcboofPhineas McBoof Crashes the Symphony. Performed by Dr. Noize and others. Doctor Noize Inc. Gr 3-7.
This two-act musical comedy, about an orchestra that meets many obstacles on the way to a concert, features stage performers Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Colorado Children’s Chorale.

music-bradyrymer-pressplayPress Play. Performed by Brady Rymer. Bumblin’ Bee Records. PreS- Gr 3.
Rymer and the Little Band That Could keep things cooking with a mash-up of 12 original songs that feature a range of American musical styles. This collection of catchy tunes is filled with meaningful lyrics, rich harmonies, lush instrumentation, and arrangements that are pitch-perfect.

music-okeedokeebros-saddleupSaddle Up. Performed by The Okee Dokee Brothers. Okee Dokee Music. K-Gr 5.
On this outstanding third album in the Grammy Award–winning “Adventure Album” series, the Okee Dokee Brothers eschew modern transportation and saddle up for a trip from Arizona to Wyoming along the Continental Divide. The duo’s voices blend beautifully together to create lovely harmonies for these 15 original and traditional songs that will appeal to the entire family.

music-laurieberkner-superheroSuperhero. Performed by the Laurie Berkner Band. Two Tomatoes. PreS-Gr 2.
Berkner’s first album of all new music in eight years is packed with 21 brand-new songs that will delight and engage young listeners. The overarching themes of self-empowerment and imagination fill each song, resulting in music that can be enjoyed in storytimes and during family listening.

Veronica De Fazio is a long-time children’s music reviewer for SLJ and head of youth services at the Plainfield Public Library, IL.

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Pictures of the Week | Hanging Out at NCTE Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:40:04 +0000  

Friendships were forged at the National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference in Atlanta this month. Author/Illustrators Torben Kuhlmann and R. Gregory Christie met over Mexican food at Alma Cocina at a dinner hosted by NorthSouth Books.


Torben Kuhlman and R. Gregory Christie admiring one another's work

Torben Kuhlmann (l.) and R. Gregory Christie (r.) admire one another’s work over dinner in Atlanta at the NCTE Conference. Photo by Heather Lennon.



From l. to r.: Torben Kuhlman, Heather Lennon of NorthSouth Books, and R. Gregory Christie

From l. to r.: Torben Kuhlmann, Heather Lennon of NorthSouth Books, and R. Gregory Christie


 For SLJ coverage of the NCTE conference see “NCTE ’16: The Faces of Advocacy.”

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NCTE ’16 | The Faces of Advocacy Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:33:49 +0000 Southern hospitality and sunny skies reigned in Atlanta as the city welcomed more than 7,000 teachers and librarians, as well as authors and publishers, to the annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference, from November 17–20. More than eight hundred sessions highlighting “The Faces of Advocacy,” including keynotes, workshops, author panels, programs, roundtables, and cultural celebrations, awaited attendees at the Georgia World Conference Center as they streamed into the city.

Pre-conference kick-off

Crowds streaming into  the Georgia World Conference Center

Crowds streaming into the Georgia World Conference Center at the NCTE Conference in Atlanta

Half-day pre-conference workshops kicked off the event covering a range of topics from advocating for and teaching culturally diverse literature to creating spaces for learning diversity. In the workshop “Moving Beyond the What to the How,” presenters from Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame led a thoughtful discussion and distributed readings on the meaning of “multiculturalism,” and asked participants to come up with their own definitions. They then shared the work of David E. Kirkland, a scholar of “language, literacy, and urban education,” and a blogger, who challenges the use of the word.

Engaging conversations ensued on reading, teaching, and analyzing diverse literature in the classroom with suggestions of authors and titles to share. Across the hall, author Jason Reynolds opened “Diversity 2.0,” speaking about the many who feel “hyper visible, but not visible” and implored the audience to be active listeners, to allow others to be ‘human, without always trying to fix” them or their situations. “Sometimes people just need to be heard,” he said. Other pre-conference workshops focused on fueling the creative juices through yoga, using primary sources in the classroom, and text analysis through debate.

