There is value in reading novels in all disciplines. As readers can learn history from reading historical fiction, they can learn not only about physical health and mental health issues but about how people living with those challenges cope, and readers can see the role music or art plays in supporting or inspiring characters. And students can learn science, technology, and math, including how STEM topics fit in the real world, through reading novels and memoirs. Readers can read these novels in science and math classes or in English-Language Arts classes or with the collaboration of both teachers in an interdisciplinary unit.
“Although many disciplinary teachers may feel that there is not enough time to cover state standards and read novels in their classes, they may be surprised how much content students learn and how many standards they meet through novel book club reading and the ensuing discussions. And when students in each book club read and present on a different novel, feasibly on a different topic covered in the curriculum, the class as a whole learns from the reading of all the novels” (The Write to Read, Ch 9).
These are 50 titles and 25 reviews of novels I have read and recommend.
MATH & TECHNOLOGY: Seven Clues to Home, Girls Who Code,Flatland, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Solving for M,The Numbers Devil, Code Talkers,The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl,The Phantom Tollbooth, The Absolute Value of Mike, Hidden Figures (YA and MG editions), Secrets Lies and Algebra, An Abundance of Katherines, None of the Above
Girls Who Code: Lights, Music, Code! by Jo Whittemore
I really enjoyed this book even though I know (knew) nothing about coding or much about technology in general. This novel is the third of a Girls Who Code series, but the reader is quickly brought up to speed on the main characters: Maya, the narrator of this story, and her four best friends, Sophia, Lucy, Lela, and Erin.
Lights, Music, Code! Focuses on creative coding. The middle school Coding Club is tasked with designing a feature for the upcoming school dance, and the five girls are in charge of the project—coding the lights and music. As part of one of the subplots, Maya also utilizes wearable technology to help out a friend. Along the way, their coding strategies are explained to the reader; therefore, the reader also learns a little about coding, which may inspire them to become involved in STEAM activities or clubs in their schools.
The plot of this novel focuses on Nicole Davis (referred to as Maddie in the Goodreads synopsis), a girl Maya met in the summer who convinced her to try shoplifting, something completely out of character for Maya. Maya has vowed to stay away from her, but Nicole has now moved to Maya’s school district and convinces her that she has changed. However, as Maya’s friends and mother observe, Nicole is really trying to separate Maya from her coding friends and activities. As Maya becomes more and more suspicious of her friends, she finally realizes what Nicole is doing and that she has not changed, but she finds a way to help her.
The main characters are diverse: Chinese, Latina, African-American, Pakistani, and White middle school students, and the short novel is appropriately-written for Grade 4-8 readers.
Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin
“But something else is pulling at me, knocking around in my insides, starting out like a whisper, like a song I sang all the time, but now I forget the words. ‘Remember?’ ‘Do you remember those times I was happy?’ ‘I do.’” (146)
Joy and Lukas met in second grade when, celebrating those with summer birthdays, they discovered their August birthdays were two days apart. And they became best friends for five years. They even knew they would always be best friends, “Keepers of Secrets, Wizards of Clues, Growers of Gardens, King and Queen of Summer Birthdays, Holders of Hearts” (193)
But “there are some moments that change everything…” (157)
When Lukas died on Joy’s twelfth birthday, she lives through a year of pain and grief. On her thirteenth birthday, she decides to follow the clues that, as was their tradition, Lukas had left for her birthday the previous year.
This captivating novel which grabbed my heart and squeezed it, as I wanted to keep reading but couldn’t face ending and leaving these characters, is written in alternating chapters narrated by Joy and Lukas. Readers follow Lukas though the day before Joy’s birthday as he hides the clues leading to her present and wrestles with giving her the heart necklace that will declare his new feelings, fearful that she will not feel the same. Readers shadow Joy as she escapes the house and follows the clues around town. “I don’t think I’ve been on my own, unaccounted for, this long in my whole life. But it feels good. Kind of like being let out after being hidden away—even if I did the hiding myself—like the sky clearing, and the air smells so fresh.” (133) We experience the depth of their friendship through memories and the commitment to the birthday clues. We also meet the family and townspeople who loved them.
There are moments that change everything and books that change everything. Seven Clues will be that book for many readers, especially those experiencing loss.
Solving for M by Jennifer Swender
I have to admit. I am a teacher and it may have been the quirky, creative, effective Mr. Vann, Grade Five Pod Two math teacher, who put this book over the top for me.
Or it may have been Mika whose world turns upside down in multiple ways when she enters fifth grade, housed in a middle school.
Mika is placed in a different pod from her former best friend, Ella, who now becomes a part of the Onesie’s, the girls of Pod One, and has no time for Mika.
Mika’s favorite subject was art, which does not include “drawing” (with the air quotes) as part of the fifth grade curriculum; her favorite subject now becomes math which does include drawing as part of their math journals.
Mika’s best friends are now Dee Dee, who she considered an “odd science geek,” and Chelsea, “a slightly annoying Goody Two-shoes.”
Mika’s mother has melanoma and has become sick and withdrawn from the medicines.
Because of her mother’s cancer, Mika visits her father who left when she was a baby and his new wife and finds she actually has a good time and wants to return.
Mika’s math journal and her new friends, as well as her grandmother and her mother’s best friend, the theatrical Jeannie, help Mika through the highs and lows of the year.
I loved new author the writing and the unique voices of the characters (and Dee Dee’s hilarious science tee shirts and Chelsea’s obsession with providing treats for every celebration), and I adored Mika’s math journal entries. Best of all, I finally found a novel for math teachers to share with their students!
The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
“Do Over is a second chance. Sometimes we need a second chance.” (20) And many people in Mike’s new life need a second chance.
There is Great Uncle Poppy who has barely moved since his son’s death. And Great Aunt Moo who can barely see calls things by unusual names, but is in charge of the house, the shopping, getting Poppy his scrapple, trying to make ends meet by siphoning gas for her car Tyrone, and is the heart of the community. There is 18-year-old Gladys, with her multiple piercings and tatoos, who has been rejected by her parents and has a boyfriend, Numchuck, who everyone says is no good for her and takes the cash she earns working in the bank. There is Past who is homeless, having put his past behind him. There is Mike’s own father, a “genius,” who is grieving the death of Mike’s mother, not able to show any love, eats unhealthy food and, ultimately, has a heart attack. There is Karen who has had multiple miscarriages and now her husband has died and all she wants is to adopt a child.
