Category Archives: Young Adult Novels

“Red Scarf Girl” Social Studies Unit


Jiang, J. (1997). Red scarf girl. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publihers.

Families and Teacher

Why Red Scarf Girl?

  • First-hand, historical account of the Cultural Revolution in China
  • Told from the perspective of an adolescent Chinese girl
  • Addresses important topics including:
  1. Communism
  2. Mao Ze-dong
  3. Propoganda
  4. The Cultural Revolution
  5. Idealism
  6. Exploitation
  7. Class Status
  • It’s a well-written literary work that middle school students find appealing
  • This book will take about 2 weeks total to read

Teachers’ Comment: Students will be exposed to new and challenging vocabulary and political concepts throughout this unit. With the help of class discussion, in-class reading, the glossary provided with the book, and additional resources, we will all gain a better understanding of the Cultural Revolution in China.

For more information visit the author’s page:

Background Information


Map of China


Picture of Mao Ze-dong

Plot Summary:

  • Red Scarf Girl by Jiang Ji-Li is a harrowing journey of a young girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China. This young adult novel is  historical fiction account and is based upon the author’s own experience growing up in Communist China.   As the story explains, young Ji-Li is overcome with excitement and fervor when the Revolution hits the scene. Young students are taught in schools about the great accomplishments of their leader, Chairman Mao Ze-dong; these young children are ready to do whatever it takes to expunge the presence of capitalism and western influences from China forever. The lengths they will go to in order to do this is sometimes shocking. Young adults renounce their families and slander those they believe to be “capitalists”. As the Revolution progresses, it becomes clear that things have gotten out of hand. People are severely beaten, detained, or shunned from their communities. Families are broken and children are forced to grow up too fast. At the beginning of the novel, Ji-Li expresses her enthusiasm for this Revolution; towards the middle she starts to question whether the practices resulting from the Revolution are right or not, and by the end of the novel she has the scars to prove that the Cultural Revolution in China did not work out the way she thought it would. In fact, it didn’t work out the way many people thought it would. This transformation of the main character juxtaposed against the transformation of China during the Revolution gives the reader an idea of what life was like during this tumultuous time. This book serves not only as a lesson about the Cultural Revolution in China, but about any political, religious, or social ideology in general. In theory, anything can sound perfect; it is only in practice that we find things go stray. Indeed, increased fervor and zeal can carry things to the breaking point, just like they did in China. Ji-Li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl uncovers the atrocities of the past, while proving a point for the future.

Important Terms:

  • Beijing: The capital of China.
  • Capitalism: An economic system characterized by private ownership of property, free competition, and business profit. Communists are strongly opposed to capitalism.
  • Communism: An economic system in which all means of production, such as land and natural resources, are owned by the entire community and used for the good of all its members.
  • Mao Ze-Dong (1893-1976): The chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and leader of China from 11949-1976.
  • Propaganda: Information intended to promote a particular belief.

Book Trailer

Unit Lesson Plan on Propaganda

Students will complete this lesson for homework, and it will be discussed in class. This lesson plan will further understand our understanding of propaganda, how it affected young adolescents in China, and how it affected the Cultural Revolution in general.

Lesson Plan on Red Scarf Girl Propoganda and Communist Revolution in China


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Nerds Book Review

     Image      For those of you that have experienced the sometimes brutal social and emotional roller coasters of grade school, you know how upsetting it is to be called a nerd, but in the context of Michael Buckley’s young adult novel Nerds, being called this name is hardly a bad thing.

     Meet the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society, NERDS. That’s right, Nerds are actually a super secret group of high-tech secret agents that you probably pass right by everyday. From the beginning of time nerds have been bullied, taunted, and sometimes flat out ignored because of their unassuming appearances. However, we all known that looks can be deceiving. These paste-eating, inhaler-puffing, buck-toothed, brace-face kids can move between the regular world and the world of spies, secret agents, and super villains undetected because of their humble appearances. And guess what? Not only are these school kids super cool spies in disguise, they operate right out of their own elementary school! While most students are too busy talking with their friends, eating lunch, or checking their hair in the mirror, this awkward group of outsiders is busy slipping through the secret passage ways in the lockers of the school to access their headquarters in the basement. From there they use only the most up-to-date technology to practice their moves, get new gear, and jet-set around the world to fight crime. It must be hard getting picked on and called a loser when you’re a secret agent living a double life to save the world, but for agents code named “Gluestick”, “Pufferfish”, “Choppers”, “Flinch”, and “Wheezer”, maintaining their secrecy is the key to keeping incognito and hidden from the super villains they fight on the regular.

     For these agents, risking their lives to save the world is no big deal, but can they handle a new addition to their team? Sure, kickin’ the world’s most maniacal villains in the rear is no big deal, but when Jackson “Braceface” Jones shows up, things get sticky. You see, for years Jackson was a hot-shot, football playing, cool-kid. That all changed when Jackson got braces. Suddenly he was kicked off the team, and his friends quit talking to him. When he has a run-in at the NERD’s headquarters, the team’s leader, Agent Brand, decides to take him in. Will Jackson ever find friends again? Will the NERDS accept him as one of their own or forgive him for the years of merciless taunting he made them endure? When Jackson finds himself as one of the “nerds” he always bullied, everything starts to change. 

