Endangered won’t be released until October 1st, but I am publishing this early so that you can place your pre-orders now. Endangered was hands-down the best book I read this summer. I read it straight through, in the middle of the night, because I could not put it down. The book made it’s way to the top of my TBR pile after I tweeted a request for realistic YA with a focus on science. When a few Twitter pals recommended Eliot Schrefer’s upcoming book I remembered seeing a few mentions of the book at BEA back in May. The ARC quickly climbed to the top of my TBR pile and I am very glad it did. Like I said, it was my favorite book of the summer!
For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I am a science girl. I went to a pre-engineering and science high school and spent my first year of college struggling to decide between English and biology as a major. I was a part of Project SUPER during my freshman year in college, which “is an enrichment program for undergraduate women interested in pursuing the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.” We visited labs all over campus, met with mentors, and participated in research. In the end, I became an education major with a double major in English. However, I am still a science girl at heart. All you have to do is look at my involvement with the Monarch Teacher Network to know that!
Back on the subject of Endangered. Books about animals, with a focus on biology or conservation, are my bread and butter. For some reason, there is a severe lack of these books in YA. (Other than dystopian, science fiction books). But Endangered is the book to beat all books in the genre! It’s real, it’s gritty, and it will break your heart. But the best part is the science is all real and the desperate need for conservation is all too real in a part of the world that often can’t feed it’s people, let along focus on the innocent creatures surrounding them.
Endangered is the truly exceptional story of Sophie, a teenage girl whose mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Bonobos are our closest relatives (we share 98% of our DNA, more than chimps) and they are surprisingly human-like. However, they live in the war-torn Congo and are in danger of becoming the first great apes to become extinct under our watch. Sophie’s mother works alongside the government to raise orphaned bonobos in order to release them into the wild later in life. But when Sophie personally rescues Otto, an orphaned bonobo, she becomes attached to him.
But Sophie and Otto’s lives are in danger when a coup threatens the stability of the country. Sophie and Otto are forced to flee into the jungle in order to survive and they must make their way to safety. Together, alongside some of the surviving bonobos from the sanctuary, they must fight to stay alive amidst revolution and chaos.
I can not recommend this book enough. However, be aware that it is a war story, and thus I would recommend it for high school readers and not those in middle school. It’s also full of facts that are woven seamlessly into the narrative. I’d love to have my students read this as we study imperialism in Africa. It’s a natural ladder to (and even from) Achebe and Adichi’s works. Endangered is a tale of survival amid violence and Schrefer doesn’t shy away from the gory details at times. And because those details sometimes involve mistreated animals, I found it hard to read at times. However, I also could not stop reading. And that’s the magic of Endangered.
I finished the book a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind. I immediately passed it on to my co-worker who teaches biology. I plan to place it on my list of recommended summer reads next year. And I can’t wait to booktalk to my students. It’s the perfect mix of humanity, history, biology, conservation, compassion, the human condition, and current events. I find myself still researching bonobos as I type this!
Highly, highly recommended. And I fully expect to hear this title brought up in many awards conversations.
(Eliot Schrefer will be presenting at NCTE in November. I know I can’t wait to be a part of that audience!)
*ARC courtesy of the publisher
I can finally announce that this year I will be dedicating the months of October, November, and December to the Cybils once again! I am on my dream panel, the YA fiction round 1 panel, for the first time and I could not be more excited. My panel is tremendous and I can not wait to work with them. Check out who I am lucky enough to talk YA with!
We have about two weeks until the nominations open, but I will be preparing in the mean time. Start thinking about the books you want to nominate so that you can get started on October 1st. I am looking forward to reading all of the nominated titles!
Just a quick hello to those of you who have found your way here from The Learning Network Blog at The New York Times. I blog about literacy for the most part, with some focus on STEM-related issues. I’m a passionate reader of YA books and post a lot of reviews here on the blog. For more information on me, check out the About tab up top.
RIF is a fantastic organization that I have worked with in the past. Earlier this week I received a press release from them that I am thrilled to share with you. Their new early childhood literacy initiative focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), a cause close to my own heart.
Early Childhood Literacy Initiative Launches
Targeting Next-Generation Innovation with STEM+Arts Approach
RIF Releases STEAM Multicultural Book Collection Connecting STEM, the Arts and Early Learning
– Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is launching a multi-year early childhood literacy campaign to inspire the next-generation of innovators through an approach integrating the arts with STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math). The campaign is anchored by today’s release of RIF’s 2012-2013 Multicultural Book Collection, comprised of 40 children’s books and related activities using STEAM-themes.
“The next Mark Zuckerberg may be that 8-year-old child RIF serves whose only books are the ones we provide,” said Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of RIF. “The skills today’s students need to succeed as tomorrow’s pioneers should start at the earliest possible opportunity with an approach that builds on their natural curiosity. As a country, we’re missing the mark with few resources explicitly aimed at STEAM education for our youngest students.”
Rasco added, “This initiative is about inspiring the innovators of tomorrow early with engaging books and resources that connect the dots between science, technology and the arts from broad-ranging cultural perspectives. From DaVinci to Madame C.J. Walker to Steve Jobs, our greatest innovators are those who are as creative as they are precise, as imaginative as they are methodical. STEAM-based learning aims to nurture every facet of innovation.”
