The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

Queen of Water

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Started: September 19, 2015

Finished: September 24, 2015

Category: 1 of 2, Multicultural

Published: 2011

Genre: Multicultural, Based on a True Story

Awards: Arkansas Teen Book Award 2013 nominee, Florida Teen Reads 2012-2013 nominee, Oprah’s 2012 Kids’ Reading List for ages 12 to 14, Américas Award Honorable mention, Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multi-cultural/International Literature, Bank Street Best Books, *Outstanding Merit* for ages 12-14, Current 2012 Colorado Book Award Finalist, A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011, TAYSHAS list (Texas student reading list) 2012-2013, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012, A Junior Library Guild Selection, An Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended Book (feminist literature, ALA-affiliated), South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominee

Pages: 352

Themes: Coming of Age, Survival, Poverty, Overcoming Adversity

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 7th grade and up

Virginia is a young indigenas girl of Ecuador in the (estimated) early 1970s. Her parents send her away to work as a nanny for another family at the ripe old age of SEVEN. Although this “job” takes her to the next level of society (the mestizo life) she is physically and emotional abused, and paid nothing. Virginia’s voice is that of a typical girl, despite her hardships. She is infatuated with the TV show MacGuyer, has a hilarious snarky attitude (most times completely justified!), and longs for…MORE.

Even though life with mestizos is still rough (because she’s basically a slave), she is exposed to a much better life than if she would have stayed with her uneducated, illiterate, and filthy indigenas family. Virginia secretly teaches herself to read, hides her science books/experiments, and somehow never gives up on a better life. She greatly struggles with not knowing her place in the world…and time and time again, she is forced to chose between the lesser of two (or three, or four) evils. Her life is full of complicated relationships, extraordinary hardships, and limited choices. For the student who just can’t believe there is any life all that different from her own, the realistic cycles of abuse and poverty in this story are REAL and eye-opening.

Virginia never gives up and somehow manages to move forward despite all the cards stacked against her. Even when a brighter future is near, she struggles with truly knowing herself…and where she fits into the world.

This books triggers so many great questions about humanity:

How can a child end the cycle of abuse/poverty?

When there are no obstacles left, what keeps us from moving forward?

How do you balance having any kind of pride in your culture when you’re trying to run away from it?

Overall, I loved every single page of this book. I knew nothing of these cultures before picking up this title. The fact that this is based on a true story just makes it all the better! Resau perfectly balances coming of age issues and humor with real, life threatening issues. I know that sounds complicated, but that WAS Virginia’s life.

I’m not sure I would teach this as a whole-class read. *There is some threat of sexual abuse. Actual abuse never happens on page. There are also a few coming-of-age self-actualization/sexuality issues. Nothing inappropriate, but many be difficult for male readers to respect. That being said, I believe this would make a great small group read.

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom Possibilities/Uses:

I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel. This book has been out for a few years and is a hugely popular text for whole class. Here are a few useful online resources to use with this book:

In the back of the book, these a useful glossary and pronunciation guide.

Google visual images can assist in understanding the differences between the subcultures of the Ecuadorian indigenas and metizo (clothing, housing, celebrations)


Wonder by R.J. Palacio


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Started: September 19, 2015

Finished: September 19, 2015

Category: Award Winner ALA Notable Children’s Book – Middle Readers

Published: February 2014

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Middle Grade

Pages: 320 pages

Themes: Family, Appearance, Friendship, Courage, Suffering, Coming of Age

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest: 4th Grade and up

Again, finished in one sitting. Another great one – It lived up to the hype, and more!

The book is told from different perspectives, but the first (and main) one is from August Pullman. Auggie is getting ready to begin 5th grade and has been home-schooled up to this point because of a genetic face deformity. He is very aware that his face makes others uncomfortable. Sometimes his description of how others pretended not to look (at his deformity) was painfully sad to read.

Auggie has been home schooled up to this point because his mother has been able to do it. Now, the work is getting harder, and she knows Auggie is ready for more than she can give him. He gets accepted to a hard-to-get-into private school and is introduced to a few hand-picked students by the principal as a way to help Auggie feel more comfortable. The students picked by the principal end up being THOSE kids. Kids that are “good” in an adult/administrator’s eye, but perceived very differently by their peers!