Changing lives
In the days that followed, sessions on diversity and inclusiveness continued with discussions on advocacy, including Friday’s general session panel moderated by Joan Kaywell from the University of South Florida. The audience heard from authors Ibtisam Barakat, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Sharon M. Draper, Meg Medina, G. Neri, and Jason Reynolds, who offered their views on promoting change through literature. Especially poignant were the reader’s responses to their work that they shared, and the meaning of books in their lives. Barakat commented that after her Palestinian family lost everything when she was three years old, books, and later writing, literally became her “lifeline.”

Other programs throughout the weekend advocated for grassroots activism, social justice and social change, at-risk African American teens, LQBQ youth, Latinx students, immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized students. Sessions explored empowering diverse voices in the classroom through writing and new literacies, along with models of encouraging children and teens to make a difference. During “Kids Can Change the World Through Voice and Choice,” listeners heard how a group of second graders in Durham, N.C,—after looking around their classroom and determining they needed to weed their classroom materials—were motivated to begin a months-long research, fund-raising, and action project to benefit the locally based nonprofit “Book Harvest” that distributes books to children in need.

More presentations addressed literature circles and new media, English language learners, close reading, collaboration, speculative fiction, arts education, assessment, as well as using all forms of technology with readers and writers.  In “The Power of Inquiry, Investigation, & Play,” presenters encouraged educators to consider “the environment as the second teacher,” a concept that librarian proponents of maker spaces and learning commons eagerly embrace.

Jason Reynolds signing at the Disney Hyperion booth

Jason Reynolds signing at the Disney Book Group booth

Sightings and signings
Authors and illustrators who presented and signed throughout the weekend included Margarita Engle, Neal Shusterman, Tim Federle, Kevin Henkes, Sharon Creech, Kekla Magoon, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kwame Alexander, Duncan Tonatiuh, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Mitali Perkins, Nikki Grimes, Janet Wong, Joseph Bruchac, Tonya Bolden, and Barbara O’Connor, among others.

Conversations and panels addressed writing for middle grade readers, picture books for older students, the appeal and use of graphic novels, banned books, as well as the authors’ and illustrators’ personal paths to writing and or illustrating books for children and teens, their processes, challenges, and hopes for their works.

S.E. Hinton, author of early young adult The Outsiders (1967), That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975) and other titles set in Oklahoma, was the highly anticipated guest speaker at the ALAN breakfast on Saturday.  Elsewhere, groups considered, debated, announced and presented book awards over meals. Participants gathered to discuss the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, while at the Children’s Literature Luncheon, the 2015 winners of the prestigious Charlotte Huck Award (Sharon M. Draper for Stella at Starlight, Atheneum/ S & S) and the Orbis Pictus Award (Don Brown for Drowned City, HMH) each spoke and received their awards. The 2016 winners and honor selections of both prizes were also announced: Jason Reynolds for Ghost (Atheneum/S. & S.) and Melissa Sweet for Some Writer! (HMH). Reynolds and Sweet will receive their awards at the 2017 Children’s Literature Luncheon in St. Louis, MO.


Conference goers stopped for a little entertainment as they bustled from session to session.

Hurrying from session to session, attendees were entertained by musicians and recharged by the energy buzzing through the  conference center–and, of course, ubiquitous coffee bars and carts. Those who needed a quiet spot to recharge slipped into the film showings, where back-to-back movies played throughout the weekend.

Throngs of Hamlets and Queens with scripts in hand volleyed lines back and forth during Saturday’s late afternoon Shakespeare flash mob, catapulting conference goers into the host of evening events, including the capstone keynote by Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015).

Brad Meltzer, author of many best-selling thrillers, several children’s books, and comics, opened the final day of the conference as the 122 exhibitors began packing up. By 2:45 on Sunday, the conference halls had thinned out and those who weren’t heading to the airport were hunkering down for the dozens of additional speakers and panels that continued at the sold-out ALAN (Assembly for Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE) Workshop that followed at the conference center on November 21–22. The ALAN theme this year was “Innovators, Visionaries, and Rebels: Celebrating Risk Takers in Young Adult Literature,” and the event opened with a keynote by the always thoughtful, often provocative, YA and middle grade author, A.S. King.