This year’s collection will be accompanied by a set of free downloadable activities for parents and educators to engage children in literacy development, based on the Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states in the nation.
“Out of 30 developed countries, our students in the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science literacy and 25th in math literacy. There are stark gaps here at home with low-income students scoring lowest and white and Asian students outpacing African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian students,” said Rasco, detailing results from the most recent Program for International Student Assessment and the National Assessment of Education Progress reports. “Our focus on STEAM literacy ultimately supports a national priority to ensure all American students receive the skills and knowledge required for success in the 21st century workplace.”
Each book in the collection was carefully reviewed and selected by RIF’s Literacy Services team with guidelines provided by RIF’s Literature Advisory Board and Multicultural Advisory Committee, national panels of educators and experts in books for children.
“What makes this collection unique is our insistence that each book present diverse characters and stories,” Dr. Judy Cheatham, RIF’s vice president of literacy services. “When children see themselves in the books they read at a young age, they are motivated to read more books and read more often. Books are powerful mirrors and windows for all of us.”
RIF has distributed the collection to RIF programs across the country since 2007 as part of its Multicultural Literacy Campaign, a multi-year initiative to promote and support early childhood literacy in African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian communities.
A full list of the new collection’s selected titles is available on RIF’s website along with accompanying activities. This year’s list includes celebrated and award-winning titles such as:
- Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
- Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
- How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
- City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
- Grandpa’s Garden by Stella Fry, illustrated by Sheila Moxley
- 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh
- Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein
Throughout the year, RIF will be distributing 650 collections to local RIF programs across the country. The donation of these book collections is made possible through generous contributions from Macy’s.
“RIF is investing in this vital initiative to provide educators with the resources they need to put our youngest students on the path to becoming tomorrow’s innovators,” added Rasco. “To be clear, this serves far beyond the classroom. It fosters the kind of creativity, drive and determination that will ultimately create a pipeline of American workers poised to not simply compete in a global economy, but to lead.”
Additional components of RIF’s STEAM initiative include:
- National Art Contest sponsored by Nestlé
- Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators and Care Providers
- Family Literacy Celebrations with Free Books for Participating Kids
- Early Childhood STEAM Learning Advocacy
Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) delivers free books and literacy resources to children and families in underserved communities in the United States. By giving children the opportunity to own a book, RIF inspires them to become lifelong readers and achieve their full potential. As the nation’s largest children’s literacy nonprofit, RIF has placed 400 million books in the hands of more than 35 million children since it was established in 1966. Learn more and help RIF provide books to kids who need them most, visit RIF.org.
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When I attended BEA in May, a publicist at Bloomsbury and Walker Books handsold me an ARC of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. She won me over with her description of a kick-butt heroine and the comparisons to Game of Thrones. A lot of my students are big fans of Game of Thrones so I am always on the lookout for more readalikes. Later, I read blurbs that compared Maas’ story to Megan Whalen Turner, who is a veritable genius of the fantasy genre.
Throne of Glass began it’s life on the website FictionPress a few years ago and amassed a huge following. There are many, many reviews of the original online. However, the original is no longer available and it sounds like I might have enjoyed that version more. Not that there is anything wrong with the published version. I think it will have many fans and I know a lot of my students will really enjoy it. I was just hoping for less of a love story, and apparently the love triangle was an addition made in the move from FictionPress to publication. But don’t get me wrong- this is a book that I think the intended audience will love and I highly recommend it for high school classroom libraries.
Adarlan’s Assassin has been imprisoned in the salt mines doing hard labor since she was seventeen. But after being enslaved for the past year she is suddenly chosen to meet with the Prince. He has chosen her as his champion in a twisted competition being run by the king. Should Celaena win the competition she will become the King’s Assassin and eventually earn her freedom.
I enjoyed the story a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what I was promised. I wanted an epic story, high fantasy, and a story I could not put down. The sword fights were great and I loved some of the characters. But it was not an epic story and there were very few similarities to Megan Whalen Turner or Game of Thrones. However, I do think the target audience will enjoy it so I recommend it for classroom libraries.
Now, can I just take a second to tell all publishers that it’s ridiculous to blurb a book as the ” _______ (fill in the blank- Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings) for girls”. Can we stop this weird need to create books for boys and books for girls? Because you know who reads Game of Thrones in my classes? Girls! Imagine that! So stop marketing books long gender lines. Totally unnecessary.
*ARC courtesy of the publisher
(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, on my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)
I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….
I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with one of my best friends, Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background. Quickly, we finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.
As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash, as the TV in my room wasn’t hooked up yet. (We had moved in only days earlier). But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.
I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable. I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.
As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke.
Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it, I chose to stay. I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening. None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.
The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.
We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt while we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for the readers to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As new lists were posted in the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night. This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…
Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11th, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.
The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. At that time, it was a terrifying thought. Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?
Later, I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his then-girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.
We all grew up.
And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……
My current students were three and seven in 2001. September 11th is a distant memory for them, something their parents and other adults talk about. For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute. While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned. It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives. Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.