When the book changes perspectives, we learn more about these students chosen by the principal and a few others (including Auggie’s sister who is in high school). It was interesting to dig deeper into these point of views… I would think (hope) students would find this eye-opening, thus helping them form empathetic perceptions.

You never really get to find out EXACTLY what Auggie looks like, and I think that makes a strong point because IT DOESN’T MATTER. What matters is that whatever awkwardness we may feel around others with such noticeable differences, it is nothing compared to what they actually feel. And they feel that all the time.  All humans look for a level of acceptance…

This book had great humor, leaned on other well-known and fantastic literary means, and just has an overall great message: Be kind. This would be a great book to introduce the switching up of narrative voice. Additionally, the contemporary setting is simple to identify with. The whole concept of dealing-with-something-that’s-awkward-to-be-discussing, would most definitely strike a cord of empathy with students.

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom possible uses:

Students could keep a journal with their own PRECEPTS<a concept a teacher (Mr. Brown) uses with the students throughout the story.

This could EASILY be a class read aloud. Connecting with the author and group missions to “Choose Kind” are easy ways to dig in deeper with students. Wonderful writing prompts could come out of every chapter. I won’t reinvent an of these, as many teaching professionals have great ides online. A few I would consider using include:

Mostly, I would use this book as a HOOK. The universal appeal of this title could help readers identify what KIND of reading it is that they like, and in return, help students identify themselves as READERS.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt


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Started: September 14, 2015

Finished: September 14, 2015

*Category: Two books by the same author. (I plan to read Wednesday Wars soon)

Published: October 2015

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Middle Grade

Awards: None YET 🙂

Pages: 192

Themes: Coming of age, Friendship, Family Abuse, Empathy

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 6th grand and up

I finished this book in one sitting, in about 2.5 hours. Yep, it was that good.

It was hooked by page 10: “You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him.”

The entire story is told by Jack. He’s a sixth grader whose parents are small farmers in Maine, and as a family they have chosen to foster Joseph. Joseph is an 8th grader who has recently been in teen-jail for attacking a teacher. Oh, and Joseph has a child. A daughter named Jupiter. And Joseph in dead set in finding this infant daughter he has never met.

Joseph struggles with how he is perceived by others (including adults who pass judgement on him passive aggressively). Jack is just the greatest kid… He quietly earns Joseph’s trust, and patiently lets Joseph adjust to his new home, while pushing him only when Joseph needs pushed. Jack’s parents also provide proper space and healthy structure. All of these efforts are exactly what Joseph needs, yet has never had.

Joseph and Jack built a great and authentic friendship<This was my favorite part of the story. This friendship (and the stability offered by Jack’s parents) allows Joseph to confide in his foster family that he must see the daughter he’s never met, Jupiter. (Joseph’s deadbeat/abusive father is all the while trying to strong arm Jupiter’s mother’s family financially. Which only makes Joseph trying to see his daughter all the harder.) Jack’s parents agree to help Joseph find his daughter… and how all that unfolds is painfully beautiful.

Overall, Schmidt manages to effortlessly keep all the good stuff that makes for good YA, and thankfully leaves out all the superficial, unnecessary details that gets undeserving hype. This title could trigger powerful conversations about love, responsibility, empathy, tolerance, and just how BEING THERE for a friend is a very powerful tool.  I loved the realistically orchestrated balance between the (always interesting) troublesome side of teens, and the good (that does still exists in this world) that helps those same teens grow, learn, and overcome. I predict middle grade students will enjoy this story because it includes topics they are typically curious about (and slightly taboo – child pregnancy), has universal appeal to either gender, and has an emotional outcome.

Schmidt also shows us how to be a friend to someone who thinks they don’t need one because they’ve never had one before.  I was reminded of the powerfulness of young love, that we don’t always need to understand kids to help them, and that some adults need to think before opening their mouths to troubled teens (I seriously wanted to strangle the bus driver and Mr. Canton!)

I will warn you… I cried at the end. And I’m not typically a crier. But even though tears flowed, I wouldn’t sell this title to kids as a “sad” book. They’ll miss the point. I would sell it as a book that shows how we all have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It’s actually very simple: Just have their back.

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom possible uses:

To prompt writing invitations. (Who have you disliked in the story. Write their backstory… Who was your favorite character in the story. Compose a short spin off story.)

Students could keep a journal throughout the story, keeping track of character emotions and why they feel those emotions (Empathy).

Read another G. Schmidt novel and compare/contrast.