Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong (Mod. 5)


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Wong, Joyce Lee. Seeing Emily. Amulet Books: New York, 2005. ISBN 0810957574

Plot Summary:

This is a coming of age novel told in free verse about a girl named Emily Wu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She is torn between melding her American self and her Chinese heritage.

Critical Analysis:

This novel is very beautiful. It’s a classic coming of age tale about a young girl who desires following her own heart rather than the expectations placed on her by her parents. The writing is very beautiful. It flows very well and the writing is consistent throughout. Imagery is one of Wong’s strengths in this novel. She paints a very beautiful picture of the struggles facing first generations children. She pulls you into the mind of her main character, Emily, and you feel her desires and wants. This is a very beautiful novel that I highly recommend.

Example Poem: 

“At the moment
an image appeared
in my mind,
a bird
molting her feathers,
shaking off her winter garb
and exchanging it
for new plumage,
giddy and bright
as the stirrings
of spring.

A breeze
teases the air,
and the bird stretches her wings,
feeling the tantalizing lift of current
as she poises at the edge
of her nest.

Ready to dive into
the dazzling expanse
of air and light,
the bird envisions herself
soaring higher
and higher until
the very world seems to shrink
beneath the sweep
of her wings.”

This excerpt is found on page 49. I chose this example because it is a perfect representation of the writing in this book, the theme of this book, the tone of this book, and more importantly, the imagery of this book. In this example, you find all of these aspects. I especially like the meaning behind the image of the bird. In this image, you can see and feel Emily’s desperate desire to rid herself of the expectations placed on her by her family. This is a very compelling novel.


“The Firefly Letters:A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba” by Magarita Engle (Mod 2.)


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Engle, Margarita. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt and Company, LLC: New York, 2010. ISBN 9780805090826.

Plot Summary:

Frederika Bremer is a feminist and human rights activist from Sweden, who has taken to traveling the world to write about the beauty and horrors there are. When she asks to visit Cuba, she expects thatched huts and dirt ground. What she finds, however, is that Cuba is not far from the world she grew up in. Luxurious mansions where girls and women aren’t allowed outside, but rather sit in their rooms and learn the art of embroidery.

As Frederika travels the island, she is accompanied by a young slave, Cecilia, who longs for her home in Africa. Elena, the rich, caged, daughter of her host family, soon joins them and explores a land she knows little about, though she’s lived there her whole life.

This is a beautiful, compelling novel told in free verse that will captivate and astound the reader as they get to know these amazing characters.

Critical Analysis:

Written in her typical style, Margarita Engle, the author of The Surrender Tree, captivates her audience in this moving and beautifully written novel. This book does everything right. The plot is fascinating, the characters are real and have depth, and the language is wonderful. This book is told in free verse, so there’s no rhyme, but the text is obviously poetry. The novel is fluid, and flows well. It’s written at a good pace. It’s a short read, especially since you don’t want to put it down. It moves quickly, but is very enjoyable and you feel as though you’ve had more time with it, if that makes any sense to anyone but me. The only flaw I would say is adding in Cecilia’s husband or not adding enough of Cecilia’s husband, because we only hear from him a couple of times, and it doesn’t really advance the plot much.That being said, his parts are just as beautifully written. So they either needed to add more of him or not add him at all.

All in all, this book was remarkably beautiful and really addresses the plight of Cuban slaves, something you don’t hear much about. I highly recommend this!

Example Poem:

Matanzas, Cuba


“I remember a wide river
and gray parrots with patches of red feathers
flashing across the African sky
like traveling stars
or Cuban fireflies.

In the silence of night
I still hear my mother wailing,
and I see my father’s eyes
refusing to meet mine.

I was eight, plenty old enough
to understand that my father haggling
with a wandering slave trader,
agreeing to exchange me
for a stolen cow.

Spanish sea captains and Arab merchants
are not the only men
who think of girls
as livestock.”

This is the first page, and when I opened up the book and read that, I felt my breath catch and tears fill my eyes. The beauty and fluidity of the language is breath taking. The whole books reads just this throughout. It’s lyrical and mystical and you get this eerie feeling when you read. I chose this part because it’s a wonderful embodiment of the tone of the book and the fluidity and magic of the language. This is a great book to use in a poetry unit, making ties with black history or Latin history.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins (Mod. 3)



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Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2007. ISBN 9781416903567

Plot Summary:

Three teens with completely different backgrounds come together after making the same decision: to end their lives. Their attempt fails, and they are given a second chance, but only if they help each other and they learn to let go of their demons.

Critical Analysis:

This book is life changing. At least, it was for me. I will preface this with saying: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I have on multiple occasions, followed their path in wanting to end my own. And like them, I have been given a second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance to make my life better. So for me to say that this was life changing, I mean it. Knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles is one of the best feelings ever, and it’s why I specifically love kid lit, and have dedicated myself to becoming a library. Now on to the review.

In terms of writing style, she can’t be beat. Yes, there are many beautiful novels in verse (more than I was aware of before staring this course) but Ellen Hopkins is unique. Her books, in my opinion, are more poetic than any verse novel I’ve read. Her imagery and description is extremely powerful.

