School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Sat, 03 Dec 2016 05:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Teaching Information Literacy Now Mon, 28 Nov 2016 18:35:16 +0000 fakenewsLast week, a new study from Stanford University revealed that many students are inept at discerning fact from opinion when reading articles online. The report, combined with the spike in fake and misleading news during the 2016 election, has school librarians, including me, rethinking how we teach evaluation of online sources to our students. How can we educate our students to evaluate the information they find online when so many adults are sharing inaccurate articles on social media?

While social media isn’t the only reason for the surge in fake news over the last 10 years, it’s certainly making it harder for information consumers of every age to sort through fact and fiction. As articles about the Stanford study get shared around Facebook, I have two thoughts. One, I have to teach this better. And two, as information literacy experts, we school librarians are more important than ever. Joyce Valenza offers timely tools in her news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world.

Until now, I have taught web evaluation the same way every year: I start by introducing students to the CARS method of web evaluation (similar to the CRAAP test), using tools to evaluate credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, and factual support. I offer up sites for them to evaluate (all fake, such as Save the Guinea Worm, DHMO, and Mankato, MN). Many kids figure out that the sites are fake, and that leads to a discussion about how publishing on the web is different from print. “Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources,” from the New York Times has many examples of fake posts on social media, as well as lesson ideas.

In follow-up lessons, we use the CARS strategy to evaluate other websites in order to rank their usefulness. I teach students about websites such as and, resources to fact-check Internet rumors and sensational “news” they see. In addition, we spend some time looking at domain names and URLs.

I end the unit with a presentation and discussion of the reliability of information from news sources I gathered during a two-week teacher training workshop I attended at the Center for News Literacy Summer Institute at Stony Brook University. My presentation runs through how the dissemination of the news has changed over time, our current challenges in a world of information overload, and the blurring of the meaning of “journalist” in an era of social media and blogs. All this takes around four to five lessons, which I teach in my stand-alone sixth grade library skills class (I see students once every six-day cycle).

Rethinking how we teach evaluation

Teaching evaluation of information has never been so critical, and I’m thinking fast while updating my unit before relaunching it in January. Students can’t rely on “about us” pages of websites any longer. While educating them about how to evaluate websites that look accurate and mimic the news, I’ll focus on these four points.

Read laterally. I’ll spend more time teaching students how to Google or crosscheck an organization or “news” source or claim before believing or sharing information found online. “Reading laterally” in this way helps them discover if a source is biased or even completely fake. I can emphasize this as part of the CARS method, asking questions such as, “Is the author an authority on the subject?” and “Does the information on the site agree with other sources?”

Keep it non-political. So many current examples from the 2016 election season are hot-button issues that may open discussions we aren’t ready for in our classrooms. I have found Snopes to be a good source for non-political examples of inaccurate web content. For example, here is a completely fabricated article about Clint Eastwood rejecting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Talk about social media more. The pitfalls of social media can’t be ignored, and we have to discuss rules for sharing or re-sharing articles. I like the “triple check” rule from CNN’s Brian Stelter. Lesson 13 from the Center for News Literacy teaching materials has some good examples from Hurricane Sandy and other news events when inaccurate social media posts were overshared.

Switch it up. An alternate way to evaluate sources that I’m considering teaching my students is the IMVAIN method. It might be a better fit now than CARS, given how our news sources are changing. Here’s an example of how a New York City middle school uses it.

The IMVAIN analysis weighs the following factors:

  • Is the material Independent or self-interested?
  • Does it have Multiple sources or only one?
  • Does it Verify, or assert?
  • Is it Authoritative/Informed vs. uninformed?
  • Are sources Named or unnamed?

Embracing the opportunity

As challenging as it is to teach about web evaluation without getting political, I can’t help but see this as an opportunity. In a time when school librarian positions are still being cut or undervalued around the country, this is a chance to talk about how critical our role really is. We have a chance to not only share our expertise with teachers in our schools, but also to show our personal networks on social media that this is what school librarians do; this is what we teach, and this is why every school needs a school librarian. We show students how to evaluate information in a world of information overload.

When I speak at my state’s ESSA hearing next week, I will say that this is a large part of why my role is valued in my school. The town I live in does not have any school librarians in the district; the position was considered expendable because of all the resources on the Internet. But given the current state of affairs, perhaps people will finally see what we have known all along…that we’re more important than ever.

2016 SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist Laura Gardner is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media, a teacher librarian at Dartmouth (MA) Middle School, and a 2016 Touchcast Ambassador. She tweets at @LibrarianMsG, and you can follow her library on Instagram and Snapchat at @DMSLibrary366.