Also see: “Hanging Out at NCTE.”

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On the Map | Touch and Go Wed, 30 Nov 2016 17:41:16 +0000  

Injecting game play or interactive quizzes into classroom lessons can help them go down more smoothly. There are a number of apps that quiz children on geography; Wayne Cherry reviews two today.

Screen from

Screen from GeoExpert HD-World Geography (Nerea Sanchez Dominguez)

GeoExpert HDWorld Geography (Nerea Sanchez Dominguez , iOS, $4.99, Android, $4.49; Gr 4 Up) and Seterra (Marianne Wartoft AB, iOS, $1.99, $ Android, $1.99; Gr 4 Up) are apps for learning world geography. GeoExpert offers users several levels of play covering the countries and rivers of six regions of the world, however, the only difference between the “easy” and “expert” levels are the number of countries that need to be identified. Clues given can include the capital, shape/outline of the country/state, and the national flag. While in “play” mode, viewers have two guesses before the correct answer is displayed. Facts and figures about each nation, including population statistics and area, are included. Under “North and Central America” users will find a map to learn the 50 United States (and/or their capitals and flags). The developers have updated and added content since the original version was released, and more is promised. A free lite version of GeoExpertHD—World Geography is available (iOS only), as are as a number of “GeoExpert” country-specific apps.

Screen from

Screen from Seterra (Marianne Wartoff AB)

Under seven geographic regions and “learn” or “play” modes, students can choose specific maps to explore in Seterra. For example, under South America, they will find five map quizzes: countries, capitals, Argentina: Provinces, Brazil: Cities, and Brazil: States. Under the “play” feature users are asked to identify specific locals (identified with circle on a blank map) with a tap as a clock ticks. A final score is noted.

Using the “learn” feature users can access a map that displays borders—and place names when the specific locale is tapped. Coverage is Eurocentric with 46 maps available under “Europe,” including “Bodies of Water,” “Rivers,” etc. Occasionally, a number of maps of one country are available. In the “flag” mode students also choose to “learn” them (maps are labeled by country when tapped) or quiz themselves by tapping on the flag when the country name is displayed. After multiple incorrect guesses a player’s score will drop and the correct answer is provided. No additional information or statistics are displayed. Given that this is a geography app, some may wonder why specificity is eschewed at times. For example, under the “World Map,” the labels for the North and South Islands of New Zealand do not include the country name.

In the classroom, GeoExpert is better suited for most students because it offers a richer graphic environment, more information, and leveled game play. For older students or those working on a geography bee, Seterra may be the better alternative for its straightforward approach to identifying countries on the map, but it lacks the detail and specificity of GeoExpert HD. Both apps are available in multiple languages.—Wayne R. Cherry, Jr.,St. Pius X High School, Houston, TX


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U.S. DOE Offering $680K for VR/AR Educational Simulations Wed, 30 Nov 2016 16:23:05 +0000

admin-ajaxThe United States Department of Education is running a competition that will award $680,000 to developers of immersive simulations that will prepare students for the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century by strengthening career and technical skills.

See the complete press release below.

U.S. Department of Education Launches $680,000 Challenge for Virtual and Augmented Reality Learning Experiences

The U.S. Department of Education today launched the EdSim Challenge, a $680,000 competition to design the next-generation of educational simulations that strengthen career and technical skills. The Challenge calls upon the virtual reality, video game developer, and educational technology communities to submit concepts for immersive simulations that will prepare students for the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century.

“This initiative is an exciting example of how virtual reality and game technologies can be applied to give students everywhere the tools to prepare for future success,” said Johan Uvin, acting assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education. “We encourage developers from all disciplines to answer our call and help define the future of applied learning.”

