Module 8 YA Nonfiction-Sugar Changed the World

Aronson, Marc; Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science. New York: Clarion Books, 2010. ISBN 9780618574926

As someone with a serious sweet tooth, it isn’t surprising that Sugar Changed the World caught my eye. It tells the story of the production and trade of cane sugar.

I will say I found it a little disappointing. It had less to do with the substance (sugar) itself and more to do with the effect of sugar production. Despite labeling the ages in interesting and relatable ways (Age of Honey, Age of Sugar, Age of Science) and mentioning two different types of sugar in the introduction (cane and beet) it was a disappointing if straightforward read.

The introduction (How We Came to Write This Book) clearly states the fact that there are two types of sugar and that beet sugar can be used differently than cane. However, beet sugar is barely mentioned in this 128 page book and it never mentions what’s so special about being able to color beet sugar. The authors set a nice scene, but only give half of what they seemed to promise (granted they explain why in the essay “How We Researched and Wrote This Book” but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing).

That being said, the book never ceases to be interesting. Aronson and Budhos use images, song lyrics, and clear descriptions to not only make it easy for the reader to make a connection to the slaves in the Caribbean, but also to understand where the Europen and Middle Eastern traders encountered and learned to love sugar.

This book has an extensive index, a master timeline for sugar history, a web guide to the images, a notes and sources section, a bibliography, and a list of suggested websites. It is a good introduction for the study of sugar, slavery, the Caribbean, or (if only looking at the last chapter) Gandhi. It would be a good book to use to teach a teen how to research. It covers an interesting topic, has a bibliography and web site page that aren’t overwhelming, and has the essay explaining how the authors approached their own research to write the book.


Kirkus Best Young Adult Books-2010

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults-2012


Booklist—“ The book’s scope is ambitious, but the clear, informal prose, along with maps and archival illustrations, makes the horrific connections with dramatic immediacy. A closing chapter about how Gandhi’s struggle for human rights affected the sugar trade brings in more of the authors’ stories. A teacher’s guide is available, and classroom discussion is sure to spark intense interest and further research, starting with the fully documented sources at the back.”

Kirkus—“ Covering 10,000 years of history and ranging the world, the story is made personal by the authors’ own family stories, their passion for the subject and their conviction that young people are up to the challenge of complex, well-written narrative history.”

Works Cited

Kirkus Reviews. September 2010. (Vol. 78, No. 17) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. October 2010. (Vol. 107, No. 4) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at


Module 7 YA Historical Fiction-Ruby Red

Gier, Kerstin. Ruby Red. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009. Print. ISBN 9780312551513

Ruby Red is a rather unconventional historical fiction novel. Rather than taking place in some distant past, the majority of the novel takes place in modern day England. What makes this a historical fiction novel? Gwyneth, and her male counterpart Gideon, can travel into the past.

In a family with a woman who has visions and a legacy of women who can travel through time, Gwyneth is happily, and hopelessly, normal. She likes to watch movies with her best friend, avoid her prissy aunt and grandmother, and frequently talks to a ghost that haunts the staircase of her school. A ghost no one else can see. Alright, she knows she isn’t perfectly normal, but she isn’t waiting to travel through time like her cousin Charlotte.
When Gwyneth unexpectedly starts traveling through time, she finds herself plunged into a mystery, and life, she was never prepared for.

While there is time travel involved (including an explanation of why a person cannot travel to the future), I find this an odd pick as a historical fiction. The reader may learn a few things about Rococo or 1912 fashion, but the most memorable aspects are the modern characters, with one exception.

It is hard to pin down a definite age group for this book. Gwyneth is sixteen, but she can easily appeal to younger teens as well. While it does focus on a girl and involve some token gossip and fashion moments, for the most part Gwyneth is portrayed as a normal teen. Yes, she has a crush and an opinion on kissing, but I think the biggest turn off for guys would actually be the Square Fish cover (with a girl in a ball gown as opposed to the ornate red cover it was previously released with), not the actual story.

Ruby Red is a fast paced, exciting read. While the ending is acceptable, it definitely leaves the reader looking for Sapphire Blue, its first sequel.


YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012
Lone Star Reading List, 2012


Booklist *starred review* — “What makes this such a standout is the intriguingly drawn cast, stars and supporting players both, beginning with Gwen, whose key feature is her utter normality. Despite being raised by odd characters in a strange old London house, Gwen is a girl who likes texting, watching the telly, and teasing her best friend.”

