booktalks, book_reviews, YA lit

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

This book will make you cry. First Hurricane Katrina, then death of her grandmother and mother. Then falls in love, falls hard for T-Boom, a meth addict. Who leaves her when she gets hooked. It is a downward spiral for Laurel, but her daddy loves her, she has a little baby brother Jesse Jr., a best friend Kaylee, and Moses, a friend that doesn’t try to come on to her as she sits begging for money, homeless.  The grip that meth has on people rises mysteriously to the surface in this poetic tale of struggle, of continually being pulled back to an addiction, and the people like Moses that don’t judge and don’t give up.

booktalks, book_reviews, bullying, YA lit

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Maleeka is poor. Her mom sews to deal with the pain of losing her husband, Maleeka’s dad, but Maleeka can’t wear those hand sewn clothes to school. Sweet already teases her so much about her deep dark skin. So she borrows fancy clothes from Char, who has a lot of issues and bullies everyone around her. Then Miss Saunders shows up with her unique skin, her strong attitude, and changes the tone. She see Maleeka and, though caught in the middle of trying to be true to herself and following along doing what Char says, Maleeka will never be the same.

booktalks, book_reviews, YA lit

Always Running: La Vida Loca by Luis J. Rodriguez

In his seering autobiography, Luis Rodriguez claims no glory. But he questions his place in world, and seeks to find an answer. You will bear witness to older ones teaching the younger ones to steal, senseless gang violence, abuse from teachers, misguided treatment from school nurses to Latino students, and an evolving consciousness of who he is and what is valuable in his life. Here is a chapter by chapter account.



We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

This slim book is addressed to men and women and will give you the space and climate for your ideas to shift, open, and change. Adiche is a Nigerian writer who grew up speaking English and Igbo, but while Igbo was taught as a subject, English was the language of instruction and remains the official language of Nigeria.

She writes that while we are all human beings, there is reason to avoid generalizations because they silence our “specific experiences.” She debunks the stereotype of a feminist. She does not hate men. She is happy. She loves fashion. She explains why we should all be feminists–that you are a feminist is you concur that “there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it.” She recounts an incident in Nigeria when she tipped a man for parking their car. The man looked at her friend Louis and said thank you instead of thanking her. The man ultimately thought her money came from the man. Our ideas shape our actions.

If you like to think about what your role is in the world, and help define your ideas of what feminism is, she helps to bring you there. She states, “People make culture. Culture does not make people.” She demonstrates how we create culture and use our specific experiences -to develop healthier ways to interact with other.

booktalks, book_reviews, YA lit

Something Noble by William Kowalski

Dre is in high school and needs a kidney transplant fast, and LeVon, his drug-dealing half-brother is the only one who has his same blood type and can save his life.  They have the same father.  Dre has been told that his half-brother is no good and to stay away from him all his life. Now they need LeVon. If you like emotional stories and stories that cut through stereotypes this is a book for you. On the outside, LeVon is a destroying his life and lives of those around him. But if you read this book, you will see who LeVon is on the inside.


Tao of Wu by The RZA

by Wolfgang L.                                                                                                          

The book “The Tao of Wu” is written by the American Hip Hop superstar The RZA, the leader of the multi-platinum selling rap group the Wu-Tang Clan. The RZA uses his experiences growing up in the ghettos of New York City, his rise to fame and superstardom, and his travels throughout the world to relate Eastern philosophy to more understandable experiences such as life in America, chess, kung fu movies, and hip hop. The RZA breaks down complex ideas and stories from several Eastern religions such as Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism into simpler ideas and takes ideas from each of these religions to use towards self-betterment and one’s search for happiness, spirituality, and meaning in life.

The RZA grew up in harsh conditions, living in several of the worst ghettos in New York City in the 1970’s and 1980’s. During his time growing up, he learns, uses, teaches, and eventually masters the lessons from the Nation of Islam, a religious movement created in the 1930’s Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in America. This religious movement was created by and mainly for African-Americans living in harsh conditions, to give the hope and spiritual guidance to them and help them live better lives and find more success in a time which was hard for many African-Americans living in big cities throughout America. The RZA is continually referring back to these lessons during the hardships he faced in his youth to help him get through to them and help explain these lessons to the reader so they may use the lessons for guidance in their own lives.  

This book provided me with completely new ways of viewing things and experiencing everyday life. Before reading this book, I was completely uninterested in matters relating to religion for the most part, however, this book provided me with insight into each of the major religions and some smaller ones and rejuvenated my interest on the topic of spirituality. After learning about many of the ideas and lessons given throughout this book, I feel I gained incredibly valuable knowledge which allowed me to use parts of multiple religions to better myself as a person, without devoting myself to any of the religions themselves. Even if you aren’t interested in the spiritual aspects of the book, it is still an incredible read if you are interested in hip-hop, especially if you are a fan of the Wu-Tang clan, or if you are interested in a story about a man who came from living in some of the harshest living conditions in New York City, and his transition to fame and fortune and his journey to cope with this radical change.                                                                                                                    


Animal Farm by George Orwell


What a powerful fable of how a manifesto written by the animals for the animals goes awry.  Just under 100 pages, Orwell blasts us with a vision of how egalitarian values can slowly slip away, if there is no ability to read, write, or remember on the part of the collective.  Slowly, the pigs take over and rule. Then one pig, aptly named Napolean, performs a coup d’etat, ousting the other pig, Snowball, turning him into the arch enemy of the farm. Napolean leads autocratically, fueled by greed. And slowly, the animals who had built their own government collectively begin to be dominated by Naploean, who little by little alters their manifesto, with very little notice or resistance.  A classic and a must-read for everyone who cares about equality and democracy and free thinking.

author of the month, YA lit

Paul Volponi

by Jerrell M.