Simulated digital learning environments, such as virtual and augmented reality, 3D simulations, and multiplayer video games, are an emerging approach to deliver educational content, and provide students with enriched experiences in information retention, engagement, skills acquisition, and learning outcomes. Students who participate in digital learning simulations for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning had a 23 percent higher achievement rating than those who do not.

The Challenge seeks to spur the development of computer-generated virtual and augmented reality educational experiences that combine existing and future technologies with skill-building content and assessment. Collaboration is encouraged among the developer community to make aspects of simulations available through open source licenses and low-cost shareable components. ED is most interested in simulations that pair the engagement of commercial games with educational content that transfers academic, technical, and employability skills.

Those interested in participating in the Challenge should submit their simulation concepts by Jan. 17, 2017. A multidisciplinary panel of judges will evaluate the submissions and select up to five finalists to advance to the Virtual Accelerator phase. Each finalist will be awarded $50,000 and gain access to expert mentorship as they refine their concept and build a simulation prototype.

The Challenge winner(s) will be awarded the remainder of the $680,000 prize money and additional sponsor prizes from IBM, Microsoft, Oculus, and Samsung.

For a complete list of Challenge rules, visit

Follow the Challenge:

Ed Prizes

The EdSim Challenge is part of a series of prize competitions conducted by ED which seek to spur the development of new technology, products, and resources that will prepare students for the high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations of tomorrow. The series is funded by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. Learn more at:

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Yellow by Megan Jacobson | SLJ Audio Review Wed, 30 Nov 2016 14:00:54 +0000 JACOBSON, Megan. Yellow. 1 MP3-CD. 7:06 hrs. Brilliance. Jul. 2016. $9.99. ISBN 9781522642121.

Gr 9 Up –Fourteen-year-old Kirra Barley’s life is spiraling out of control. She’s bullied by girls at school who claim to be her friends, her father has left home to live with another woman, and her mother’s drinking is worse than it has ever been. Unhappy and alone, Kirra answers a ringing pay phone at the beach in her coastal Australian town, and the ghost of [...]]]> redstarJACOBSON, Megan. Yellow. 1 MP3-CD. 7:06 hrs. Brilliance. Jul. 2016. $9.99. ISBN 9781522642121.

yellowGr 9 Up –Fourteen-year-old Kirra Barley’s life is spiraling out of control. She’s bullied by girls at school who claim to be her friends, her father has left home to live with another woman, and her mother’s drinking is worse than it has ever been. Unhappy and alone, Kirra answers a ringing pay phone at the beach in her coastal Australian town, and the ghost of a dead teenager who calls himself Boogie promises to help with her problems if she’ll prove he was murdered 20 years ago. Despite the difficulty and even danger of investigating the cold case, Kirra agrees, a decision that will forever alter her life. Australian actress and singer Marny Kennedy narrates this exceptional coming-of-age story, perfectly capturing Kirra at this critical point in her life. Kennedy’s measured voice draws listeners into the narrative, conveying Kirra’s desperation and loneliness as well as her resilience and ultimate strength. VERDICT Sharply written, gripping, and insightful, this is a book that will stay with listeners long after its conclusion.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal November 2016 issue.

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It Begins with Listening | Up Close with Kwame Alexander Wed, 30 Nov 2016 14:00:33 +0000 SLJ discusses poetry and animal conservation with the award-winning author.]]> 1611-upclose-alexanderkwame

Photo by Brian La Rossa

Newbery winner Kwame Alexander and prolific photographer Joel Sartore are teaming up on Animal Ark (National Geographic, Feb. 14, 2017), an exploration of Earth’s endangered creatures through poetry and photography. Alexander’s verse acts as both guide and muse, introducing students to the animals while inspiring further contemplation. SLJ caught up with Alexander to discuss this ambitious project.