The flow and rhythm is lyrical. There’s a beat you feel with every stanza you read. While it’s free verse, as most verse novels are, there’s a pattern to the style. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

The most impressive thing about her book, and it’s an ideology that I hold as well, is that she is not afraid to speak the blunt truth. In fact, she dares to shout it out! It is in your face. The topics her books cover are real and most of the time, painful. Suicide, self harm, mental illness, societal expectation, drugs, religion, abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, and so much more are discussed in her books, because these are the things her audience is struggling with. She writes the hard things, the taboo things. She gives a voice to the ones who have been shamed into silence. And that is incredible.

This is a fantastic read, and my favorite of all her books. I highly recommend this for anyone!

Example Poem:

“Back on the Road

And now it’s a gravel road,
rutted and scarred by winter,
slow going in this old four-by.
Everyone seems subdued, lost
in daydreams, anxiousness,
or the hypnotic lull of the sameness
outside the windows. This is high
desert at its most monotonous-
the cracked, white playa, giving
way to the miles and miles of sage,
greasewood, and cheatgrass.
And yet it’s riveting, beautiful
in its starkness.”

This excerpt is found on page 503. I chose it for its beautiful imagery. If there is one thing that Ellen Hopkins does well, it is setting the scene for her reader. You feel as though you are there in the desert. You can feel how the characters feel. Her vivid imagery is her biggest strength.

Audacity by Melanie Crowder (Mod 3)


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Crowder, Melanie. Audacity. Speak: New York, 2015. ISBN 9780147512499

Plot Summary:

Clara Lemlich is a Russian Jewish immigrant living in New York City. She is forced to work in the garment factory to help support her family. When Clara realizes how horrendous the working conditions are, she works tirelessly to fight for women’s rights in the workplace. Inspired by a true story, this novel is about girl power and spirit.

Critical Analysis:

This is a beautiful and powerful novel of strength, determination, will, and fighting for justice. Insanely vivid and at times, heart breaking, this novel is a must read, especially for young women and men. Starting off in Russia, this novel makes you understand what it is like to be an immigrant. They travel across the world, facing the most heartbreaking changes on their way, only to realize that dreams are impossible, no matter where you live. Clara refuses to accept that as her reality. When she begins to understand the conditions they are placed in, she fights with courage to change things for the better.

The book flows beautifully. It is well paced and really touches its readers.

At the end of the book, there is a historical note for readers, explaining the real story of Clara Lemlich. I think that’s very important to include in historical novels. Knowing that it was real gives us faith and hope that we too can change the world.

Example Poem: 

(the man on the soapbox explains)
means no one is better than anyone else
everyone shares

the same rights
the same protection
the same opportunity

no matter their station
no matter their religion
no matter their gender.

At last!
I have a name for the ideas in my head.

He gives me pamphlets
invites me to lectures
asks questions
I do not yet
have answers for.

At last!
There is work for my mind in England.”

This excerpt is on page 87. I chose this passage, not because it’s particularly beautiful or rhythmic. I chose it because it is applicable to society, then, now, and forever. While we no longer have little girls working in unsuitable conditions in factories that are incredibly dangerous and get paid next to nothing with no benefits and no breaks, we have a lot of injustice in this world still. When I was trying to figure out who I was politically, socialist seemed to be the right term. A term that means justice. A term that means diversity. A term that means equality. You may or may not be a socialist, and that’s okay. The reason why this passage struck out at me, especially with the events of the past few months, we need the reminder that this is how it used to be, so it shouldn’t still be this way. And while the text may not be particularly poetic, the meaning is beautifully poetic.

Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe (Free Pick Mod 6)


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Crowe, Chris. Death Coming Up the Hill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing: New York, NY, 2014. ISBN 9780544302150

Plot Summary: 

Ashe is a seventeen year old boy in 1968. The Vietnam war is in full swing. But that’s not the only war in his life. His parents are as opposite as two people could be. His dad is a racist and his mom is a peace activist hippie. That being, they are constantly at war with each other, and Ashe caught in the middle. With the help of his history teacher and the beautiful new girl whose brother is over in Vietnam, he starts to understand his world and the world around him a little more.

Critical Analysis:

This book has me in awe. I was halfway through the book when I realized that it was written entirely in haiku form. That itself is an incredible feat. Writing a verse novel is so difficult. It’s even more so when it’s not free verse and has structure and rules, such as the haiku. To pull this off takes incredible skill as a writer. That in itself is remarkable.

The pace is very fast. I was through the book in no time at all. It’s a quick read, but very powerful.

The story itself is enjoyable and honest. I really felt for poor Ashe. His world is crumbling around his feet and he finds himself struggling.

Example Poem:

“I spanned the distance
between them like a bombed-out
bridge. The love I had

felt fell into the
gulf between them, and I knew
they loved me, but not

each other. That’s a
crummy thing to learn when you’re
only six years old.”

This passage comes from page 30 and 31. I chose this passage because it was the moment that Ashe’s life changed forever. The moment he realized that his parents didn’t love each other shaped his view of marriage, love, and his parents. I love the language. “Spanned distance” “bombed-out bridge” and “gulf” all tie together to create a beautiful yet horrifying metaphor. This passage also shows how the different haikus tie together to form the story.

