Youth Programs

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin Mod. 5


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Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2007. ISBN 9780316060028.

Plot Summary:

Pacy Lin is excited for the new year, the Year of the Dog, where she is supposed to find wealthy and strengthen relationships. This funny book is about a young Taiwanese-American girl who is discovering who she is and fostering her relationships with her parents, her friends, her sisters, and her cultural identity.

Critical Analysis:

I thought this was a very good book. It is well written, especially for children transitioning from early readers to middle grade. The language is simplistic and easy to follow, yet descriptive and well written enough to keep their attention and increase their imagination.

The story is one that will most especially resonate with children from immigrant families. The cross between cultures, and feeling as though there are two parts of you, or more.

It also brings to light challenges our young kids have to face, like friendship and relations between parents and siblings. Even extended family.

The book is dotted with cute little black and white drawings and the who layout of the book is good. Several stories that were told by herself or family members interrupt the narrative.

This is a great middle grade book that kids will love.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. Readers follow Grace, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, through the course of one year–The Year of the Dog–as she struggles to integrate her two cultures. Throughout the story, her parents share their own experiences that parallel events in her life. These stories serve a dual purpose; they draw attention to Graces cultural background and allow her to make informed decisions. She and her two sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until Melody arrives. The girls become friends and their common backgrounds illuminate further differences between the American and Taiwanese cultures. At the end of the year, the protagonist has grown substantially. Small, captioned, childlike black-and-white drawings are dotted throughout. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.”

From Booklist:

“When Lin was a girl, she loved the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward, a series about a quintessentially American girl whose days centered around friends and school. But Lin, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, didn’t see herself in the pages. Now she has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her. And what a year it is! Grace meets a new friend, another Asian girl, and together they enter a science fair, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy special aspects of their heritage (food!). Grace even wins fourth place in a national book-writing contest and finds her true purpose in life. Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings, some priceless, such as one picturing Grace dressed as a munchkin. Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace’s parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage. Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.”

From Kirkus Review:

“This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life.”



Other books by Grace Lin:

Dumpling Days ISBN: 9780316125895

Dim Sum for Everyone ISBN: 9780385754880

The Ugly Vegetables ISBN: 9781570914911

Similar books:

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look ISBN 9781416913894

Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong ISBN 9780152057084

The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep ISBN 9780060276928

Connective Activity:

Find out what the animal is for the year you were born. What is the characteristic for that year?



The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


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Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2009. ISBN 9780316013697.

Plot Summary: 

This is the story of a young boy named Junior, who is a wannabe cartoonist living in the Spokane Indian Reservation. But he wants more for his life than the constant reservation life that everyone gets sucked into. He leaves the reservation to go to an all white farm town high school. Based on the events of the author, this book is a contemporary coming of age about a boy who wants to break free from the mold others expect him to stay in.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was okay. It was written decently, but I just wasn’t very interested in the story. I didn’t feel immersed in it. I kept getting pulled out of the story, and had a hard time finishing it.

That being said, it did a good job in themes and in showing the Native American culture.

Alcoholism and poverty are among the two most common hardships those living on reservations face. This is made evident in the book. In fact, our main character’s parents are alcoholic.

The other thing I liked about this book was about overcoming disability. Junior was born with brain damage, but despite it, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in both drawing and basketball. He battles those related issues to do what he loves, which earns him respect at the white school he goes to, off the reservation.

If nothing else, the morals are good, and can show how we can overcome any issues facing us, but more importantly, how who we are/where we were born does not define who we become.



Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:

The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.

From Booklist:

Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.

From New York Times:

“This is a gem of a book….may be [Sherman Alexie’s] best work yet.”


Books by Sherman Alexie:

Flight ISBN 9780802170378

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven  ISBN 9780802141675

Other Books about Native Americans:

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume ISBN 9780330398121

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski ISBN 9780064461627

The Indian in the Cupboard by Scott O’Dell ISBN 9780007148981

Discussion Topic:

Why do Native American’s face the challenges they do? How are ways we can help?


Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina


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Medina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick Press: New York, 2014. ISBN 978-0763671648.