“I’m satisfied that I can channel what I’ve experienced and what I feel into books for young adults.” – Paul Volponi“I hear constantly kids and teachers saying, ‘So-and-so doesn’t read. He picked up your book. He read it from cover to cover. Now he’s reading your other books and he’s thinking about writing something himself that he’s seeing.” – Paul Volponi


Paul Volponi is writer, teacher, and journalist living in New York City. He have taught in Rikers Island which is located in Queens, New York with incarcerated teens from 1992-1998. However when he left Rikers he taught teens in a drug treatment program. That’s where he got his explicit ability to write about urban teens in tough times. Volponi is a writer that will catch teen’s attention who don’t like to read because the story that he tells is relatable and they will make connections. I say that readers will make connections because in his books there were a lot of text-to-self in Rikers High and also text-to-world in Hurricane Song. Rikers High will get kids attention because it’s about a 17 year old kid named Martin who went to jail for telling someone where to get drugs from and while was he in jail he got slashed on his face trying to help a friend. Hurricane Song is about a kid named Miles who moved to New Orleans with his father that he didn’t like and Hurricane Katrina came and destroyed everything. Then it started to gang beef and a lot of shootings because they wanted to take over the little bit of land that was left after the hurricane. I personally like Volponi because I connect myself to the book Rikers High and I have never even been to jail before but the story sounds so real I feel like I have been. I will tell all teens to read Rikers High because that’s one of the best book I read and was actually interested in.

Work Cited:

“Paul Volponi: Teen Novels.” Paul Volponi: Teen Novels,


Literature Circles

La-la-la LIT Circle! Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier


Ghosts is Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel. It is brilliant in its complex display of sibling relationships, between Cat and Maya.  The younger daughter Maya has cystic fibrosis so the family decides to move to Northern California for the fresh ocean air. Their new neighbors, the Calaberases are–like Maya’s mother–of Mexican descent, but have not assimilated to the degree that Maya’s mother has. Carlos Calavera, their son, shows the two sisters the town’s haunted mission, but when Maya ends up hospitalized, Cat is angry, blames Carlos, and worries that Maya will soon be gone forever.

Despite its storytelling brilliance, there has been controversy around this bestseller. Education professor Laura Jimenez remarked most stridently about the inaccuracy of the surname Calavera and the equating of the Day of the Dead ancestral devotion with seeing ghosts, “Then the name … The neighbors are the Calaverases. They are Mexican, and their name is Calavera (skull) and they live in a town full of ghosts. That is the equivalent of a family named Advent Calendar living in town with a reputation for elves.”

For our Lit circle, we will explore this controversy as well as the other elements of its plot and setting.

Everyone has an assigned role.


Investigator roles. Analyze and cite 2-3  sources.  Please cite your sources properly.

Participants, please comment in a maximum of four paragraphs, state your role as a header, and use your first name only. Please reply to at least 3 other participants.

  1. What is the controversy?  Take side of the critics like Debbie Reese. Why is it important to be culturally accurate? What liberties can a storyteller of a different culture take without harm?
  2. What is the controversy? Take side of defenders of RT and the research she did.
  3. What is the controversy? Explore the idea that RT could have written this as a ghost story without bringing in the Day of the Dead and its ceremonies and traditions.
  4. American beliefs about ghosts – How are they reflected in the book?
  5. Culturally accurate Day of the Dead books for middle grade students – Create an annotated list, with pictures, please!
  6. Cystic Fibrosis and Children – What is it? How does it affect Maya? What are her prospects for living a “normal” life?
  7. Day of the Dead celebrations: What is the contact between the living and ancestors during the El Dia de Los Muertos?
  8. Ancestor devotion in other cultures – How do other compare with Mexican Day of the Dead?
  9. Northern California coastal weather, esp. the fog – How does it help the pacing, the plot?
  10. California Missions: Why were they created? What was their role? What is their role in the book?

Literary Critic roles. Use specific pages to back up for analysis, and give readers the exact page numbers, please. Please cite your source(s) properly.

  1. Visual literacy skills needed to read this book
  2. How does RT tell her tale? How do specific panels relate the story in interesting ways?
  3. How does it work structurally? How does the author make visual transitions? What other structural elements are important?
  4. How does the relationship of the sisters change?
  5. What are the subplots and how do they create an overall arc to the story?

Participants, please comment in a maximum of four paragraphs, state your role as a header, and use your first name only. Please reply to at least 3 other participants.

Deadline: 11/28 at midnight.

Read and reply deadline: 11/30 midnight.


author of the month, YA lit

“Locomotion” by Jacqueline Woodson

This is a window into one of JW’s most magical short novels, a novel in verse, written as a series of poems, but poems that tell the story of Lonnie:

Lonnie’s mom and dad died in a fire. His little sister now lives with a rich family far away. Lonnie is with Miss Edna. Still living in Brooklyn, still going to school, writing poetry in Ms. Marcus’s class, trying to make sense of what has happened.  This excerpt is Lonnie remembering his mother–her voice and her story about him being born premature and nearly not making it, as she is cooking up a chicken:

“Mama cut the wing off the chicken, rinsed

it under the faucet, patted it dry–real gentle

like she was deep remembering.

So I  hoped and prayed and sat by that tiny 

baby every hour of every day for weeks

and more weeks. Doctors said it’s his lungs,

they’re just not ready for the world yet. Can’t

take a breath in. Can’t let one out. So I breathed

for you, trying to show you how, I

prayed to those lungs, Mama said. Grow!

The chicken was cut up, spiced up, dipped

in flour and ready to fry. mama touched each piece

still real gentle before she slipped it into the hot

oil. Then you were four pounds, five pounds, six pounds

bigger than this chicken. My big little baby boy

not even two months old and already

a survivor.” (p. 74)