The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give is Angie Thomas’s first novel about a teenage girl who grapples with racism, police brutality, and activism after witnessing her black friend murdered by the police. The book became an immediate young adult bestseller and was adapted into a movie shortly after its release

On March 5th we discussed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.


When you die, what do you want to be remembered for?

How Tupac inspired the author

Though It’s obvious that that title The Hate U Give came from Tupac, there are many other hidden places in the book that Tupac inspired!

Talk about code-switching after watching this Key and Peele 2 minute video, and we’ll invite students to share their own experiences around code-switching (the reasons why people do it including students and Starr)
  • We shared our ideas on what family means to us and talk about the different structures and compositions.
  • We talked about how each book showcased speaking truth to power with examples

We talked about implicit bias and institutional racism. We had a conversation about the opportunity gap: the disparity in access to quality schools and the resources needed for all children to be academically successful. We talked about whiteness being the default in our society (media, memes, greeting cards, characters in books, etc and in our minds), and how we celebrate the complex lives of white kids who can be cute, bad, good, etc. but we still see them as whole children. While kids of color are rarely depicted that way, as complex individuals in their own environment  and the hard that causes. We also talked how racial trauma is cumulative.

Discussion Questions

1. As Starr and Khalil listen to Tupac, Khalil explains what Tupac said “Thug Life” meant. Discuss the meaning of the term “Thug Life” as an acronym and why the author might have chosen part of this at the title of the book. In what ways do you see this is society today? (Chapter 1, p. 17)

2. Chapter 2 begins with Starr flashing back to two talks her parents had with her when she was young. One was about sex (“the usual birds and bees”). The second was about what precautions to take when encountering a police officer (Chapter 2, p.20). Have you had a similar conversation about what to do when stopped with the police? Reflect upon or imagine this conversation.

3. Thomas frequently uses motifs of silence and voice throughout the book. Find instances in the book where silence or voice and speech are noted, and talk about the author’s possible intentions for emphasizing these motifs.

4. At the police station after Starr details the events leading up to the shooting, the detective shifts her focus to Khalil’s past. Why do you think the detective did this? Discuss Starr’s reaction to this “bait” (Chapter 6, pp. 102-103).

5. Once news of Khalil’s shooting spreads across the neighborhood, unrest arises: “Sirens wail outside.The news shows three patrol that have been set ablaze at the police precinct…A gas station near the freeway gets looted…My neighborhood is a warzone” (Chapter 9, 136-139). Respond to this development and describe some parallels to current events.

6. How do you think Starr would define family? What about Seven? How do you define it?

7. Chris and Starr have a breakthrough in their relationship – Starr admits to him that she was

in the car with Khalil and shares the memories of Natasha’s murder (Chapter 17, 300-304). Discuss why Starr’s admission and releasing of this burden to Chris is significant. Explore the practice [or concept?] of “code-switching” and discuss how you

might code-switch in different circumstances in your own life.

8. How and why does the neighborhood react to the grand jury’s decision? (Chapter 23) How does Starr use her voice as a weapon, and why does she feel that it is vital that she does? Refer back to “Thug Life” and discuss how the acronym resonates in this chapter.

9. Starr pledges to “never be quiet” (p. 450). After reading this book, how can you use your voice to promote and advance social justice? Reflect on how you and your community discuss and address inequality.

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

Ms. Marvel

The role of Ms. Marvel was originally filled by Carol Danvers. Since then, Danvers has flown on to bigger and better things, now filling the role of  Captain Marvel, cutting off her long blonde locks and wearing a sensible outfit. But in the absence of Danvers came Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager growing up in Jersey City, to fill the role.

After the huge and complicated Terrigen Mist descended on the world—a major comic book event—select people everywhere suddenly found themselves imbued with powers. After sneaking out of her house to a party and getting caught in the mist, Khan finds herself able to shift and transform her body. After accidentally shifting into her favorite hero, Ms. Marvel—the perfect, blonde American superhero—in order to save a classmate from drowning, Khan stumbles into the world of super heroism, taking up the mantle of Ms. Marvel, though eventually growing comfortable enough in her own skin to stop shifting into the former Ms. Marvel.