Review Excerpt:

From School Library Journal

“It will appeal to fans of novels in verse or to readers with an interest in the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, or American history.”

From Booklist

“The unusual narrative style makes this exploration of Vietnam-era politics at home and abroad readily accessible to struggling readers, while fans of poetry may appreciate the eloquence in its brevity.”

From Kirkus Review

“A memorable / and innovative story / of one wrenching year.”


Other books on Vietnam War:

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell  ISBN  9781416926900

Weeping Under the Same Moon by Jana Laiz ISBN 9780981491004

In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason ISBN 9780060835170

Other books by Chris Crowe:

Mississippi Trial 1955 ISBN  9780142501924

Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of Emmett Till Case ISBN 9780803728042

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson Poetry Review (Mod 1)


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Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. Nancy Paulsen Books: New York, 2014. ISBN 9780399252518

Plot Summary:

This is the biography of Jacqueline Woodson, an African American writer. In this vivid and amazing book, told in free verse narrative, we learn about what it was like for her to grow up in the 60s and 70s both in the South and North as an African American girl. We also learn about how she develops and grows as a writer.

Critical Analysis:

This book is amazing, and one that everyone should read. I’m afraid any analysis would not do this beautiful novel justice. In free verse narrative, this tale of her life is told so eloquently. There are moments of brutal honesty that leaves me breathless. The details are so vivid, I feel like I’m there. The book flows beautifully, as most novels in verse do. The pacing is relatively slow. It took a minute for me to get through the book, but I did enjoy it immensely.

Example Poem: 

This excerpt is found on page 6.

“Name a girl Jack, my father said,
and she can’t help but
grow up strong.
Raise her right, my father said
and she’ll make that name her own.
Name a girl Jack
and people will look at her twice, my father said.”

I actually love this and honestly, I kind of want to name a girl Jack now. I love the father’s thinking behind naming his daughter Jack. While he would be naming her after himself, that’s not his motivation. His motivation in naming her Jack, taking in the time period in which she was born and her race, is that naming her Jack would’ve given her more opportunities in a life. That she wouldn’t be automatically singled out as a black woman with that name. Names can be powerful things. Just as J.K. Rowling and S.E. Hinton hid their true names to avoid being judged on their gender, being given a traditionally male or gender neutral name would’ve provided her an opportunity to not be judged by her name. It’s a powerful message.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan (Mod 1)


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Shovan, Laura. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2016. ISBN 9780553521382

Plot Summary:

This book explores the life of eighteen fifth graders. They are in for a rough year full of changes. Families change, friends change, and they’re going to demolish the school. They were given an assignment to write poems for a time capsule. They want to try to save the school, but they learn through the year, even if things don’t go the way you wanted, it’s what you learned that matters and that will stay with you.

Critical Analysis:

I thought this was a very cleaver book. I loved seeing how she created all of these personalities. Each has their own voice, their own writing style, and collectively, they make a remarkable group of writers. This is very realistic. I teach writing to a group of Tweens, and they are remarkable writers themselves.

The most impressive aspect of this book is the varying types of poetry. At the very end of the book, there is a section called “A Closer Look at the Poems in this Book.” There are three different subsections: Favorite Forms From Room 5-H, From the Fifth Grade Poetry Prompt Jar, and Glossary. I love the “Favorite Forms From Room 5-H.” In this section, it explains several different forms of poetry that were used in this book, from the sonnet to found poetry.

The poems are wonderfully written. As there are different types of poems, they all have their own rhythm. Some follow rules concerning syllables, some follow rules concerning word limits, and some follow patterns (AA, BB, etc.) I love how this author used so many different types of poetry.

The flow is good. It’s fast paced, but not too fast. It’s the right speed for the type of book it is. You get lost in it, and you don’t really get jerked out.

The tone is that of any tween. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad. Most of the time, it’s confused. They have so many questions, so many things they don’t yet understand, but they go through the events nonetheless.

This book was fantastic. I could imagine their lives. I could see them and their experiences. I could feel their emotions. Their happiness, their sadness, their confusion, their hope. I highly recommend this, especially if you have or teach tweens.

Example Poem:

“Brick wall, bright faces.
One girl in a blue hijab
smiles at her teacher.

Beside the children
a teacher stands tall, so proud.
Her scarf flutters, a flag.”

This poems is on page 220. It’s dated June 3 written by Norah Hassan and it’s titled Unveiling the Mural.

I chose this poem for several reasons.

First: this is a haiku poem. It follows a specific pattern. The poem consists of three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables.

Second: I love the connection between the hijab and the scarf. She says the scarf is a flag (metaphor). In essence, that the scarf symbolizes something that should be respected. I love how she compares this to the hijab, which is also a scarf that symbolizes something that should be respected.

Third: I love the cultural representation. Norah is a Muslim girl from Jerusalem. Her poems especially are moving and touching, and I love that Muslims are being represented in literature. That’s another thing this book did well. There is a ton of representation from different cultural and religious backgrounds.