For unfamiliar readers, can you provide a bit of backstory on Animal Ark?
Animal Ark is part of the National Geographic Photo Ark Project, which is committed to documenting every endangered species in captivity through the eye of renowned photographer Joel Sartore. Over 6,000 of the 12,000 animals that are on the endangered list have been photographed. Animal Ark was created as a sort of visual conversation for children. My coauthors, Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido, and I toured the entire [Photo Ark] exhibit and were blown away. We then set about the task of creating words that were inspired by each animal. We chose poetry in the form of haiku because we felt it would add literary snapshots to help engage and inspire questions from readers. Our hope was that the combination of the exquisite photographs and the verse inspired by them would act as a two-dimensional megaphone for the voices of these precious animals.

Haiku was an excellent choice.
We knew instinctively that with 30-plus animals to write about, and not wanting too much text on the page (so that readers could really fall in love with the image of each animal), haiku seemed like a perfect fit. Not to mention that in traditional haiku, nature is at the center. What better way to honor these animals, these pictures than through this form?

Does the book aim to get students more involved in and passionate about conservation efforts?
Our goal was to capture these almost instantaneous poetic moments and bring them to life, [to] keep these animals alive in the hearts and minds of readers, to engage [readers] in a way that will pique further interest in knowing more and doing more. How can we help this world be a safer, healthier, and cleaner place for “our” creatures, for all of us, to live and thrive for years and years to come?

1611-upclose-cover_animalarkThe “Chorus of Creatures” section, which appears about midway through the work, is such a fantastic representation of biodiversity. Was the team partial to any specific animals?
It’d be nice to take credit for this, but alas, it wasn’t my idea. The beauty of a team is that when you’re working together, when you’re really gelling, everyone brings a little piece of magic to the project. It’s like jazz. This decision I think was made by our illustrious editor, Kate Hale.

At first, we may have been partial to some of them, such as the tiger, mandrill, or panda bear, but with thousands of creatures in the running to be featured in this book, we felt they all deserved our respect and love.

Any suggestions on how librarians can use this title to inspire and motivate potentially reluctant poetry readers?
Presentation is key when introducing anything to anyone no matter the age. The beauty and magic of poetry is in its conciseness. It’s like taking a bite of your favorite cake and knowing what the entire cake tastes like. It’s that potent and can address any subject matter no matter how silly or serious in as little as a 17-syllable Japanese haiku. Poetry is a language of connection. You understand with your heart first and then your head. Animal Ark is a very beautiful visual experience with many educational components. It is a book that should be shared aloud because there is an important conversation threaded throughout its pages. It emphasizes our interconnectedness to one another and the planet we live on. Our first involvement begins with listening.

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Positing a Perfect World: Neal Shusterman on Scythe Tue, 29 Nov 2016 16:40:43 +0000  

Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman

National Book Award winner (Challenger Deep, 2015) Neal Shusterman is a master craftsman when it comes to intricate world-building and mind-bending themes. His latest novel is no exception (and was recently selected as an SLJ Best Book of 2016). In Scythe, Shusterman posits something readers don’t often encounter in YA lit: a utopia. Humanity has created the Thunderhead, a perfect artificial intelligence that has eradicated war, poverty, crime, and even death. The only societal concern is overpopulation, dealt with by an order of professional reapers known as scythes, who randomly select people to be “gleaned.” The two protagonists, Citra and Rowan, are teens recently apprenticed to a scythe, learning the art of the kill.

What was the genesis of this world? Did it come to you fully formed or in bits and pieces?

When building a world, I always find it comes in bits and pieces. I begin with a basic premise—in this case, “What are the realistic consequences of a perfect world?” Then I set out to pose a series of practical and philosophical questions. What do we want in a perfect world? No disease, no war, no racism, no poverty or hunger, no suffering, and, ultimately, no death. Then it occurred to me that if we steal death from nature, we are forced to be its sole distributor. That’s a heavy responsibility. But who would be charged with thinning out the ever-growing immortal human population? I wanted to play against the inherent darkness of the task by conceiving of these characters as highly moral, highly ethical, and enlightened. Basically they’re like Jedi, but [their] purpose is to compassionately end life. I called them “scythes.” That’s where I began, and bit by bit, the world around them grew. I discovered things along the way—and am still discovering things about the world as I work on the second book in the trilogy.

