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A brief round-up of the latest academic research on reading and choice in the classroom.
Loose Canon RecommendsTM:
The Winged HistoriesGrade(s): 9, 10
Four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history. Here is the much-anticipated companion novel to Sofia Samatar’s World Fantasy Award-winning debut, A Stranger in Olondria. The Winged Histories is the saga of an empire — and a family: their friendships, their enduring love, their arcane and deadly secrets. Samatar asks who makes history, who endures it, and how the turbulence of historical change sweeps over every aspect of a life and over everyone, no matter whether or not they choose to seek it out. –From Small Beer Press
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,
( 1 total rating )Grade(s): 10, 11, 12
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future. –From the website at HarperCollins
Does My Head Look Big in This?Grade(s): 7, 8, 9
Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else. Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs. –From the website at Scholastic
That Bright LandGrade(s): 11, 12
Set in the summer of 1866, a year after the Civil War has ended, That Bright Land is the story of Jacob Ballard, a former Union soldier and spy who’s been sent south into the North Carolina mountains to find a serial killer who is carrying out his own private war in an isolated community. His journey also takes him home to the mountains where he was born. As he searches for the killer, he meets a war widow who helps him heal his own wounds and make peace with his past. Based on true events, That Bright Land paints a compelling picture of a violent and fragile nation in the wake of the Civil War. –From Turner Publishing
SweetgirlGrade(s): 10, 11, 12
As a blizzard bears down, Percy James sets off to find her troubled mother, Carletta. For years, Percy has had to take care of herself and Mama—a woman who’s been unraveling for as long as her daughter can remember. Fearing Carletta is strung out on meth and that she won’t survive the storm, Percy heads for Shelton Potter’s cabin, deep in the woods of Northern Michigan. A two-bit criminal, as incompetent as he his violent, Shelton has been smoking his own cook and grieving the death of his beloved Labrador, Old Bo. But when Percy arrives, there is no sign of Carletta. Searching the house, she finds Shelton and his girlfriend drugged into oblivion—and a crying baby girl left alone in a freezing room upstairs. From the moment the baby wraps a tiny hand around her finger, Percy knows she must save her—a split-second decision that is the beginning of a dangerous odyssey in which she must battle the elements and evade Shelton and a small band of desperate criminals, hell-bent on getting that baby back. Knowing she and the child cannot make it alone, Percy seeks help from Carletta’s ex, Portis Dale, who is the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. As the storm breaks and violence erupts, Percy will be forced to confront the haunting nature of her mother’s affliction and finds her own fate tied more and more inextricably to the baby she is determined to save. Filled with the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of its setting—the hills of fictional Cutler County in northern Michigan—and told in Percy’s unflinching style, Sweetgirl is an affecting exploration of courage, sacrifice, and the ties that bind—a taut and darkly humorous tour-de-force that is horrifying, tender, and hopeful. –From the website at HarperCollins
Thunder Boy Jr.Grade(s): 1
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name that is sure to light up the sky. –From the website at Hachette
HomegoingGrade(s): 10, 11, 12
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation. Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer. —from the website at Penguin Random House
( 2 total ratings )Grade(s): 10, 11, 12
When the deacons at Mark Beaver’s Bible Belt church cue up an evangelical horror flick aimed at dramatizing Hell, he figures he’d better get right with God, and soon. Convinced he could die at age seven and spend eternity roasting on a spit in the fiery furnace of Hades, he promptly gets Saved. But once adolescence hits, the Straight and Narrow becomes a tight squeeze. But Suburban Gospel offers more than a look inside Bible Belt suburbia, circa Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority—it’s a tale of faith and flesh. Beaver invites us into a world filled with Daisy Duke fantasies and Prince posters, Nerf Hoops and Atari joysticks, raggedy Camaros and the neon light of strip malls. As much about the adolescent heart as the evangelical mind, the story explores similar emotional terrain as coming-of-age classics like Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Mary Karr’s Cherry. Suburban Gospel is a tale of growing up Baptist, all right—but also of just growing up. —Hub City Press
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of FranceGrade(s): 3
The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science! But soon the straightforward American inventor Benjamin Franklin is upstaged by a compelling and enigmatic figure: Dr. Mesmer. In elaborately staged shows, Mesmer, wearing a fancy coat of purple silk and carrying an iron wand, convinces the people of Paris that he controls a magic force that can make water taste like a hundred different things, cure illness, and control thoughts! But Ben Franklin is not convinced. Will his practical approach of observing, hypothesizing, and testing get to the bottom of the mysterious Mesmer’s tricks? A rip-roaring, lavishly illustrated peek into a fascinating moment in history shows the development and practice of the scientific method—and reveals the amazing power of the human mind. Discover how Benjamin Franklin’s scientific method challenged a certain Dr. Mesmer’s mysterious powers in a whimsical look at a true moment in history. —From Candlewick
The Moor’s AccountGrade(s): 10, 11, 12, College Plus
In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive. As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival. —from the website at Penguin Random House