Plot Summary:

Piddy Sanchez is told that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t know who Yaqui is. As she continues to face harassment at school, all while balancing good grades and a job, she tries to figure out how to survive. As the harassment continues, it starts to take over her life, and she’s not sure how she’ll survive.

Critical Analysis:

This book was wonderful! Pura Belpre winning novels tend to be spectacular, and this one is no exception. The novel is wonderfully written. The characters, even the background characters we hardly see, are very well developed. The book flows well and keeps up a nice pace. I didn’t fly through it, but I didn’t feel like it was dragging either.

This book is more culturally specific than other books I’ve read. It included a lot with the characters. Latino culture was completely immersed in the book, which made me happy.

This is you basic coming of age novel, but with a Latin flair. The Spanish used in the book is wonderful. Just enough to give it a good taste. The context clues worked well enough to know what the words mean if you don’t speak Spanish.

Piddy moves to a new school where she seems to be immediately hated, and starts receiving harassment. Between that and her ever straining relationship with her mom and best friend, she struggles to figure out who she is.

The struggle our main character goes through is one millions of kids all around the world go through. Figuring out sexuality, who you are as a person, parental relationships, and bullying are all topics we are very familiar with. This makes for a character everyone can relate to.

This was a very good book about growing up and becoming yourself, and I highly recommend it.


Review Excerpts:

From Booklist

“Medina authentically portrays the emotional rigors of bullying through Piddy’s growing sense of claustrophobic dread, and even with no shortage of loving, supportive adults on her side, there’s no easy solution. With issues of ethnic identity, class conflict, body image, and domestic violence, this could have been an overstuffed problem novel; instead, it transcends with heartfelt, truthful writing that treats the complicated roots of bullying with respect.”

From Kirkus Review

“A nuanced, heart-wrenching and ultimately empowering story about bullying….Interweaving themes of identity, escapism and body image, Medina takes what could be a didactic morality tale and spins it into something beautiful: a story rich in depth and heart…Far more than just a problem novel, this book sheds light on a serious issue without ever losing sight of its craft.”

From School Library Journal

“The Latino cultural milieu adds a richness and texture that lifts this up above many problem novels. The plot points are dexterously intertwined, and the characters are distinct. A real bonus for those looking for a bullying book for older readers that is not simplistic.”


Other books by Meg Medina:

Burn Baby Burn ISBN 978-1511371872

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind ISBN 978-0763664190

Mango, Abuela, and  Me ISBN 978-0763669003

Books with Latino Characters:

So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez ISBN: 9781416911890

More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera ISBN: 9781616955601

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano ISBN:9780545325059

Journal Entry:

What’s been your biggest trial so far in your life? Have you overcome it, or are you still facing it? How did you beat it, or how do you plan to?

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle Mod. 3


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Engle, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings:  A Memoir. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1481435239

Plot Summary: 

In this poetic memoir, we see a young Margarita torn between two worlds: her mother’s lush and tropical island of Cuba, and her home in Las Angeles. She travels between the two, her heart in both places. But when the war erupts and tensions grow between her two beloved countries, she is torn. Eventually her two worlds collide.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was phenomenal. Really, as per usual, Margarita Engle delivers a beautifully written, thought provoking, and emotional read. Told in free verse, this memoir addresses her childhood as a half Cuban, half American during the Cold War.

The writing and the imagery are poetic.  I could clearly envision the beautiful island of Cuba, that her heart yearned for. I could feel her struggle, learning that she couldn’t go back and that she was cut off from her family and her identity. I could feel her sense of loss.

The book flows well, and is split into different time periods that were crucial in her life. Before, during, and after. We start in 1947, before Engle is born; the day her parents met. We then move to 1951-1959, then to 1960, 1961-1964, and finally, 1965. Each time period starts with a picture of a flower, and a section heading. Each poem has a “title” a phrase to sum up the experience. It is laid out beautifully.

Through her childhood eyes, we can see how children who are from or whose parents are from countries we are fighting against feel. The fear of losing her mom. The fear of being put in internment camps. The fear of never seeing her Cuban extended family again.