And there is Misha, the child who lives in an orphanage in Romania and wants a family. And the town, Donover, called Do Over when the “N’ went missing, who wants to raise $40,000 and bring Misha home to Karen.
Mike’s father leaves for a business trip abroad, sending Mike to live for the summer with his great aunt and uncle and work on the Artesian screw, planning on Mike becoming an engineer. Mike hates math, has dyscalculia, and is not at all unhappy to find that there is no such project. His uncle is supposed to have an “artisan’s crew” to help him make wooden boxes to sell to raise money for the town project, but has not left his chair to do so. It turns out the not much has been accomplished with a date for a change in Romanian foreign adoption laws looming, and when Karen herself has to leave town, The Bring Misha Home project appears to be up to Mike. “What was the kid saying with those eyes? It was like he needed me.” (80)
But Mike has come to believe his father’s low opinion of him and his non-math-related talents. “I looked at the other sign on Gladys’ desk: We Promise You Absolute Vale. Absolute value? That was the only math term I understood. It’s when you take something that’s worth less than zero, a negative—kind of like me—and it becomes positive. I always liked that idea. It was as if there was hope, even for me.” (72)
From the community members—Moo, Past, Gladys, Karen, the Three Stooges, Mike receives clues about his strengths and talents. [Past and I] shook hands. “You are nothing if not resourceful, Mike.” (94) [Gladys] looked at me…not like I was a dumb kid, but a guy…a guy who was pretty cool, capable, even clever. A guy who could actually save Misha and bring him home. (135)
Past also leaves town, and it appears that fourteen-year-old Mike, who has already started a website, an advertising campaign, posted videos of Gladys singing and of Misha, and sales of the towns people’s products on eBay, is completely in charge of Do Over Day and raising the needed funds. “IDIOTS! All of you! Don’t you know what really matters? Not running away! Not hiding from things! Not covering things up! But doing what you know is right! For Misha!” (203)
Powering through with, it turns out, the help of a town, Mike (and his father) discover his absolute value. It may take a village to raise a child; in this case it takes a town to save two children.
A novel that can be included in a STEM interdisciplinary curriculum, the chapters titles are mathematical terms. Readers can be asked to analyze how each title relates to the plot and characters in the chapter as a refection response or small-group discussion: parallel lines, transversal lines, skew lines, place value, compatible numbers, common factor, formulas, evaluate, mixed numbers, reflection, dependent event, order of operations, adjacent angles, zero property, difference, regroup, problem, slide, outliers, chaos theory, argument, function, attributes, variable, transformation, defective numbers, interval, tessellations, endpoint, and, of course, absolute value.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
When she was 8, Lucy was struck by lightning. Damaging the left lobe of her brain, the right lobe works overtime, causing acquired savant syndrome. Lucy is a math genius—and has OCD; she makes certain movements 3 times to quiet the numbers of pi in her head and is germ phobic. Homeschooled by her grandmother, she never had to worry about fitting in, except with her fellow math geeks on the Math Whiz site. At age 12 she has her GED and thinks she is ready to begin college classes.
But Nana has other plans, and she enrolls Lucy in 7th grade at the local middle school for one year. There Lucy hides her identity as a “freak” and makes two friends, but when her secret is revealed, she finds out that middle school is where many feel different and anxious, even the popular kids.
Reading this wonderful new book for grade 4-8 readers straight through, I fell in love with Lucy and empathized with her struggles to understand human behavior—the mean girls who bully her, making fun of her differences and excluding her; the boy who cheats off her in math class and is constantly taking photographs; the BFF who betrays her. When she works on a school project and falls in love with a dog at the shelter, she learns to reach out to save him and finds there are people she can depend on, especially Levy, the cheater. Levy grew into my favorite behavior because, an outsider himself, he understood human behavior and was able to capture, appreciate, and share the complexity through his photography.
Middle school is where very few fit in—whether a genius or not.
SCIENCE: The Pumpkin War, The Someday Birds; Finding Wonders; Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial; Your Heart, My Sky; The Infinite Lives of Mazie Day; The Someday Suitcase; A Swirl of Ocean; Paradise on Fire; A Death-Struck Year; The Song of the Whale; Code Orange; Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe; Rocket Boys; Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet; A Rover's Story; A Civil Action; The Thing about Jellyfish; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; The Star Outside My Window; The Incredible Magic of Being; The Fourteenth Goldfish; Saving Wonder; Fever 1793; Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?; Yusuf Azim Is Not a Hero; Flush; Chomp; Hoot; Scat; Chasing Secrets; Beyond Me; Up from the Sea; Consider the Octopus; Planet Earth is Blue; Counting by 7s; Where the Heart Is
A Rover's Story by Jasmine Warga
Two rovers, one little drone, a bossy satellite, two empathetic scientists, and an adolescent girl, all involved in one mission.
Resilience, named by a sixth grader, was built to be a Mars Rover, to search Mars for another rover that had gone off-line years ago and for signs of water and life. Being trained and tested in the lab with his two hazmats (Res’ name for the humans wearing hazmat suits), Rania and Xander, he is learning, and maybe even feeling, human emotions—belief, hope, trust, and, later, fear, worry, surprise, and love, not necessarily a good thing.
As fellow rover Journey tells him, “We are built to be logical. To make calculated decisions. You could say that is the opposite of human feelings.… Resilience, don’t you understand that human feelings are dangerous? They make humans make poor decisions. You see, humans have attachments. And because of their attachments and their feelings, they do things that are dangerous. We were built to avoid the problems of humans. We were built to make good decisions.” (43-44)
When Res meets his drone, whom he names Fly, they become quite a team—planning, exploring, and singing nursery rhymes together. And they make it to Mars. “I am a rover who has made it to Mars! And I am a rover who can rove on Mars.” (154) Res wants to “wow” Rania and Xander and make discoveries important enough to earn his very expensive return to Earth. On Mars, Res and Fly meet Guardian, a very logical satellite, and despite her counsel, they take risks to fulfill their mission on what proves to be a dangerous and hostile environment. “I am looking for something that will prove that I am a worthy rover.