Emily Griffin—“As Gwen is thrust into training for her new life she learns about her family history, and secrets, by visiting her ancestors personally, accompanied by the attractive and arrogant Gideon, another teen time traveler. A good choice for teens interested in light sci-fi or fantasy without the paranormal focus.”

Works Cited

Cooper, Ilene. Booklist. April 2011. (Vol. 107, No. 16) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Griffin, Emily. Children’s Literature. Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at


Module 6 YA Mystery-Down the Rabbit Hole

Abrahams, Peter. Down the Rabbit Hole. New York: Harper Trophy, 2005. Print. ISBN 9780060737030

Down the Rabbit Hole is not only the first Echo Falls mystery, but also Abrahams’ first young adult novel. The main character is Ingrid, a plucky eighth-grader who at the beginning of the novel has two problems, she has braces and she doesn’t want to be late to soccer practice. These slowly snowball throughout the novel (a lot of new problems, though the braces become more of a minor annoyance).

Ingrid’s hero is Sherlock Holmes and she constantly strives to think like him by noticing the small things and knowing her small town. However, unlike Sherlock (who usually had some form of backup) Ingrid sets about to solve the town’s murder mystery on her own when she realizes just how deep she inadvertently delved into the case. The cast of characters is certainly distinct, including Ingrid’s brother Ty (according to Ingrid her parents only had one good name in them),her grandfather Grampy (who has some interesting views on driving and environmentalism), and Nigel the unexpected canine addition to the family.

However, while the mystery does build throughout the book , the overall book doesn’t feel like a cohesive story. There are certain aspects that the book focuses on briefly but intensely (the mysterious appearance of acne on Ty’s back when he has never had a problem with acne and Ingrid’s miraculous [albeit occasional] ability to do difficult math problems only when thinking about unrelated things are two examples). These appear to be important, and perhaps they will be in the other Echo Falls mysteries, but in this book the break the suspense of the mystery and make the reader lose interest in what should be the driving force, Ingrid solving the murder mystery.

This book would be good for those middle-schoolers looking for a casual mystery or those just entering the genre. While older readers may understand her father’s push for college (and the irony of the adults), most of the things that happen to Ingrid are basic. While everything Ingrid does seems to be connected (and everything that happens to Ingrid is connected) they seem to happen in an isolated bubble where things only happen to Ingrid. There is apparently only one taxi in town. Despite the fact that Ingrid is the reason her soccer team wears red sparkly cleats, no one seems to know she owns a pair. In fact, the whole novel reads a bit like the town is in stasis until Ingrid walks into a part of it.


Agatha Award -2005
Booklist Editor’s Choice Books for Youth-2005


Booklist—“Abrahams is concerned with adult motivations here, and his irony occasionally seems too arch for kids. But there’s also plenty of excitement and just-right humor (Mom’s constant concern about Ingrid’s retainer is classic)”

Kirkus—“As the police investigation gets further away from the truth and the wrong suspects are arrested, Ingrid takes increasingly daring risks to solve the case herself and eliminate the evidence she left behind indicating her own suspicious involvement. Abrahams has crafted a suspenseful page-turning drama complete with misleading clues and gutsy midnight escapades that make for thrilling intrigue.”

Works Cited

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. April 2005. (Vol. 73, No. 7) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Zvirin, Stephanie. Booklist. May 2005. (Vol. 101, No. 17) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Module 5 YA Science Fiction-Uglies

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. New York: Simon Pulse, 2005. Print. ISBN 9781442419810

Uglies is the first book in a series, and it knows it. While it does have a complete plot, both the cliffhanger ending and the multiple unresolved threads make this a frustrating book to end if you don’t have the rest of the series handy. That being said, this was an entertaining science fiction adventure.

From the name of the book to the iridescent nailpolish on the newest cover, Uglies screams “teen girl scene.” Yet within the first few pages, despite the fact that Tally (the flakey narrator of this tale) is definitely a girl, it doesn’t feel like a “girl” story. While becoming pretty is what is expected, pretty isn’t just for girls. Pretty is for everyone. It doesn’t hurt that the first few chapters involve things like jumping off of buildings and high-speed hoverboarding either.

Westerfeld never takes the science out of the realm of plausible. While this may distress some die-hard, deep space, science fiction lovers, it is also a relief to those just being introduced to the genre. Forgotten railroads and metals in water providing the magnetic repulsion for hoverboards? Sensible. Elevators and rooms that work on both iris and voice recognition? In 2014, this isn’t hard to imagine. In fact, the most difficult thing for the reader to wrap their mind around is the fact that everyone under the age of sixteen is “ugly” (they haven’t had plastic surgery) and everyone over sixteen is “pretty.”