This is a world without disease, death, or aging. There’s no war, no crime, no poverty. And yet do you consider it a utopia or a dystopia?

Scythe is not a dystopic novel. It was crucial to me that this world be a utopia, not a dystopia. That was the crux of the concept—this is a perfect world based on all our concepts of perfection. I wanted to explore the consequences of a perfect world. With that in mind, I played against all the familiar tropes of futuristic worlds. For instance, the world is now ruled by a sentient artificial intelligence. Through film and literature, we have been conditioned to automatically see this as a bad thing. So I fought to create the opposite. The Thunderhead is the cloud evolved. It’s the culmination of all human knowledge, without any human hubris. It is wise, just, and completely incorruptible. It is the best thing we’ve ever created. The problem with the world of Scythe is not the Thunderhead; it’s humans—and the big question is, once we’ve achieved a perfect world, where is there to go? Once you reach the pinnacle, there’s nowhere to go but down. The main characters, Citra and Rowan, are fighting to prevent that from happening and will slowly come to realize the drawbacks inherent with perfection.

Are there aspects of this futuristic world that changed as you were developing Citra and Rowan and their stories?

The world didn’t so much change but grew as I wrote. It’s all about the questions that come up about the world you’ve created. What is the relationship between scythes and the Thunderhead? What happens if people resist being “gleaned?” Can scythes take the lives of other scythes?  Since anyone who dies without permission is automatically revived, are there certain types of accidents that make a person unrevivable? For the world to be complete, I have to ask myself hundreds of questions and come up with answers that feel real, even if those answers become obstacles to the story. The world must stand on its own and the story be told within it.

Despite the violence inherent in what the scythes must do, the book nevertheless feels contemplative, philosophical. It takes something we’ve seen a lot in YA lit—murder, violence, corruption—and sort of peels back the curtain a bit to reveal some of the deeper underlying questions. Why explore these themes for a YA audience?

scytheI think my writing is always about the underlying questions, because that’s what motivates me to do it. If those questions weren’t there, I’d lose interest in the book. I don’t write horror, even though my stories can be disturbing. I don’t like gratuitous violence, so when I write something that’s violent, I am very mindful of it and make sure that it’s there for a very specific reason. I use it sparingly, so that when it does arise, it’s to greater effect. The goal is to make readers think. I approach my novels in a philosophical way. What questions about the nature of humanity, and the nature of the universe, am I asking? And how can I ask those questions in a way that will take people’s breath away? I think YA literature is the perfect place for the hard questions, because teen readers are beginning to ask the hard questions about the world and about their lives. All the more reason to add fuel and perspective to their thought processes. Teens are about possibilities, both good and bad. Adults are about maintaining and justifying the choices they’ve already made—which means they’ve shut quite a lot of doors along the way. It means that books will have less of an impact on adults. We can all remember books we read as teenagers that changed our lives in one way or another, but it’s hard to find that as an adult.

As for the big questions I’m asking in Scythe, there are a lot of them—the questions I asked myself on a daily basis as I was writing it. What happens when perfection becomes a destination rather than a journey? Which is more important: the greater good or individual conscience? Can someone still be a good person when charged with the taking of life? Is it possible for power not to corrupt? Can perfection be abused and distorted by ambition?

Tell us about how you came up with and created the Thunderhead. Do you think we’ll see something similar in our lifetime?

I am fascinated with artificial intelligence, and I think it will eventually become the most important issue mankind will face. Is there a point where a computer ceases being a machine and becomes a living entity? They say that around 2042, the exponential growth of our collective computing power will become near infinite and in one way or another, we will merge with our technology. What does that look like? Is it like The Matrix, where our consciousness migrates into a digital reality? Is it like The Terminator, where our technology decides it’s time to replace us entirely? When I look at my iPhone, I’m looking at something remarkable: the entire wealth of all human knowledge and all human history in the palm of my hand. But it’s just in the palm of my hand. I can access it, but I can’t be it. But what if the cloud were alive and its mind encompassed everything we’ve come to know about ourselves and the universe? I believe that all that knowledge will give it greater wisdom than we can individually possess. It will be able to solve the problems that we can’t. What will the world look like once it does? That’s a key part of the world I’m trying to explore with the “Arc of Scythe” series.