Unfortunately, this is a book for all time periods. This is how the Japanese Americans felt. This is how the Irish immigrants felt. I’m sure out Muslim brothers and sisters feel the same way. I’m sure our Syrian brothers and sisters feel the same. And I’m sure our immigrants feel the same. In our current political climate, this book is relevant and necessary, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so.

The ending had me in tears. I won’t spoil it, but it was moving and remarkable.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle’s trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author’s memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother’s homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn’t be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle’s experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita’s tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone’s focus shifted, the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school’s seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn’t relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT: A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba’s past.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others…. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early ’60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large…. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants…. As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one.”

From Booklist:

“Reflecting on her childhood in Los Angeles and her Cuban heritage, Engle’s memoir in verse is, indeed, nothing short of enchanting. Descriptions of Cuba as a tropical paradise and the home of her beloved abuelita come alive in the spare free-verse poems. She evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as her mother’s homesickness, being bicultural, the challenge of moving homes and schools, the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes at complete odds with her feelings and experiences. With characteristic precision, Engle captures a range of emotions and observations salient to a young girl…. In addition to the arresting content that provides many opportunities for learning, the craft of this memoir lends itself to creative exploration in the classroom…. The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection and a fitting companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011).”


Books by Margarita Engle:

Forest World ISBN 978-1481490573

Drum Dream Girl ISBN 978-0544102293

The Surrender Tree ISBN 978-0312608712

Similar Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ISBN 978-0147515827

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai ISBN 978-0061962790

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosin ISBN 978-1416994022

Journal Entry:

Write about your ancestors and where they’re from. It can be as far back as those who came on the Mayflower, or it can be as recent as your parents or even yourself. Who are you?

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge Mod. 1

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Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree. Harry N Abrams: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1419718953

Plot Summary: 

Faith Sunderly is a proper young lady. At least, that’s what everyone thinks. But when her father shows up dead after leaving a scandal, she knows he was murdered. Determined to seek revenge and justice for her father, she becomes a sleuth and discovers secrets that will help her uncover the truth behind her father’s death.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was pretty good. The language used was very beautiful and made sense for the setting. You could very much tell that the characters were English and from the Victorian age. This book was told pretty well. The concept is original and portrayed really well. The best part of this book are variety of morals and undertones. Revenge, justice, lies, truth, perception, feminism, and corruption of society are all a part of this book.

The characters are really cool. All of them are well developed, especially our main character, Faith. I would say that our villains needed a little more development in as far as being relate-able. But this is a problem most authors face, so it’s not off-putting.

Like I said, the story was told well, though the pacing was a little slow for me. I had to kind of trudge through it, especially at the beginning with all the set up.

Overall, a good book with a good storyline.

Rating 3/5

Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“In a time when a young woman’s exterior life can be stifling and dull, Faith Sunderly’s interior life is cavernous. She has a sharp mind; a keen interest in the scientific research that has made her father, the formidable Reverend Sunderly, famous; and an irresistible impulse for sneaking, spying, and skulking around. Faith’s curiosity about the world around her, which she must keep hidden, is a source of personal shame and the one thing about herself she longs for people, especially her father, to notice. When the Reverend is invited to take part in an archaeological dig on the insular island community of Vane, the whole family packs up and moves with him. It doesn’t take long for Faith to suspect there are darker reasons the family left London in such a hurry, and just as she’s starting to put things together, her father is found dead. Setting out to prove her father’s death was a murder, Faith uncovers a web of secrets the Reverend has been keeping, all centered on one of his specimens—a small tree that thrives on lies and bears a fruit that tells the truth. Faith believes she can use the tree to find her father’s killer and begins feeding it lies. As the tree grows, so do Faith’s lies and her fevered obsession with finding out the truth. Hardinge, who can turn a phrase like no other, melds a haunting historical mystery with a sharp observation on the dangers of suppressing the thirst for knowledge, and leaves readers to wonder where science ends and fantasy begins. VERDICT Smart, feminist, and shadowy, Hardinge’s talents are on full display here.”

