August 31, 2020

On My Bookshelf: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

In The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Suzy struggles to accept that death of her best friend Franny was just an unfortunate accident, and her feelings about her friend are further complicated by the rift that grew in their relationship before Franny's death. This book is perfect for budding scientists, but also just your average middle school student trying to fit in. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot from Amazon: Everyone says that it was an accident... that sometimes things "just happen". But Suzy won't believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

Why I liked it: In The Thing About JellyfishSuzy can't believe her friend Franny's death was just a freak accident; since Franny was a swimmer, Suzy is convinced that something more specific must have caused her death and becomes fixated on researching deadly jellyfish to the point where she plans a trip across the globe to consult with an expert. What complicates Suzy's feeling about her friend's death is that when she died, they weren't really friends anymore. The transition to middle school, shifts in friends, and romantic interests create a rift between the two girls who had been best friends for years.
In The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Suzy struggles to accept that death of her best friend Franny was just an unfortunate accident, and her feelings about her friend are further complicated by the rift that grew in their relationship before Franny's death. This book is perfect for budding scientists, but also just your average middle school student trying to fit in. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.

I appreciated the author's depiction of a young person's grieving process as well as of two friends growing apart, but insecure and unsure about their changed roles in each others' lives. Suzy at times seemed incredibly mature and at other times very young and immature, and I couldn't write that inconsistency off as part of coming of age or her character development.

Classroom application: The Thing About Jellyfish is appropriate for middle school and a great add to your STEM section of your classroom library because not only is the book filled with information about jellyfish, section of the book is introduced as a part of the scientific method.

This book is perfect for budding scientists, but also just your average middle school student trying to fit in. The book could be used in literature circles focused on friendship or being different, and also touches on important topics for middle schoolers such as divorced parents and LBGTQ+ relationships.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Thing About Jellyfish for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Suzy struggles to accept that death of her best friend Franny was just an unfortunate accident, and her feelings about her friend are further complicated by the rift that grew in their relationship before Franny's death. This book is perfect for budding scientists, but also just your average middle school student trying to fit in. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.

August 24, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

The basic plot from Amazon: Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes-in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall?or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein is a historical fiction novel set in Ethiopia and is a wonderful look at the culture and history of the country. The events in the novel span from WWI to WWII, and touch on race relations in the United States, women's rights, and slavery in Ethiopia. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: Elizabeth Wein's novels, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, which are set during WWII and feature female pilots are both gripping and empowering, and Black Dove, White Raven was no different. The primary setting in this book is Ethiopia and is a wonderful look at the culture and history of a country I knew little about. The events in the novel span from WWI to WWII, and touch on race relations in the United States, women's rights, and slavery in Ethiopia. If you are a fan of historical fiction, you'll love this book.

The novel is filled with complex relationships that challenge the rules of society: Rhoda and Delia as flying partners and friends, Emilia and Teo as adoptive siblings and friends, Rhoda and her children as a mixed race family. As the novel reveals there isn't a place in the world, not in France, not in the united States, and not even in Ethiopia for these relationships to be fully accepted, but in spite of adversity, Rhoda, Emilia, and Teo do not waver in their love and loyalty for each other. It was impossible not to feel the fierceness of their care and concern for each other.

Classroom application: I would recommend this title for middle school and up. The novel would be a great companion read to students' history learnings about the period between WWI and WWII.

If your students are interested in World War II, you can find other titles to recommend to them here.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Black Dove, White Raven for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


August 17, 2020

On My Bookshelf: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The basic plot from Amazon: In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a T├Ątowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
Despite initial struggles with the writing style and feelings of  disconnect from the main character, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is the story of Lale’s life at camps, a series of amazing coincidences that will draw you in as a reader. The novel is based on the real life experiences of the man who served as a tattooist at Auschwitz. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story, but the book is written in third person, and the main character seems distant and detached. I couldn't decide if that was due to the point of view used, the author's writing style or a combination of both. There were issues I had with the book that I could more definitely attribute to the author, such as the insertion of scenes from Lale’s past, which seemed disconnected from the central plot line and abrupt interruptions to present action. Despite my initial struggle with the writing style and feeling disconnected from the main character, the story of Lale’s life at camps is a series of amazing coincidences that will draw you in as a reader.

Classroom application: The book or parts of it could be used in a unit on the Holocaust, whether in a history class or an English Language Arts class. Since the book is based on a true story, but not nonfiction, I would balance it with a memoir or other primary sources.