     On a more serious note, Nerds presents some important themes that resonate with children in grade school. Throughout the book you see the effect of Jackson’s bullying on those considered “nerds” or “losers” in school. One of these nerds, through years of anger and hard feelings, eventually turns to the dark sides and tries to destroy the world. Now I’m not saying that any person who has ever been called a name wants to take over the world, but this book does show the reader how seemingly harmless pranks and cranks can seriously hurt a person’s feelings. In Buckley’s novel, things are turned upside down. Bullying is not cool, and being a nerd is actually awesome. It also goes to show that not only should you accept others for who they are, but you should always accept yourself for you who are.

     So does the team ever accept Jackson into their world of secret agents and globe trotting missions? Read Michael Buckley’s Nerds and find out!

Buckley, M. (2009). Nerds: National espionage, rescue, and defense society. New York, NY: Amulet Books.


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Reading for a Cause: A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More


Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water: Based on a true story. New York, NY: Sandpiper.

     I first became familiar with  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park through a college class that specialized in teaching social studies in middle school. Though I was not assigned this particular book, I found that my peers’ enjoyment and enthusiasm of this young adult novel piqued my interest. I was absolutely thrilled when I saw that my school bookstore was selling this book for only $5.99, so I jumped at the chance to explore this historical fiction read for myself. What I ended up loving so much about this book was that it’s not only a heart-touching and evocative read, but it raises awareness for a dire cause that is still in need of attention today.

     In 1983 the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out between the central Sudanese government in the north and the Liberation Army in the south. From then until 2005, this area of the world was ravaged by hatred, cruelty, and genocide. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is based on the real life experiences of Sudanese native Salva Dut. While some of the details of this novel were fictionalized, the storyline chronicles the outbreak of war in Salva’s village up through his remarkable triumph over adversity and his return home to help people in need.


Nhial, A., & Mills, D. (2004). Lost boy no more: A true story of survival and salvation. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

     Another great book to read along with A Long Walk to Water is Abraham Nhial and DiAnn Mills’s Lost Boy No More. This novel, though aimed at a slightly older audience, follows a similar story to Salva Dut’s. Abraham Nhial was also a lost boy of Sudan. (This term is given to the hundreds of thousands of young boys like himself and Salva who walked out of Sudan to find safety.) Nhial helps Mills write this biographical account of his journey to faith, safety, and peace. Not only does he share his experiences of leaving Sudan as a young boy, but he also opens up to the reader about how his trials brought him to faith in Jesus. These two novels both shed light on the personal horrors of the Sudanese Civil War.

     Yes, the content of these two books can be difficult to swallow. The fact that there is unimaginable suffering and killing going on in our world is never easy to accept. However, these two novels help create hope and a way to help those in need. Visit to see how you can donate money to help supply clean water to an area of the world that is still recovering from its hurts. Read A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More, and take your own journey with the people of Sudan.

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Book Unit Newsletter for “Number the Stars”



     Our class is excited to begin reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry! It is such an important lesson about the value of human life and the courage of young adults. As it follows the story of a young girl, it is relatable for our students to see that, even as children, they can be brave and make an impact in the world. In addition to reading our textbook, as well as some primary and secondary sources of World War II, we want the students to feel some kind of connection to the lives of the past and understand their feelings. There is some violence and death, as is to be expected with any story about the war, but it is highly appropriate and suitable to the environment of our classroom. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us!




     Number the Stars is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of a Jewish family’s escape from Copenhagen. The story takes place during the German occupation that occurred in World War II. The main character of the novel is Annemarie Johansen, a ten-year-old girl living in Denmark. Annemarie and Ellen see how society changes as the Nazi occupation grows increasingly serious: shops close down, people are watched, and families are ripped apart. When Ellen’s family flees, they leave her in the care of Annemarie’s family who takes her in and keeps her Jewish heritage a secret. Through the help of some close family friends and distant relatives, Ellen and other endangered Jews are sent off in a boat to safety until the German occupation ends. The novel ends with a heartening message, and is an inspirational read about a dark time in world history.




SS6H7 The student will explain conflict and change in Europe to the 21st century.

a.       Describe major developments following World War I: the Russian Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, worldwide depression, and the rise of Nazism.

b.      Explain the impact of WWII in terms of the Holocaust, the origins of the Cold War, and the rise of Superpowers.



Just a hint of the vocabulary we will be studying:  

  • The Holocaust
  • Nazis
  • Judaism
  • Star of David


For more information on the Holocaust:

 For more information on the rise of Nazism:

 For more information on Judaism:

 For more information about the author:


Ms. Schiveree, Ms. Dowst, Ms. Chrzanowski


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Book Review for “Ishmael”


Quinn, D. (1992). Ishmael. Bantam Books. DOI: The United States.