This world is so richly developed—one gets the sense of multitudes of history and information about this society that are not necessarily included in the book explicitly but are clearly infusing your writing. What was this writing experience like for you? How long did it take? How intensive were rewrites?

I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to creating a world in its entirety as much as possible. I want to know not only what that world is but how it came about. I want to believe it. That means creating a history and many events that don’t exist in the books. It’s not like I create endless pages of that history; it’s more like an extensive collection of historical footnotes—and if they become important to the story, then I’ll flesh them out. For instance, the character of Scythe Curie is famous because more than 100 years ago, she gleaned the last of Earth’s corrupt politicians. She has very mixed feelings about what she did, not just because of the act but because she now realizes that she had a selfish motivation for doing so. I don’t know the details of how that went down, but I suspect I’ll be revisiting that moment, and when I do, I’ll have to really construct that history.

There was a lot of revision, but when writing a novel that requires a lot of world-building, most of the revision occurs even before finishing the first draft. As the world starts to take shape, I have to go back and revise what I have to make sure it’s fitting within the ever-growing world. The process itself requires a lot more thinking than actual writing. I would spend days coming up with rules of how the world worked, then exploring not just how it came to be that way but all the ramifications of it. For instance, in the world of Scythe, we have “nanites” in our bloodstream—microscopic robots that release painkillers upon injury to prevent us from feeling pain. That poses so many questions! If we don’t feel pain, does it make people more reckless? Can we control how much painkiller is released? Can the nanites be affected by a computer virus? On and on—every aspect of reality ends up creating dozens more questions.

This is the first of a trilogy. What can readers expect in the next two books?

In book 2, Thunderhead, we see a rift in the scythedom between the “old guard” scythes, who want to maintain the honor and nobility of their calling, and the “new order” scythes, who kill because they enjoy it. Our main characters are, in their own ways, trying to prevent the sycthedom from falling to the ways of the new order. Meanwhile, the Thunderhead—that benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the world—is faced with a moral dilemma. By its own immutable law, it cannot interfere with the scythedom, but it sees that civilization could crumble without intervention. Our main characters will become that intervention. I can’t say much yet about book 3, because anything I say will be a major spoiler. But the tentative title is The Toll. When you think of that, think of all the possibilities of what “the toll” could mean, because for this story, it has multiple meanings.

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A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins | SLJ Review Tue, 29 Nov 2016 14:00:47 +0000 JENKINS, Emily. A Greyhound, a Groundhog. illus. by Chris Appelhans. 32p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553498059.

PreS-Gr 2 –In a picture book that demands to be read aloud, a greyhound and a groundhog spin in visual and verbal circles. A limited gray and brown watercolor palette—and an equally limited selection of consonant and vowel sounds—characterize this phonologically clever, fundamentally joyful, and subtly unified picture book. Words, text, and creatures begin in simple lines (the words [...]]]> redstarJENKINS, Emily. A Greyhound, a Groundhog. illus. by Chris Appelhans. 32p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553498059.

pb-sp-jenkinsPreS-Gr 2 –In a picture book that demands to be read aloud, a greyhound and a groundhog spin in visual and verbal circles. A limited gray and brown watercolor palette—and an equally limited selection of consonant and vowel sounds—characterize this phonologically clever, fundamentally joyful, and subtly unified picture book. Words, text, and creatures begin in simple lines (the words “A hound. A round hound” are printed in a straight line above a sleeping greyhound on the first page), but all three increasingly start to rotate (the sentence, “The ground and a hog and some grey and a dog” later curves around the page, accompanied by a whirling, tongue-lolling canine). Just as readers grow accustomed to the muted colors and tongue twisters (“Around, round hound/Around, groundhog!”), both begin to change: “around and around” becomes “and astound” as the greyhound—fully facing readers for the first time—notices one butterfly, and then more, come into the visual field, bringing with them the latent pinks, blues, and purples that an observant viewer will have seen hiding in the grays all along. The butterflies soon fly off the edge of the page, but the amazement lingers as the eponymous animals, finally worn out, settle in for a nap…accompanied by newly restraightened, resimplified text. VERDICT A lovely, lyrical paean to the natural order, with an element of wonder and grace. Perfect for one-on-one and group sharing.–Jill Ratzan, Congregation Kol Emet, Yardley, PA

This review was published in the School Library Journal November 2016 issue.