I think of Journey, and how Journey once told me that the hazmats [humans] sent us to Mars because we are rational, unlike them. Because we do not have attachments, unlike them. But I have attachments. I am attached to Rania. I am attached to Xander. I am even attached to Journey. And that is why I am pushing forward.” (246)
“Resilience” is the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences. I have written frequently about characters—girls and boys—who are resilient, but there has been none that are more resilience than Res, the rover. Readers follow Res’ journey (and fall in love with the little guy) through his first-person narratives and the letters of Sophie, Rania’s daughter who ages from 12 to 17 and then (waiting for Res' return) to 33-years-old during the rover’s adventures on Earth and Mars. Readers also learn quite a bit about rovers, Mars, scientific process, and space exploration. This would be a good read-aloud for younger kids because of the short chapters and sometimes challenging vocabulary and an add to a science curriculum on space.
A Swirl of Ocean by Melissa Sarno
The traditional family—“the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children” (Merriam-Webster) —in the majority of cases, no longer exists. But families do exist and, reading A Swirl in the Ocean, the reader realizes the true meaning of family.
Two-year-old Summer was adopted by Lindy when the tide washed her onto the beach at Barnes Bluff. Summer has been Lindy’s entire family for ten years in a community where everyone knows each other’s business until the summer Lindy’s boyfriend moves in and Summer starts to question her origins.
When she is caught in a riptide and swallows quite a bit of ocean water, Summer dreams of another family, an adolescent named Tink and her friends who lived on this same bluff 17 years before. She continues to drink ocean water to return to the dream because, as Summer explains to her best friends Jeremiah and the romance-reading Tanvi, she wonders if there is a connection to her life. “Maybe they’ve got to do with me. With where I came from. I mean they’re inside me for a reason, right? …All I’ve got in my life is an ‘after.’ I’ve never known the ‘before’.” (91)
As Summer tries to find the missing pieces of the puzzle of her life, she realizes that, even without them, she has been looking at the whole picture,—and possibly Elder is enhancing it; she and Lindy have a gift from the ocean that is theirs alone.
A bit of magical realism, Melissa Sarno’s novel is filled with well-developed characters and wonderful, lyrical language. Note to ELA teachers: Use this book as a mentor text for unusual, active verbs: “as we dizzy around;” Jeremiah scurries his paddle;” Her legs are pretzeled together.” (56)
Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? by Leslie Connor
“You’re having a new kind of year.” Mr. Menkis says it for me. ”Treat yourself sweetly, Aurora. Change happens. It’s the world’s number one constant.” (66)
Sixth-grader Aurora Petrequin has known Frenchie Livernois since the beginning of third grade when he and his mother rented their next-door house. The best friends are inseparable and opposite. Frenchie has autism and doesn’t speak—at all; Aurora is loud and talks impulsively—all the time. Together they explore nature—Frenchie obsessed with birds, Auruora with rocks, especially finding a tourmaline, a mineral produced in areas of her native Maine.
Aurora has no trouble understanding Frenchie and interpreting his body language, and one goal she has is to help others see him. When Sheree of Troviosity gifts Frenchie with an expensive Audubon print of a nuthatch for his bird print collection, Aurora says, “Thanks for seeing him.” (99)
But then sixth grade arrives, and for the first time Frenchie is in a different class and has a new aide, Mr. Menkis. Aurora panics, “Mom! Pop! Gracia! There’s a mess-up of all mess-ups here! Frenchie and I got put in different classes.” (3) And another change is that two new students move to her school and class and, for the first time, besides Frenchie, Aurora has friends.
When Frenchie disappears one day, Aurora panics and feels guilty for not walking him to his room that morning. While they search for Frenchie, Aurora examines everything she knows about him. As she tells Joanie and Leena, “Frenchie doesn’t get lost.… He gets me unlost. Like a human compass.” (86)
But one day turns into two. “I’m thinking about Frenchie. Best Days. Like, when Cedar came home. And family dinners and pancake Sundays. Bird hounding and rock hounding, and me cheering Frenchie on the day he learned to float. Him going along with me, the times we trailed the piebald deer. And him knowing the way home. Having a true friend—the thing I am aching for this morning. (265)
And this is truly a story about friendship. It is not about neurodiversity; it is not about nature (although nature is a catalyst and a bond between Frenchie and Aurora and between many of the townspeople), it is first and foremost about the power and symbiotic relationship of friendship like no novel I have every read.
As the town gathers and comes together to look for Frenchie, adding more and more people to the search, people who remember meeting Frenchie with Aurora, people begin to see Frenchie, “[Aurora’s] bird-loving, no-talk, very best friend.” (321)
A story told in multiple viewpoints for all upper elementary and middle school readers offering adventure, mystery, nature, characters of all ages from baby Cedar to adults who sometimes surprise us, and heart.
Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, shook northeastern Japan, unleashing a savage tsunami. More than 5,000 aftershocks hit Japan in the year after the earthquake. The tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant resulting in the release of radioactive materials. (LiveScience.com and National Geographic.org)
Beyond Me is one story of this tragedy. Fifth-grader Maya lives in Japan with her American mother and Japanese father, grandmother, and great grandfather. On March 9, 2011, at the end of their school year, her class feels an earthquake, different from earthquakes they have experienced before.
On March 11th at 7:44am the “earth shudders.” Beginning at 2:46pm an earthquake struck the eastern coast “so strong it pushed Japan’s main island eastward, created a massive tsunami, and slashed the eastern coastline in size.” (89) And even though Maya’s family lives miles from the tsunami, they are affected, and Maya is terrified. She chronicles the 24 days after the earthquake, sometimes minute by minute, as she shares her thoughts and feelings over what is happening in her house, her town, and, through the news, the people of Northeast Japan. The house shakes, food is rationed, and transportation has stopped, but she and her family are safe.
Readers see Maya overcome her fears and reach out with her mother and father to help those most affected by the disaster. She and Yuka fold paper cranes and ask for sunflowers seeds to plant, and Maya writes notes to the “People of the Northeast.” Maya continues journaling for 113 days after she and her best friend plant sunflower seeds on her grandparents’ farm, strengthening and helping to heal Earth as the mug she put back together with lacquer and gold dust.