For students who are interested in historical fiction set during WWII and the Holocaust, you can find additional recommendations here and here. The titles listed below are additional recommendations, but I have not personally them.

Young Adult Recommendations
The Librarian of Auschwitz
Night Trilogy
Someone Named Eva
Don't Tell the Nazis
The Cage

Adult
Dancing with the Enemy
The Paris Architect
Man’s Search for Meaning

Crossover
The Storyteller
The Winter Guest
Those Who Save Us
The Lilac Girls
Auschwitz Lullaby
The German Midwife
Surviving the Angel of Death
Beneath the Scarlet Sky
Cilka’s Journey (follow up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz)
The Lost Wife

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


August 10, 2020

On My Bookshelf: When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

The basic plot from Amazon: In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut that Publishers Weekly calls “a funny and rewarding read” captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should've been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

In When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Ali, Noodles, and Needles are friends who get into trouble over their heads when they attend a party for an older crowd in another neighborhood. Noodles must come to terms with how he treats his brother Needles and Ali must turn to his father for help. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: Is there anything that Jason Reynolds has written that isn't pure gold? When I Was The Greatest was Reynolds's debut novel, but you'd never guess that. His characters are complex and could walk right off the page into real life.

Ali, Noodles, and Needles are friends who get into trouble over their heads when they attend a party for an older crowd in another neighborhood. Noodles must come to terms with how he treats his brother Needles and Ali must turn to his father for help.

I appreciate Reynolds's portraits of Black men like Ali, his father, Noodles, and Needles, who are not perfect, but are still admirable in many ways. He also gracefully deals with uncomfortable topics like past incarceration and Tourette syndrome. there also are not enough books that center around Black male friendships.

Classroom application: You can't go wrong recommending a Jason Reynolds book to your students. I love his Track series and As Brave As You for my sixth graders. They are full of humor and characters who have struggles, but could also be role models because of their strong values.

All American BoysLong Way DownThe Boy in the Black Suit, and this one, When I Was The Greatest are amazing reads for upper middle school and high school with anti-violence themes that young people need to hear, written in a way that makes them think rather than feel like they are being preached at.

Reynolds's books also make great mentor texts for examples of character description and dialogue, and could be examined during writing lessons.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of When I Was The Greatest for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


August 3, 2020

On My Bookshelf: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: From the author of Printz Medal winner Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.

When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.

Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.

And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.

That’s what ghosts do.



Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is a historical fiction novel set during WWII (my favorite genre and sub genre), but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts: angry, protective ghosts.

The main character, Frankie, and her brother and sister grow up in an orphanage in Chicago because their mother is dead (spoiler: she is actually in a mental asylum for trying to shoot her father) and their father is unable to care for them (which also isn't entirely true; he remarries and takes his new wife's children with him plus his oldest son when he briefly moves out to Colorado).

Growing up in an orphanage is a harsh life, but also a protected one in ways Frankie (nor I) ever considered. When Frankie finally leaves the orphanage, she is uncomfortable being alone with grown men after being primarily raised by nuns; her only interaction with adult males was her fathers visits on Sundays and the priest at confession. Frankie doesn't know what to talk to other young women about who weren't raised in an orphanage, leaving her feeling lonely and isolated. Even grocery shopping and cooking for a single family are difficult because she's used to cooking in massive quantities in the orphanage kitchen. At the background of orphanage life is World War II. Frankie's brother is shipped out as well as her sweetheart Sam, who is quickly killed. Another girl at the orphanage, Stella, "collects" sweethearts who are shipping out and writes to them, but is mortified when she is unable to recognize one who returns home and proposes to her.

The novel is narrated by a ghost whose stories are interspersed with Frankie's (similar to Death's narration of The Book Thief). She is a young girl who has a child out of wedlock with a Chinese delivery boy. The readers learns that the young woman, Mercy, that she watches is the baby she was forced to give up for adoption after spending time in the same asylum as Frankie's mother. The narrator befriends another ghost, Marguerite, a Black young woman, who is similarly filled with anger. Marguerite was killed by the woman who wanted to marry the white man Marguerite was in love and in a relationship with. The narrator and Marguerite work through their rage together and Marguerite is able to find peace by reconciling with her family, while the narrator puzzles out that she was drowned by one of her brothers for ruining the family name.

Classroom application: I would recommend this one for upper middle school and up. There is death and some mild violence. Some students may struggle at the beginning the differentiate and connect the narrator's story and Frankie's. Students who love historical fiction or are World War II buffs will enjoy this one. You can find other books set during World War II here.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.