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Rebuilding Libraries at DC Public Schools| Take the Lead Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:59:57 +0000 boudrye_2In February 2014, I joined the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as director of library programs. As in too many districts across the country, DCPS libraries had been marginalized for years. The majority of school libraries were not staffed, since principals were allowed to petition away the librarian positions. Principals were able to hire candidates of their choosing, regardless of certification; as a result, non-certified people staffed several libraries. In addition, lack of central funding for library materials and a scarcity mentality contributed to aged, poor, and inequitable collections across the city. Library media specialists (LMS) felt unsupported and undervalued. Many principals did not see the value an LMS could bring to their school.

We had to raise the floor and the ceiling at the same time.

My team and I set three goals to move DCPS library programs forward:

  1. Staff every library with a certified LMS
  2. Update and achieve equity in collections
  3. Change the perception of what the LMS can and should be doing

Our first step was to change the hiring process for LMS. Working with HR and instructional superintendents who supervise principals, we established my team as the gatekeepers. HR staffers were happy for the help, because they did not have subject expertise or manpower to effectively screen candidates. We now interview every LMS candidate and are somewhat flexible regarding certification. We have to be—there simply are not enough certified LMS to fill all school library positions in the DC area. Non-certified candidates must demonstrate acuity and are allowed up to three years to obtain certification. Principals may only hire LMS from our approved pool, and petitions to eliminate the position are denied all the way up the chain. Over the last three hiring seasons, we have interviewed more than 200 candidates and have filled 100 percent of LMS positions, close to a 70 percent increase. I’m proud to say that we have an 86.5 percent retention rate for new hires.

In short, we secured the first-ever district-funded per-pupil allotment for library materials—$20 per pupil! While we have a ways to go to achieve equity in collections throughout the district, my team proved the value of the work, and were able to hire two central office collections coordinators to support the LMS. I have confidence we will continue steady progress.

To change the perception of what an LMS can and should be doing, we had to make clear that in addition to quality program administration, we expect LMS to be:

  • Instructional partners for all content, all grades, with a focus on information literacy
  • Leaders in instructional technology integration
  • Passionate advocates for reading

In DCPS, principals have 100 percent evaluative purview over their LMS. Previously, inconsistencies in LMS evaluation scoring were extensive—due, in part, to lack of clarity in identifying an effective library program. We collaborated with LMS on a guidance, or “look-for,” document featuring clear examples aligned to each evaluation standard. The document is the roadmap to “Establishing Excellence” and the examples are “Actions of Excellence.” Our LMS use this document to develop professional growth plans connected to school goals, which gives principals clarity on what to expect. My team provides ongoing clarification, guidance, and support to LMS and administration to ensure effective programs and fair evaluations.

We worked with central office professional development teams to include LMS in district-wide PD days. LMS are at the table with teachers, where opportunities for instructional collaboration become clear. Additionally, we provide monthly PD for LMS and use our learning management system (Canvas) to highlight exemplary practices and provide ongoing communication and resources for effective library programs.

Developing clear goals and expectations is the first step to changing the tide. Providing training and support with clarity is vital. Consistently communicating (strident messaging perhaps?) the value of library programs and celebrating great work is essential to raise the value of the role and to motivate all to achieve excellence.

Lilead Fellow Jennifer Boudrye is the director of library programs for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Prior to joining DCPS, Boudrye was a school library media specialist and administrator in Montgomery County, MD public schools. She is committed to ensuring that all students have access to the best information resources and opportunities to develop expert information literacy skills for school and life.

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