From Kirkus:

“Mystery, magic, religion, and feminism swirl together in Hardinge’s latest heady concoction… Hardinge creates a fierce, unlikable heroine navigating a rapidly changing world and does it all with consummate skill and pitch-perfect prose, drawing readers into Faith’s world and onto her side and ultimately saying quite a lot about the world. Thematically rich, stylistically impressive, absolutely unforgettable.”

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“Hardinge’s characteristically rich writing is on full display—alternately excoriating, haunting, and darkly funny—and the novel also features complex, many-sided characters and a clear-eyed examination of the deep sexism of the period, which trapped even the most intelligent women in roles as restrictive as their corsets.”


Similar Books:

10 Days a Madwoman: The Daring LIfe and Turbulant Times of the Origianl “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes ISBN 978-0147508744

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman ISBN  9781406314595

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine ISBN  9780007512362

Other books by Francis Hardinge:

A Face Like Glass ISBN 9780230763500

Fly By Night ISBN  9780060876272

Cuckoo Song ISBN 9780330519731

Writing Prompt:

This book is about a tree that bears fruit when told a lie. The fruit delivers a hidden truth. If you had access to this tree, what lie would you tell it, and what truth would you hope to gain from it?


Drawing From Memory by Allen Say Mod. 5

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Say, Allen. Drawing From Memory. Scholastic Press: New York, 2011. ISBN: 9780545176866

Plot Summary: 

This book is about the life of Allen Say and his journey to becoming one of Japan’s most renowned artists. Because he was shunned by his father for his artistic desires, he was embraced by Noro Shinpei, Japan’s most famous cartoonist. Desperate to understand his heritage, Say worked hard to understand who he was in a most difficult time. This is his memoir, and it takes a look at the relationship between student and mentor.

Critical Analysis:

This was a really good book. I loved the language used in it. It absolutely reads like someone who’s native tongue is not English, and I feel that that is important, especially in memoirs like this. Despite the wording, it is easy to read and follow.

The flow is not smooth, as we usually like it. In part, because of the wording, but I found myself not reading fluidly because of all the photographs and drawings incorporated into the book, which I loved.

His conversational and light tone of voice made it easy to relate to him and his life.

Overall, this is a good book, and kids with a particular interest in being an artist will enjoy it.

Review Excerpts: 

From Kirkus Review:

“Exquisite drawings, paintings, comics and photographs balance each other perfectly as they illustrate Say’s childhood path to becoming an artist.

Although its story overlaps with The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice (1979), this visual chronicle is a fresh new wonder. It opens with a soft watercolor map of Japan on the left, framed in a rectangle, while on the right is a delicate, full-bleed watercolor of Yokohama’s seashore and fishing village, with two black-and-white photographs pasted on: Say as a child, and the stone beach wall. The early arc takes readers from Say’s 1937 birth, through family moves to escape 1941 bombings and then Say’s nigh-emancipation at age 12, when his mother supported him in his own Tokyo apartment. The one-room apartment “was for me to study in, but studying was far from my mind… this was going to be my art studio!” The art table’s drawer handle resembles a smile. Happily apprenticing with famous cartoonist Noro Shinpei, Say works dedicatedly on comic panels, still-lifes and life drawing. Nothing—not political unrest, not U.S. occupation, not paternal disapproval—derails his singular goal of becoming a cartoonist. Shinpei’s original comics are reproduced here, harmonizing with Say’s own art from that time and the graphic-novel–style panels, drawings and paintings created for this book.

Aesthetically superb; this will fascinate comics readers and budding artists while creating new Say fans.”

From School Library Journal:

“This “journey through memories” uses a scrapbook format featuring the author’s photographs, sketches, drawings, and comic-style panels. Say shares his love of comics and the important influence they have in his art. The book is a poignant tribute to his mentor, Japanese cartoonist Noro Shinpei.”


Books by Allen Say:

Grandfather’s Journey ISBN 9780395570357

Tea with Milk ISBN 9780395904954

Tree of Cranes ISBN 9780395520246

Similar Books:

The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young ISBN 9780316076289

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours byDuncan Tonatiuh ISBN  9780810997318