Through free verse, timelines, and creative word placements readers take this journey with Maya as they learn a lot about nature and the effects of earthquakes. This book would pair nicely with Leza Lowitz’s Up from the Sea [also reviewed here], a verse novel that focuses on the story of one town and one boy directly affected by the tsunami.
Consider the Octopus by Nora Raleigh Baskin and Gae Polisner
“Consider the octopus, dude, duh,” I say out loud to myself because sometimes it helps to talk to someone. “That part is the important part. The octopus.” (88)
And the pink octopus avatar starts the chain of events which lead 12-year-old Sydney Miller (not marine biologist Dr. Sydney Miller of the Monterey Bay Aquarium) and her goldfish Rachel Carson to Oceana II, a ship researching the Great PGP.
When seventh-grader Jeremy JB Barnes, under the custody of his recently-divorced mother, chief scientist of the Oceana II, finds himself accompanying her on her mission “to sweep and vacuum up approximately eighty-eight thousand tons of garbage” called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, he was less than enthusiastic. “I like the ocean plenty from the beach.”
Until the high school SEAmester students arrive, he is the only adolescent on board. But tasked with the job of inviting well-known scientists to the join them, JB inadvertently sends the invitation to the wrong Sydney Miller who jumps at the chance, looking for something to do this summer now that her best and only friend has moved away. Sydney and her grandmother agree, “It’s synchronicity” (91), the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. “What psychologist Carl Jung called ‘meaningful coincidences’…” (228) However, “These signs we see all the time, the universe, these coincidences that we give meaning? They only work if we want them to…” (12)
And Sydney and Jeremy want these signs to work. Hiding Sydney on the ship, sometimes in plain sight with the help of two of the SEAmster girls, Sydney and JB hatch a plan to bring about the publicity the mission needs to retains its grant. “Maybe we’re here because we’re supposed to be here. Maybe the two of us are supposed to do something really important.” (144)
When you put two of my favorite authors together, what do readers get? A fun, important adventure with engaging characters who present two voices, representing two perspectives, and who show that, according to news reporter Damian Jacks, “Mark my words: kids and our youth. That’s who’s going to really help change things..… Kids, not adults, are the future of our planet.” (171)
And there is a lot of science and information about the polluting of the oceans. “It’s amazing how many people still don’t know how much waste—garbage,” she corrects herself, “is floating in the middle of the Pacific.” (226)
Readers learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its importance to our environment. Besides the garbage that is killing sea life—birds and fish, this affects all of us.
“Because every drop of water we have, all of it, circles around, evaporates into the sky, and comes back down as rain, or mist, or snow. It sinks into the ground and fills rivers, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and the well in my backyard. Water I shower with. Cook with. And drink. No new water is ever made. This is all we’ve got.” (167)
An important read, this novel could be included in an environmental impacts study in ELA or science classes, leading to more research on the topic.
Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee
“Although maybe we all had stuff in common with penguins. Maybe we were all standing on shrinking ice. Knowing it was shrinking and not knowing what to do about it. If there was even anything we could do at all.” (15)
Eco-anxiety is defined as “extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change.” A new survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries finds climate change causing widespread, deeply felt anxiety. (Medical News Today) More than 45% of young people in [the] survey said their feelings about climate change "negatively affected their daily life and functioning." (World Economic Forum)
Seventh grader Haven Jacobs suffers from “eco-anxiety.” She bites her nails, can’t sleep, and has stomach upsets. She also starts “doomscrolling,” endlessly watching videos about environmental disasters. Her grades in social studies, the class with her favorite teacher, suffer as she begins to find studying history pointless.
Haven is also having trouble with her friends, mostly her old friend Archer, her best friend Riley, and Riley’s new friend Em. “I hadn’t told Archer how I felt about him avoiding me at school. I hadn’t told Em how I felt about the sleepover business. I hadn’t even told Riley how I felt about her telling me she’d left Em’s sleepover when actually she hadn’t. It was strange: I squabbled with Carter all the time, but sometimes when it came to my friends, I was kind of a wimp, wasn’t I? “ (97) Things start building as her eco-anxiety and friendship complications increase. “Right then I had this feeling: I don’t understand anything. Not just what was happening with the river, but with people, too. I never used to feel this way, but now, all of a sudden, everything felt like a giant mystery, with no identification chart.” (108)
When her science class gembarks on the annual study of the town’s local river, Haven and her classmates discover that the river has changed a lot since her older brother’s class conducted the same study. There were no longer any frogs and the pollution-sensitive macroorganisms appear to have died. Their hypothesis is that someone is polluting the river, and the only new industry in Belmont is Gemba, her father’s employer.
“One of the things [Ms. Packer] taught me this year is that if you can’t do great things, you should do small things greatly.” (267) Haven organizes a river cleanup, but even though the whole town shows up, not many are come to her information booth to hear about the state of their river, and even though everyone participated in the river cleanup, they left as much trash on shore as they took from the river. Sensing the failure, Haven organizes a Memorial Day protest which turns into a sleepover (which actually does end up solving her friendship problems).
With the support of her older brother Carter, her parents, and her new friend Kenji, son of the glass plant manager, Haven overcomes her fear of public speaking and addresses the town council—with some results. “Sometimes change was scary, like what was happening to the planet. But when it came to people—including older brothers—sometimes change could be kind of amazing.” (257)
Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhoads
“To know yourself, you need to journey, Adaugo. Remember what’s forgotten.” (7) I just met one of the strongest girls in MG/YA literature! ------- “I need to see everything. I need to know where to run, where to hide…where to stay. Where to fly. Escape. Flee. From what? My mind answers, ‘Fire.’” (64)
Adaugo is enrolled in Wilderness Adventures, a summer camp in Paradise, Califormia, for a group of six Black teens from eastern cities. There she meets fellow campers Jay, Nessa, Kelvin, A’Leia, DeShon, and counselors Jamie and Dylan. Most important she meets Leo, ranch owner and environmentalist, and his dog Ryder.