“Growing Up Brave on the Margins: Courage and Coming of Age”

The first book in the likely last Great Stories Club grant 😢was Ms. Marvel, by G Willow Wilson on January 9th, 2020.


We spent about ten minutes on the icebreaker, “Cross if You….” The purpose of this ice-breaker is to demonstrate how much we have in common as well as what makes us unique.

Conversations around stereotypes and why representation matters

Representation matters. You can’t be what you can’t see. 

* The type-casting Muslims deal with in film — from terrorists to submissive wife and everything in between
* Six in ten Americans don’t personally know a Muslim, so media plays a large role in their understanding of the people and culture.
* Doc McStuffins
* #Oscarssowhite

Sana Amanat – co-created Marvel’s first solo series to feature a Muslim female superhero, Ms. Marvel.
  1. What does ‘Ms. Marvel’ get right about Muslim representation?
  • uses the ordinariness of her life to subvert many of the stereotypes surrounding Islam in America.
  • unique to an immigrant Muslim family
    • Conservative brother
    • Smelling bacon – BLT – convenience store (knowing it’s forbidden. Trying to be something she’s not)
    • Friend, but also components that demonstrate a lot more similarities than readers might think.
    • Kamala isn’t the only Muslim featured in the comic, the burden of representing an entire religion isn’t solely heaped upon her shoulders, which, in many ways, demonstrates an important aspect of her character. Kamala is still, at her core, just a teenager trying to fit in.
    • groups in our country don’t see themselves reflected in the media, since it’s largely dominated by one race and one gender. (It’s hard to be what you can’t see)
  1. Number of Muslims living in the US and Seattle area?
  • of 2015, around 3.3 million Muslims called the United States home. According to demographic projections from Pew Research, that number may double by 2050, 
  1. Overview and complexities of religion and comparisons to other religions. 
  • it’s hard to pin down the specifics of what all Muslims believe, just as it is with Christians. In rural America, sometimes there are more church denominations than there are people. But, because of terrorist attacks and extremists, Muslims have largely been received, and depicted, negatively in United States culture. 

Discussion Questions

  1. The title of book 1 in the Ms. Marvel series is No Normal. Why do you think the writer chose this title?
    Provide evidence from the book to support your answer.
  2. What are Kamala’s goals and dreams? How do her goals and dreams change over time?
  3. Kamala has to balance being a Muslim Pakistani teen and a Jersey City teen. Are her struggles unique
    to culturally diverse teens? Or are her struggles like those of most American teens?
  4. You’ve heard the advice “Be careful what you wish for…” Does this apply to Kamala? If so, how?
  5. There are scenes in the book when Kamala disobeys her parents and sneaks out. Was this a wise
    decision? What are the pros and cons of her actions? Support your answer with details from the story.
  6. Why is it difficult for a multitude of “different” people to fit in? What can your class, school, and
    community do to help those who are different from us feel welcomed?
  7. How can cultural values mold who and what we are?
  8. Why does Kamala claim she can’t eat one of the hot sandwiches at the shop?
  9. What does Zoe ask Nakia?
  10. What are Kamala’s interests?
Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

Gabi A Girl in Pieces

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Guest Presenter!

For our December 19th book club, we were super lucky to secure guest presenter, Dujie Tahat, a Filipino-Jordanian immigrant living in Washington state. He’s published poet, Hugo House fellow, activist, and Grand Slam Champion. He was incredibly engaging. The students told him they had never read or heard poems like his before and said they really related to them. He brought three poems that were featured in the book, Gabi a Girl in Pieces. We read them together and discussed what we thought they might mean.

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath –

You Called Me Corazón by Sandra Cisneros –

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 by Martín Espada –

The students and Kevin loved him so much that he’s now working with the class for their poetry unit!

Poetry ice-breaker

“This is a nice quiet activity when you’ve got a small cozy group and have some time to kill. Organize people into a circle or around a table. Give each person a sheet of paper and a writing utensil.

Have everyone write the first line to a poem at the top of the page. Then pass the page to the person on their right. That person reads the first line then writes a second line to it. That person must then fold the paper back to hide the first line from view, so that only the second line shows. The poets pass their papers to their right again.

Each time they get the paper and write a new line, they should fold back the previous line out of view. This continues until you run out of room.