     Ishmael by Daniel Quinn takes its reader on a spiritual journey. Meet Ishmael, the namesake of this novel. Ishmael is a teacher, but not the kind you’re probably expecting; I won’t spoil any of the book’s surprises, but Ishmael is a non-traditional teacher to say the least. His subdued life has led him through deep reflections that have given him great insight into the history of the world. This novel is a journey where the reader learns to shed his or her preconceived notions about mankind

            Now, I don’t want to put down any book. I believe every book has some value or merit, even if I can’t see it. I’m sure Ishmael has brought many readers a deep and spiritual experience or helped them look at the world differently; I however, feel differently. This entire novel is a dialogue between teacher and pupil, so then it is also then safe to assume that the reader is a pupil to teacher as well. The teacher is meant to be portrayed as an enlightened, all- knowledgeable being uninhibited by biases and personal beliefs. This teacher serves not to reveal right or wrong but to help open the pupil’s eyes to what they have been missing through their own ignorance. My problem with these types of novels is the very mechanics of how this works. The teacher is supposed to be enlightened and unbiased, but I am also aware that this character was created and written by the author of the novel. Though the author himself does not physically appear in the book, I can see his personal beliefs shine through the words and teachings of the teacher. This presents a hitch in this theory; the teacher, by virtue of being created by the author, is not in fact unbiased or enlightened. He is merely conveying the author’s personal agenda in a way that is meant to persuade the reader that these beliefs are infallible. This is why I had such a hard time reading Ishmael, and this is why I have a hard time reading novels that center around teacher/pupil conversations.

     My other problem with this book is that it was presented to me as a young adolescent novel meant to be read in a middle school classroom. This is something I cannot see. Not only is the language challenging, but the concepts are challenging as well. The pages of this novel boast long and wordy explanations about life and the universe that are often tedious to follow. The teacher and pupil often appear to run in circles talking about much of the same things over and over. I myself don’t even find these arguments compelling, and I can’t imagine a middle school student enjoying it either. That’s not to say that no middle school student will ever enjoy this book; I know there are some out there that will. I just don’t think middle school age students would be the target audience of this book. I can, however, picture an older audience enjoying this selection. It also goes without saying that just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it is not worth reading. I’m sure many people will enjoy taking this literary journey, and maybe one day in the future I will revisit this novel with a greater sense of enjoyment and appreciation.

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Book Review and Found Poem for Feed


Anderson, M. T. (2002). Feed. (pp. 103-110). Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

     For those of you not familiar with the future-istic, young adult novel Feed, it’s definitely a unique read. This novel takes place in the future when technology has advanced to the point of sending teens to the moon for spring break and using a “feed”, or computer, right in your own brain. Advancements and technology have overrun this new world, but is that necessarily a good thing? On the one hand, people have access to any source of entertainment, information, social interaction, and shopping without even blinking an eye, literally; the feed streams in their mind! On the other hand, old ways of life are dying out. Natural plants and animals are dying off, and even the air is becoming a rare commodity. One young girl, Violet, believes she can see through the facade. Others might be easily fooled by the luxuries of this modern world, but she knows she is being controlled. Violet knows civilization is declining when cutting slits in your skin becomes a fashion statement, and planting trees is unheard of. She sets out to fight the feed as it begins to take a toll on her body. Read M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and join Violet in resisting the feed.

     Now that you know what the book itself is about, this poem will make much more sense. I mentioned found poems in one of my other posts. These kinds of poems are made by changing and rearranging words from an existing work of literature to make poetry. My found poem was taken from the words spanning pages 103-110 of M.T. Anderson’s Feed.

Here it is:


I wonder about resisting

I asked her whether she was sure

I looked back at her

Standing by the door

Pinching and pulling

I went to bed

Something was wrong

“never mind”, she said


Just for practice

Everything from the feed

It’s going crazy

Crazy for me

Sites, spotlights

In flurries they started coming

Winking beautifully

Our eyes opening and closing

Whoa! Whoa!

She said no

Because she was too smart

To be used like our feeds

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Book Review for “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda”


Angleberger, T. (2010). The strange case of origami yoda. Ambrams.

     If you’re thinking Tom Angleberger’s “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” sounds, well, strange, then you’re correct! This novel is indeed about an origami finger puppet created in the likeness of everybody’s favorite inverted sentence-using Jedi master. Tommy, Dwight, Kellen, Harvey and their friends are about to find out just how wise Yoda is. Origami Yoda has been giving almost every student at McQuarrie Middle School advice and answers to life’s toughest questions; Yoda seems to know everything from girls, to grandmothers, and softball. If this still doesn’t sound strange to you yet, meet the man behind the finger puppet: Dwight. Dwight is a person you could definitely call “different”. He spends much of his time sitting in holes and yelling the word “purple”. What’s even stranger is that his origami Yoda creation seems to have a mind of its own; the finger puppet seems a far cry from his usually spaced out creator. Yoda seems to know everything, even things Dwight is clueless about! So what makes Yoda so wise? Does he really have a mind of his own? Read the personal stories throughout the pages of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and find out. Who knows? You just might become a believer.

     Want to make your own origami Yoda? Whether it’s for fun, or to ask it one of life’s most pressing questions, here’s a page in the back of the book that shows you how:


     And last but not least, here’s my own origami Yoda! It’s not the best, but I had a blast making it. I hope you enjoy it too!



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