Pretty much a loner, Addy lives with her Nigerian grandmother, her Bibi, who has raised her ever since her parents were killed in a house fire when she was four and her mother threw her out the window to safety. Since then, Addy is obsessed with mazes, maps, escape routes.
At the camp they learn to hike, climb, repel, and respect nature. Addy sees them all becoming stronger. “We’re pulling far, far,…farther away from being our old selves, just city kids. I’m becoming new. More me.” (87)
Leo sees Addy’s needs and teaches her how to read maps and map the natural environment. He knows that in the forest everyone needs an escape route. “Forests burn. Animals’ homes are destroyed. As our planet warms, there are more heat related deaths.” (119) However, “97 percent of wildfires are ignited by people.” (Afterword, 244)
When the six teens and their counselors leave for their final hike and campout, fire breaks out and the group disagrees on the right way out of the forest. Dylan and Jaime insist on hiking north where the ranch is , taking Kelvin and A’Leia with them while Addy’s instincts tell her to go the opposite way, toward water. She is convinced there is a way out. “There’s always a way out. Use your mind, your heart.” (157) Jay, Nessa, and DeShon follow her, believe in her.
On a harrowing journey, the four, led by Addy, work together, employing the skills and knowledge they have cultivated on their city streets and in the wilderness. Addy realizes, “Jay’s awesome; Nessa’s kind; and DeShon’s actually a good guy. They’re my crew—never had one before. Who knew? Never knew how much I needed one.” (158) “Survival is more than just me.” (205)
This is a true survival story, featuring a teen who is resilient and caring and learns to rely on her instincts— and learns a love for nature. It is a novel filled with details, and information, and will engage readers looking for adventure and readers who are future environmentalists and anyone who loves beautiful language and imagery. “Pancake clouds float. Mountain clouds burst, scatter as the plane flies through them.” (9) Written in short sentences, it a novel appropriate for both emerging and proficient readers and even though the characters are teens is appropriate for grades 4- and up.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
Nova, an adolescent with nonverbal autism, is locked in her own world with limited communication. She is able to open up this world with the help of her older sister Bridget, the one person who acknowledges her intelligence and takes care of her when their mother can’t. Nova and Bridget share a love for space and space exploration, and their knowledge is vast. As they are taken away from their mother and moved from foster home to foster home, Bridget looks forward to turning eighteen when she promised she will be able to take care of Nova on her own. When the story begins, Bridget and Nova have run away from their last foster home, and Nova is has been placed in a new home with loving foster parents and their older daughter; they all want to get to know Nova, her limitations, but also her capabilities. Meanwhile Nova begins school, repeating sixth grade, experiencing endless testing (her social worker who has classified her as “severely mentally retarded”) and getting to know new peers in her special education room, each with their own challenges and abilities. The classmates bond, but Nova is desperately waiting for the Challenger launch with the first teacher aboard; Bridget has promised to find her so they can watch the launch together. The story is told in alternating third person, the story of Nova’s life with Francine, Billy, and Joanie and school and first person which the reader views through Nova’s letters to Bridget—which are, in actuality, illegible. I found it very effective to read about people and events and then re-read them from Nova’s perspective. Having read that the story incorporated the 1986 Challenger space shuttle launch, I began reading this novel with a feeling of trepidation. I assume that this might be experienced in a different way by readers of diverse ages. It is a moving story (have a tissue ready), and Nova becomes a character we can all champion as she experiences the disadvantages and finally the benefits of the foster system. Readers will learn a lot about space and our space program, but they will also learn how many times people are judged on assumptions.
Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen F. Bryant
The Scopes “Monkey” Trial has always intrigued me; the culturally-significant arguments involved have captured the interest of many—whether it be about science vs religion, Darwinism vs fundamentalism, evolution vs creation, William Jennings Bryan vs Clarence Darrow, text book and curriculum decisions, or the role of law and government in education. Most of us know the Who, What, Where, When, and believe we know the Why – but do we? How often do we know the true story of historic events—and the stories behind the story, and the different perspectives on the story. This historical novel grants us the chance to observe the events of the Scopes Trial up close and personally. Through this novel, written in the voices of those who had a ringside seat to this trial, readers secure a ringside seat to the trial, the people who participated in it, and the town that hosted it. As the reader views the controversy and the trial from the point of view of nine fictitious, diverse characters (plus quotes from the real participants), each character develops more as the story progresses. My favorite are the teenagers of Dayton, Tennessee, because, through meeting those on both sides of the issue and closely observing them and the trial, it affects them, their relationships, and their futures. Peter and Jimmy Lee are best friends who become divided by their beliefs, finding a way to reconcile those differences so that they do not affect a lasting relationship; Marybeth is a young lady who finds the strength and support to stand up to her father’s traditional view of the role of women in society; and, my favorite character, Willy Amos meets Clarence Darrow and dares to believe what he can attempt to achieve. “’Well,’ I pointed out, ‘there ain’t no such thing as a colored lawyer.’”…”Do you plan to let that stop you?” (210) The novel is powerfully written in multiple formats—free verse in a variety of stanza configurations and spacing decisions, a few rhyming lines here and there, and some prose. And the messages are powerful: Peter Sykes—“Why should a bigger mind need a smaller God.” (11); Marybeth Dodd—“I think some people can look at a thing a lot of different ways at once and they can all be partly right.” (131); and Constable Fraybel—“[Darrow] claims [his witnesses] are anxious to explain the difference between science and religious faith and how they made places in their heart and minds for both.” (143) An epilogue shares the aftermath and the lasting effects of this small, short trial. Every American History/Social Justice, Science, and ELA teacher should have copies of this novel.
Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Hackl
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 9.8 million Americans aged 18 or older, or 4.2% of the adult population, are living with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder. Two-thirds of females and one-half of men afflicted with serious mental illnesses are likely to be parents.
“Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketsful of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store. The hard part was getting up the guts to go.” (1)
As the story begins, Ariana “Cricket” Overland's father and grandmother have died, her mother has left, and she is living with her Aunt Belinda who is secretly planning to pawn her off on Great-Aunt Genevieve. Her mother, a creative artist, has struggled between depression and wild adventures for years and is obsessed with a Bird Room she once saw, a room where “Everything was alive.” Cricket is sure that her mother will return to lay her grandmother’s headstone and, having said she wished her mother could “just be normal” (106) the night before she took off, Cricket wants to find the Bird Room and prove that her mother is not crazy and maybe find a treasure using clues hidden by the mysterious Mr. Bob. “I couldn’t stop Mama from leaving, and I couldn’t stop Daddy from dying, but I could sure do something now. (11)
When Aunt Belinda abandons her in Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry, Cricket takes her pet cricket, spends all her money on supplies and food, writing an IOU for what she can’t afford, and takes off for Woods Time, as her father would say. Living in a tree house and following her father’s guidelines for survival, she survives raccoons stealing most of her food and supplies and an ice storm, and explores the ghost town, torn down and abandoned by a lumber company, until clues—and a snake bite—lead her to Miss V, the one person whose house still exists, a woman who helps Cricket discover that not only her mother, but she, “contains multitudes.” “I thought about what Miss V had said about Mama being more than what the neighbors thought…. And it wasn’t who I was, either. I was my own, whole person.…Maybe it was time to start taking chances on me.” (203)
Ariana Overland is an adolescent a reader really wants to champion. I found myself cheering her on throughout the book. She joins the ranks of literary strong girls as the resourceful and resilient hero of an adventure story about family and identity.
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
Song for a Whale is a story of isolation and the need for connection and belonging.
Iris is twelve years old and deaf as was her grandfather—her closest ally—and her grandmother who is grieving her husband’s death and has isolated herself. At her school Iris is somewhat isolated as the only Deaf student. The only person she feels close to is her adult interpreter. The other students may try to include her in their conversations, especially an annoying girl who thinks she know sign language, but Iris gives up as she “tries “to grab any scrap of conversation” (64) and communicate better with her father.
In one of her classes Iris learns of Blue 55, a hybrid whale who sings at a level much higher than other whales and cannot communicate with any other whales. As a result he belongs to no pod and travels on his own, isolated. Iris decides to create and record a song that Blue 55 can hear and understand. “He keeps singing this song, and everything in the ocean swims by him, as if he’s not there. He thinks no one understands hi,. I want to let him know he is wrong about that.” (75)
Iris is a master at fixing old radios and feels without the storeowner for whom she fixes radios, she “wouldn’t know I was good at anything.” (68). With her knowledge of acoustics, Iris records a song at his own frequency for Blue 55, mixing in his song and the sounds of other sanctuary animals and sends it to the group in Alaska who are trying to track and tag him.
On a “run-away” cruise to Alaska, Iris and her grandmother reconnect; her grandmother makes new connections to others and finds a place she now needs to be; Iris connects with Blue 55 giving him a place to belong; and Iris is finally able to request to go to a new school that has a population of Deaf students with Wendell, her Deaf friend.
Scattered within the story are the heartbreaking short chapters narrated by Blue 55.
Readers will learn a lot about whales, about acoustics, abut Deaf culture, and even more importantly, about those who may feel isolated and the need for belonging in this well-written new novel by Lynne Kelly, a sign language interpreter.
The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine
I have been reading a lot of novels about family lately, and I realize that no matter how different families are, it’s magic that brings or holds them together. And, conversely, science teachers, here’s a novel you can add to your curriculum.
In this story, we see that Julian’s faith in magic and his belief in science do not oppose each other. The universe and Julian’s uni-sense work in harmony, harmony that affects those closest to him although sometimes it takes a few stars to help.
I will borrow words from the title to describe this novel—“incredible” and “magical,” not so much about magic as it is magical. I laughed, I cried, I ran to the window to look up at the night sky and dragged out my old telescope. I loved the characters and how different they were—Mom, Joan, Pookie, Mr. X. And I learned quite a lot of science.
The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young
This novel has everything. It has Billie, a twelve-year old girl who is a bee keeper and also raises pumpkins so she can enter the annual Pumpkin Race, a young girl so fiercely competitive that she has been mad at her best friend for a year because Sam may have cheated to win last year’s Pumpkin Race (even though she has a wall of first-place ribbons).
It has a variety of interesting, well-developed characters for all readers: •Billie’s little sister who has determined that the family will no longer eat meat; •the neighbor children who raise llamas and are able to be friends with both Billie and Sam; •Billie’s Ojibwe grandmother and mother and her Irish father; •the mysterious storytelling Irish grandfather who suddenly appears. •And there is Sam, who just may have cheated to win the last Pumpkin Race but remains still a loyal and always-helpful friend until he no longer can.
And there is lots and lots of science—horticulture, entomology, astronomy, and physics.
Readers follow Billie as she looks into her heart and begins to question her priorities. Cathleen Young’s novel is a terrific read about friendship and family relationships and would also provide a great read-aloud for science classes.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
Anne Lamott wrote about writing Bird by Bird—and that is exactly what Sally Pla does in her first novel. This emotional novel is written bird by bird (literally), character by character, event by event, emotion by emotion.
Charlie’s father was an English teacher and a journalist. On an assignment in Afghanistan, he sustained a brain injury and now he does not appear to be aware of his family. He has been living in a hospital where a mysterious, bossy young woman visits him daily.
Charlie, the narrator of the story, is a neuro-diverse young adolescent; he washes his hands twelve times, is obsessively organized, doesn’t like being touched, tries to distinguish emotions from visual clues, and is fixated with, and passionate about, birds. When his father is transferred from California to a hospital in Virginia for further treatment and his grandmother goes to be with him, Charlie, his younger twin brothers, and his 15-year-old boy-crazy sister, find themselves driving cross country with the stranger from the hospital room, a Bosnian woman named Ludmila.
Charlie decides that if he can find all the birds that he and his father had hoped to see— their Someday Birds—even the extinct ones, his father will be healed. Recognizing that this will at least serve to help Charlie feel better, Ludmila supports his endeavor and plans their trip around the needs of Charlie and the family. Meanwhile along the way they learn her story and her ties to their father.
They have adventures, meet people, find birds that were not even on the list, and Charlie acquires the journal of his hero, ornithologist, artist, and philosopher Tiberius Shaw, PhD, who he hopes to meet when they arrive in Virginia—as well as a dog he names Tiberius. At the end Charlie has redefined the meaning of success and, with the reader, has learned a bit of history and geography, and a lot about birds and human nature. “Bird’s-eye views or close–up human views; the world is confusing and surprising both ways” (323).