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TOP 10 Audiobooks | 2016 Mon, 28 Nov 2016 14:00:51 +0000 2016-top10-audio
These 10 titles represent the best of the best of 2016’s audiobook releases, with selections for all age groups and interests. They tell fascinating stories—both fiction and nonfiction—that are enhanced by exceptional narration and production values.

au-reynolds-as-brave-as-youAs Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. S. & S. Audio. Read by Guy Lockard. Gr 5-8.
When 11-year-old Genie and his almost 14-year-old brother, Ernie, visit their grandparents for a month, Genie manages to learn surprising family stories and secrets, including the truth about a model fire truck that seemingly belongs to no one and why Grandpop carries a gun. With compassion and humor, Reynolds deftly explores life lessons about family bonds, growing up, and the meaning of true courage. Lockard embodies Genie’s curiosity, excitement, and well-earned wisdom with pitch-perfect accuracy.

au-cushman-graylingssongGrayling’s Song by Karen Cushman. Recorded Books. Read by Katherine Kellgren. Gr 3-6.
A dark cloud is turning Grayling’s demanding hedgewitch mother and other “wise folk” into trees. After she assembles her mother’s potions and learns her songs, the teen sets out to find her mother’s stolen grimoire, leading an assortment of companions who all contribute their unique talents to help her achieve her goal. Kellgren’s superior narration fills the magical story with clear, melodic singing and unique vocal styles for each character.

au-andrews-the-haters-audioThe Haters by Jesse Andrews. Listening Library. Read by Michael Crouch. Gr 10 Up.
Sixteen-year-old Wes and Corey go to jazz camp and immediately hate it. After teaming up with a fellow hater, 19-year-old Ash, the teens decide to run away from camp, form a band, and go on tour. Romantic entanglements, comical misadventures, and even some music making ensue in this rollicking ramble. Crouch’s comic timing makes this audiobook special, and his fresh and youthful voices will allow listeners to easily picture the characters.

au-kelly-the-land-of-forgotten-girlsThe Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly. HarperAudio. Read by Lulu Lam. Gr 3-6.
Soledad and her younger sister, Ming, are transplanted from their home in the Philippines to a run-down apartment in Louisiana, where they are abandoned by their father and left with an abusive stepmother. Sol has always been able to escape into stories, but now she needs to figure out how to navigate their new world. Lam effortlessly blends a wide variety of emotions, backgrounds, and intensities as she tells Kelly’s nuanced, resonating story about life between two cultures, surviving loss, and finding family in the least expected places.

au-gephart-lily-and-dunkinLily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart. Listening Library. Read by Ryan Gesell & Michael Crouch. Gr 5-8.
Lily was assigned male at birth but has always felt she is a girl; she’s pressuring her family to give her hormone blockers as she races toward puberty. Norbert (who hates that name but loves Dunkin’ Donuts) has bipolar disorder. During school, bullies attack Lily with insults while courting gigantic Dunkin to strengthen their basketball team’s chance at a championship. The conclusion is both satisfying and provocative, and the narration is excellent.

au-stork-the-memory-of-lightThe Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic Audiobooks. Read by Frankie Corzo. Gr 7 Up.
Vicky Cruz planned her suicide attempt so nobody would find her until well after the pills did their job, but she woke up in the hospital. There, she meets three other teens who also have mental illness. Along with empathetic psychiatrist Dr. Desai, they become the force she needs to get through her chilling and near-fatal depression. This excellent fictional look at teen depression is enhanced by Corzo’s pacing, steadiness, and inflection.

au-perez-out-of-darknessOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Listening Library. Read by Benita Robledo & Lincoln Hoppe. Gr 9 Up.
The 1937 school explosion in New London, TX, remains the deadliest school disaster in U.S. history. With that real-life tragedy as a starting point, Pérez addresses issues of race, class, and family dysfunction, introducing a love story between two teens from different worlds. Robledo moves effortlessly between rigid control and panicked acceleration, imbuing the multiple viewpoints with authenticity and empathy, while Hoppe’s near-growling interruptions as “The Gang,” a collective representation of racist classmates, remain menacing throughout.