This book trots along at a good clip. A book-loving teen (who is open to science fiction) could easily read it in one sitting. Even a reluctant reader is likely to get pulled along by the minor resolutions throughout the book that make the reader feel like something has been accomplished. (For example, Tally learns to hoverboard, Tally finally visits the ruins, and Tally turns sixteen.)

Tally is possibly the weakest link in the book. Not unlike The Hunger Games’ Katniss, Tally causes most of her problems. She cannot make up her mind, whether about being pretty or about loyalty to her friends, and she spontaneously falls in love in a very short period of time while lying to the boy she claims to love.

One thing that the reader cannot forget though, is that this is the first in a series. By the last sentence of this novel, very few things have been resolved. If by the end of this novel, the reader feels invested in Tally, then having Pretties nearby would be a good thing. Though in my case, I’m less curious about what happens to Tally, and more interested in the corruption of the society and how complete said corruption is.

Westerfeld created a novel that appeals on two different levels, that of caring about the person and that of being interested by the world. This duality is why, though by all appearances it is a “girl” book, I can easily seeing this appeal to teen boys.


Aurealis Award (Finalist) Young Adult Novel Australia-2005

Lone Star Reading list-2006-2007


Booklist—“Although the narrative’s brisk pace is more successful in scenes of hover-boarding action than in convincingly developing Tally’s key relationships, teens will sink their teeth into the provocative questions about invasive technology, image-obsessed society, and the ethical quandaries of a mole-turned-ally.”

CCBC—“Given the opportunity, who wouldn’t choose to be pretty? In this future society, surgery at age sixteen makes everyone attractive, eliminating privilege and bias based on physical appearance…It slowly gains appeal, especially after Tally begins to question the governmental motives behind the enforced surgeries. When she uncovers the shocking conspiracy about surgical effects, which go far deeper than outward appearance, Tally is determined to continue life as an Ugly.”

Works Cited

CCBC. Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. 2006. Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.

Mattson, Jennifer. Booklist. March 2005. (Vol. 101, No.14) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at


Module 4 YA Contemporary Realistic Fiction-Blue Jasmine

Sheth, Kashmira. Blue Jasmine. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 2004. Print. ISBN 0786855657

Blue Jasmine is a quiet novel. While it addresses things like growing up and bullies, it’s primary focus is about knowing yourself. With so many contemporary realistic fiction novels seeming to revel in being edgy or gritty, Blue Jasmine reminds readers that there can be quieter problems.

While the argument could be made that the novel is about the Trivedi family, which isn’t an incorrect statement, its primary focus is on Seema, a twelve-year-old Indian girl who moves to Iowa City with only her immediate family. Before leaving India, Seema gets in an argument with her cousin, Raju, because her family is moving. She also learns that the girl in class she never liked, and often made fun of, is from a poor family.
Once in Iowa City, Seema finds herself not only missing her family, and the weather, in India, but also feeling guilty about how she treated her poor classmate. When another “new girl” starts at her school and begins teasing Seema, Seema realizes just how the girl back home must have felt.

Despite the fact that Seema gains knowledge, and has a birthday, it would be wrong to call this a coming of age novel. I would even argue that, despite the character’s age, this isn’t a teen novel at all. What it does remind the reader is that education, whether the kind provided by school or the kind provided by life, is important. At one point, Seema puts it this way, “Perhaps the more you learn about the world, I thought, the more you learn about yourself” (p. 183).

This book has a family tree at the beginning and a glossary at the back. Both are extremely helpful as it is very easy to forget how people are related to Seema (including her parent’s names) and because not all of the Indian words are defined in the story.

As odd as it sounds, this would be a good book for a class to read before studying WWII. Multiple times in this story, the swastika appears. When in America, Seema doesn’t mention it or in one instance, her father asks her mother to exchange her gold swastika (a sign of good fortune in Indian culture) for a pearl necklace. It is an important reminder that some symbols mean different things in different regions of the world.


Paul Zindel First Novel Award-2002
Children’s Book Award 2005-Notable Book Intermediate Fiction


CCBC—“First-time novelist Kashmira Sheth shows remarkable talent for creating credible, well-rounded characters who are able to meet the challenge of living in two cultures without being forced to choose between them.”

Kirkus—“The comfortable and confident life 12-year-old Seema Trivedi enjoys in her upper-class neighborhood in India is altered by the family’s move to an American middle-class suburban community…Seema’s classmates in both countries present parallel situations that illustrate the complexities of middle schoolers and their maturation.”

Works Cited

CCBC. Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. 2005. Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at

Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. May 2004. (Vol. 72, No. 10.) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at