Note: The book cover recommended the book for ages 8-12, but the characters of Davis, Charlie’s sister, and Ludmila make this novel appropriate and interesting for adolescents of any age.
The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu
Friend. We use this word casually. Almost everyone we meet and like is identified as a “friend.” We have Facebook Friends we have never met. And young teens have a new BFF every week, it seems. But in The Someday Suitcase, readers meet true best friends, friends that readers will fall in love with.
When Clover learns the word “symbiosis” in science, her favorite class [“It refers to a relationship where two organisms or creatures are benefitting from each other and surviving together.… They’re dependent on each other” (7)], she has found a word that perfectly described her friendship with Danny. Sometimes they form two halves of a whole; sometimes they are exactly the same. Clover is practical; Danny is fun. Her favorite subjects are science and math; he is better at English and social studies. When they close their eyes and play statute, they make the exact same shape. Every time. The two fifth-graders have “the world’s closest best friendship.” (2)
When Danny gets sick, really sick, Clover decides “I am going to make my science fair project all about Danny.” (54) She will use science to find out what is wrong with him, something the doctors don’t seem able to do. All they know is that when he is with Clover, he feels better. “Maybe this is who I’m meant to be—a person who makes other people feel better.” (150)
Living in Florida, the two friends have always wanted to see snow. In fact, Clover’s father, a truck driver, brings her snow globes from each trip. When Danny’s mysterious illness worsens, they buy a someday suitcase. “It’s for when we go to the snow.” (114)
With Danny missing so much school, Clover begins making friends of her own, and the mother of one of her new friends explains that with science, there is also “room for faith and religion.” (174). When Clover and Danny set their sights on a clinic in Vermont where they think Danny can be cured (and where they can finally see snow), they experience the magic of their friendship: “Until it’s proven false, anything is possible. Even magic.” (209)
Clover is strong for Danny, but readers will realize also just how strong Danny is for Clover. This is a sweet, heartbreaking story about friendship, “a magical friendship…. Love with a twist.” (263)
The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf
This is a story about a child with a plan.
When 10-year-old Aniyah’s mother disappeared in a sudden explosion, Aniyah was sure that her mum had become a star. Aniyah, her younger brother Noah, and Mum had been playing Hide and Seek with their father and staying in a hotel-that-wasn’t-really-a-hotel; the night that their mother disappeared, two policemen and a woman in a black suit took Aniyah and Noah to Waverly Village to live with Mrs. Iwuchukwu, a loving foster mother to Travis and Ben and the adopted Sophie.
But when they see on television that astronomers have sighted a phenomenon, “a real live burning star moving from one end of our solar system to the other…unlike anything else we’ve seen” (29-30), Aniyah, an amateur star hunter, is convinced the star is Mum’s heart. There is a contest to name the star, and Aniyah is determined to get to the Royal Observatory in London in time to make sure the star is not given the wrong name.
Ben and Travis help her come up with a plan, involving a 72.6 mile bike ride at night in their Halloween costumes, “Because we’re foster kids, and foster kids stick together no matter what. That’s the law.” (102) Despite having to leave their stolen bikes, a woman calling the police, carrying Noah, sneaking onto a bus, a possibly-broken ankle, and a lot of walking/hopping, the four bedraggled, and tired children, still in Halloween costumes, make it to the Kronos Annual Gala Dinner Observatory where Aniyah is determined to complete her mission. “I had to try to make them understand. Mum’s star needed me to.” (253)
Led to The Great Equatorial Telescope, 1893, Aniyah uses her star hunting skills to show the adults the location of “the star that has transcended the laws of physics” (242) with her home-drawn map that she made “from my window.” (261)
This is an adventure story about domestic abuse, parental love, friendships, foster children and parents, and a bully—and lots of map skills and astronomy.
Up from the Sea by Leza Lowitz
“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.”--Richard Price
Instead of focusing on the overwhelming statistics generated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan—nearly 16,000 deaths and 3,000 people missing—the event becomes even more intense and compelling as author Leza Lowitz relates the story of one town and one boy and the resilience of many.
The story begins on March 11 when Kai, a half Japanese, half American 17-year-old and his teachers and classmates experience the “jolting of the earth,” and as trained, they evacuate, running for their lives, looking for the highest place, as their town is destroyed. Written powerfully in free verse, the reader feels the fury of nature as the water “churns,” “thrashes,” “surges,” “sweeps,” “charges.” Kai ends up in a shelter having lost his mother, his grandparents, and one of his best friends. His father left years before to return to America.
Faced with overwhelming loss and trauma, Kai walks into the ocean but is saved by one of his classmates and convinced to accept the opportunity to go to New York City on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 where he will spend some time with young adults who lost their parents as teens in the 9/11 attacks. At Ground Zero, Fia tells him, “Bravery means being scared and going forward anyway.”
Kai hopes to find his father in NYC but returns to his village to help the young adolescents who lost their families and to rebuild his town. “I want to be/ like that tree/ deep roots/ making it strong/ keeping it/ standing tall.” And it is to his roots Kai returns and stays—“The quake moved the earth/ ten inches/ on its axis./ I guess/I shifted,” too.”
Up from the Sea, well-written as a verse novel (a format that engages many reluctant readers), would serve as an effective continuation to a 9/11 study. Readers should already be aware of the events of 9/11 to understand the connection between Kai and Tom but will comprehend the trauma and loss experienced, and resilience that is required, by anyone who faces adversity.
'Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles
“When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them. (246)
The summer before eighth grade is full of changes for Rachel. She turns 13; she has a job working with animals on her wealthy neighbors’ “farm;” her relationship with Micah changes when she realizes she only wants to remain best friends, not start dating him; she questions her sexual orientation when she realizes that her feelings when she is with Cybil are how she used to feel with Micah; and although her family has always been relatively poor since her mother lost her job, the bank is foreclosing and they are losing their house. If home is where the heart is, as her sister’s pillow proclaims, what defines a home.