au-berry-the-passion-of-dolssaThe Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. Listening Library. Read by Jayne Entwistle, Allen Corduner, & Fiona Hardingham. Gr 7 Up.
In post-Crusades 13th-century France, Dolssa de Stigata, a pious young noblewoman blessed with the gift of healing, is judged a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church and sentenced to burn at the stake. After someone cuts the ropes binding her hands and feet and implores her to run, Dolssa is found nearly dead from starvation and exhaustion by a young tavern keeper, Botille, who vows to protect her. Brilliant narration enhances this lush, compelling story.

au-smith-28-days-moments-black-hist-changed28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr. Live Oak. Read by a full cast. Gr 2-5.
Highlighting individuals from Crispus Attucks to Barack Obama, this presentation offers a rich overview of African American history. The stellar narrators—Dion Graham, William Jackson Harper, Zainab Jah, January LaVoy, Robin Miles, Lizan Mitchell, Jonathan Earl Peck, and Carter Woodson Redwood—bring the words to life. Rich, lyrical voices unite to proclaim freedom, rejoice in justice, and impart information, while occasional appropriate background music and sound effects enhance the production.

au-jacobson-yellowYellow by Megan Jacobson. Brilliance. Read by Marny Kennedy.
Gr 9 Up.
Fourteen-year-old Australian Kirra Barley is bullied at school, her mother drinks heavily, and her father has left. Then she answers a ringing pay phone at the beach, and the ghost of a dead teenager promises to help with her problems if she’ll prove he was murdered. Kennedy’s narration of this exceptional coming-of-age story perfectly captures Kirra at this critical point in her life, conveying her desperation and loneliness as well as her resilience and strength.

Stephanie Klose is audiobooks editor, SLJ.

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One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes | SLJ Review Mon, 28 Nov 2016 14:00:22 +0000 GRIMES, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. illus. by various. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781619635548.

Gr 6 Up –In this innovative and powerful compendium, Grimes pairs original poems with classics from the Harlem Renaissance. In a brief historical note on the period, she acknowledges the significance of black artists giving voice to the experiences of black life and cites the continued relevance of the literature of the period in [...]]]> redstarGRIMES, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. illus. by various. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781619635548.

nf-sp-grimes-onelastwordGr 6 Up –In this innovative and powerful compendium, Grimes pairs original poems with classics from the Harlem Renaissance. In a brief historical note on the period, she acknowledges the significance of black artists giving voice to the experiences of black life and cites the continued relevance of the literature of the period in a society that, decades later, still struggles with racial identity and injustice. The author credits as inspiration the messages of hope, perseverance, survival, and positivity she finds in the work of poets like Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Langston Hughes, and she, too, explores these themes in her own poems. Furthermore, Grimes brilliantly uses the words of her literary predecessors to structure the book, employing the golden shovel, a form in which the words from selected lines or stanzas are borrowed, only to become the last words of each line in a new poem. The result is not only a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance but also a moving reflection on the African American experience and the resilience of the human spirit: “The past is a ladder/that can help you/keep climbing.” In addition, each pair of poems—each of Grimes’s works follows the poem that inspired it—is accompanied by a full-color illustration by a prominent African American illustrator. Featured artists include Pat Cummings, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, and Javaka Steptoe, among others, and the back matter contains brief poet and illustrator biographies. VERDICT This unique and extraordinary volume is a first purchase for all middle school poetry collections.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

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

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Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden | SLJ Review Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:00:37 +0000 BOLDEN, Tonya. Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls. 128p. bibliog. glossary. index. notes. photos. Abrams. Jan. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419714559.

Gr 5-8 –The lives of 16 fascinating and innovative black men and women are given due recognition in this masterly work. Bolden makes use of a variety of features to convey information in an accessible yet deeply enlightening manner. For instance, sidebars titled “In His/Her Time” provide historical context without burdening the main text with lengthy [...]]]> redstarBOLDEN, Tonya. Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls. 128p. bibliog. glossary. index. notes. photos. Abrams. Jan. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419714559.

nf-sp-bolden-pathfindersGr 5-8 –The lives of 16 fascinating and innovative black men and women are given due recognition in this masterly work. Bolden makes use of a variety of features to convey information in an accessible yet deeply enlightening manner. For instance, sidebars titled “In His/Her Time” provide historical context without burdening the main text with lengthy exposition. With a variety of subjects in different fields, from a magician to a mathematician, a bank founder to a race car driver, there is plenty of fresh report material within these pages. The clean layout and the smart design make for a book that is not only expertly researched but attractive as well. (Each chapter receives its own color palette, visually linking the content within that section together.) VERDICT Teachers and librarians seeking to further develop their history and biography collections will be thrilled with this fine offering.–Erinn Black Salge, Saint Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, NJ

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

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