In this new novel by author Jo Knowles, some readers will seem themselves represented and others will learn empathy for those whose lives may leave them feeling helpless and desperate, as is the case with too many of our adolescents who are in situations they cannot control.
Your Heart, My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger by Margarita Engle
Your Heart-My Sky: Love in The Time Of Hunger introduced me to a contemporary era in Cuban history, “el period especial en tiempos de paz.” The government’s name for the 1990s is “the special period in times of peace,” but in reality is a period of extreme hunger resulting from the loss of Soviet aid, the US trade embargo, and the government prohibition of the growing, buying, and selling of agricultural products. Even though the 1991 Pan Am Games are being held in Havana, where visitors and athletes are sure to find food, the people in the towns face starvation, their food rations reduced even more.
No witnesses. We are like an outer isle Off the shore of another island. Forgotten. (3) My parents quietly call it tourist apartheid. Everything for outsiders. Nothing for islanders.” (Liana, 6)
Readers are introduced to the disastrous effects of these policies on the citizens through the three narrators: Liana, Amado, and the Singing Dog who serves as a matchmaker between, and a guard of, the two adolescents.
Liana and Amado are both rebels in their own ways: Liana skips la escuela al campo “a summer of forced so-called-volunteer farm labor,” possibly giving up college or a government-assigned tolerable job, spending her days looking for food. Amado has made a pact with his brother who is in jail for speaking against the government. He is worried that he won’t be able to keep his promise to avoid the mandatory military service—“men have to serve in the reserves until they’re fifty”—and promote peace, possibly joining his brother in prison.
Maybe I should let myself be trained to kill, become a soldier, gun-wielding, violent, a dangerous stranger, no longer me.” (Amado, 24)
In beautiful lyrical verse, lines that caused me to re-read and savor, Liana and Amado meet and fall in love,
The pulse in my mind wanders away From hunger, toward something I can barely name. A spark of wishlight on the dark horizon’s oceanic warmth. (Liana, 35)
Liana meets Amado’s grandparents who are growing vegetables and fruits in hidden gardens, and she is given seeds to start her own gardens. She dreams of starting a kitchen restaurant.
Everything has changed inside our minds So that we are intensely aware of our ability To seize control of hunger, Transforming food Into freedom. (110)
Amado and Liana help fleeing refugees, even though
Leaving the island is forbidden by law And it is equally illegal To know that someone is planning to flee. (95)
When Amado receives a note from his brother releasing him from their pact, he secretly plans their rafting escape. But the indecision brought about by the precariousness of the trip cause them to reconsider.
All we have in our shared hearts is one imaginary raft-- How shall we use it? Climb aboard or set it loose, Let that alternate future drift away? (Liana and Amado, 197)
A beautiful story of a terrible time in Cuban history and two resilient families connected by love (and a singing dog).
Yusuf Azim Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi
“Suspicion of those unlike us is common human behavior. We don’t trust who we don’t know. But yes, 9/11 was terrible, and it really fueled the fire of hatred in this country.” (184-5)
Sixth grader Yusuf Azeem was born in Texas and is an American; his mother was also born in America and his father was a Pakistani immigrant who runs the popular A to Z Dollar Store in town (and a somewhat a local hero after capturing an intruder threatening his store and customers). The family is Muslim, but, understandably, Yusuf is shocked when sixth grade begins with threatening notes in his locker. When one says, “Go home,” he hurt and confused. Frey is his home. Surely the notes are meant for someone else.
September 11, 2021 is approaching, and when his mother’s younger brother Uncle Rahman comes for a visit, he notes, “The twentieth anniversary of the attacks is coming up soon.” Abba drank some water. “Does it matter? It’s been twenty years.” Uncle Rahman looked stern. “You don’t mean that. You know it still affects us every single day. At work. On the street. At the airport.” (21) Before leaving, Uncle Rahman gives Ausuf the journal he started keeping after the events. “I was your age when 9/11 happened. It was an emotional time for everyone, and it was hard for me to process…. I ended up writing about some of my experiences, trying to figure things out…. My place in the world. How it all changed in an instant, how I became a stranger in my own country.” (23-24)
As the town’s 20th anniversary celebration approaches, Ethan, the sixth grade bully, harasses Yusuf and some of the other Muslim students while his father, leader of the Patriot Sons, makes life difficult for the adult Muslim community, spraying graffiti on the A to Z Dollar Store and trying to halt the construction of the mosque.
Yusuf stands up for other students whom Ethan bullies, and, when Cameron tells him that he shouldn’t “make waves,” that challenging things could be dangerous, Yusuf protests, “I wasn’t being a hero. I had to do that. It was my duty as a Muslim.” (182)
As poorly as his middle school year is going, Yusuf is excited to be captain of the Robotics Club which is preparing for the TRC competition that he has been looking forward to his whole life. Working with his best friend Danial and Cameron, a former friend who Yusuf thought had changed, both members of the Muslim community; his new friend Jared who happens to be Ethan’s cousin; and Madison, the one girl on their team, he forms a circle of allies. As his father tells him, “Life is full of all kinds of people, son. We just have to learn to avoid the bullies and stick with our friends.” (322)
This is a novel that may benefit from some background on the events of September 11, 2001 since the action takes places in 2021 but, read individually, Ausuf’s uncle’s journal will help fill in information. The importance of this particular novel is that is demonstrates that, for some of our citizens and students, “Twenty years. So much time. But things haven’t really changed at all.” (48) One of the major events in the story—when a little computer in his backpack beeped and, instead of questioning him and investigating, Ausuf is thrown in jail for twelve hours—is based on a real event from 2015 where Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim 14-year-old, was arrested at his high school because of a disassembled digital clock he brought to school to show his teachers [https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/16/us/texas-student-ahmed-muslim-clock-bomb].
It is vital that our children learn about 9/11 because, as Ausuf’s mamoo says, “History informs our present and affects our future.” (81)
-------------- Although these books, in many cases, are about non-scientific conflicts and challenges, they include STEM topics such as coding, robotics, astronomy, oceanography, typhoons and earthquakes, and all types of mathematics and would be valuable additions to a STEM curriculum in English-Language Arts classes as well as math, technology, and science classes or as an interdisciplinary unit, read as a whole-class text, in book clubs, or individually.