The end result should be a strip of folded paper. Then have everyone open the paper in their possession and take turns reading. The poems usually turn out pretty absurd, but sometimes it’s amazing how cohesive they can be.”

Listen to interview w/author: 4min

Interview w/author, Isabel Quintero:

Book Discussion

Essential Questions:

How do the choices we make impact our lives in both positive and negative ways?
How do the pieces of our personalities cause conflict or strain in our lives, and how do they work together to create our true selves?
What power does language have in influencing or creating who we are? 
How can we harness that power and determine our own identities?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever thought about what your parents are like when they aren’t being parents?
  2. Have you had any experiences with “culture clash”?  (This is not limited to ethnicity, but can also be between generations or different geographic regions)
  3. After reading about Gabi’s experiences and opinions, are there any stereotypes in this book?
  4. Do you think this book is accurate in demonstrating how high schoolers olds behave, think, or speak?
  5. Is Gabi’s language a deterrent, or does it contribute to, the overall message of this book?
  6. Does this book have a concrete ending?  If so, what is it?
  7. What makes a person healthy?  Physically, emotionally, spiritually?
  8. What issues are encountered by Gabi in the book?
  9. What do you think people think of this book in the future?  In 20 years?  In 100 years?
  10. What makes an autograph special?

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

Poet X

For the start of the 2019/2020 school year, we embarked on a new grant with the theme, “Finding Your Voice: Speaking Truth to Power” and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo was our first book.

We worked on creating group agreements together:

Be respectful and honest. 
Share “air time.” 
One person speaks at a time. 
Speak for yourself, not for others. 
What is said in the group stays here, unless everyone agrees to change that. (Vegas rule) If you are offended, say so, and say why. ➢Agree to disagree. ➢Don’t take it personal.

For this book club, we were joined by another Interagency site, and just as we were about to do our ice-breaker, the fire alarm went off, so we did it outside.

Introduce yourself and share how you got your name.
Who named you? Do you like your name?

This was a fun ice-breaker. A few of us had changed our names, or go by other names than our given names.

“Night Before First Day of School” from The Poet X | Elizabeth Acevedo Live Performance

After watching the above video, we launched into the discussion.

1. The Poet X is a novel in verse and Xiomara is an aspiring poet. How does the novel’s format inform your understanding of Xiomara’s growth throughout the novel? What are some representative pieces that clue us in to who Xiomara is and who she is becoming? (novel in verse give the words room to breathe? Consider the physical formatting and spacing of the poetry. How does it help convey the emotion of the scene and the main character’s feelings?)

2. Xiomara is a working-class Afro-Latina living in Harlem. How does her race, ethnicity, class, and gender affect her life as a young person coming of age? How does she combat the assumptions those around her make based on these identities? 

3. Xiomara’s family members all communicate in different ways. While both her parents are strict but loving, her father is quiet, while her mother makes it loud and clear how she feels. Meanwhile, Xiomara’s twin Xavier is introverted and shy. How would you imagine the events of the novel from their respective perspectives? What would their poems look like? 

4. Xiomara’s name means “one who is ready for war.” How does she live up to her name? How does she struggle against it? What does your name mean? How do you feel about your name? How if at all has it influenced your life? 

5. Catholicism is central to Xiomara’s mother life, while Xiomara is not so sure about religion. How does Xiomara question religion? Is it more curiosity or skepticism? How is this questioning reflected in other aspects of her life?


1. How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not? 

2. What does it mean to “hold a poem in the body”? Do you think you have words living inside of you? What words are they? 

3. What are the rules, implicit and explicit, that Xiomara identifies her mother having for her? Are they different than rules her mother sets for other people? Why or why not? 

4. How does Xiomara feel about her brother being gay? How does she think her silence affects Twin? Have you ever stayed silent and wished you hadn’t? How can you speak up in your own life? 

5. How does silence protect Xiomara? How does Xiomara’s silence harm the people she is closest to? How do her words free her? 


6. What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave? 

7. How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think her writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality—how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry? 


8. What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave? 

9. Why does Xiomara feel as though “[her] words are okay” when she is in Ms. Galiano’s class, but not when she is with other people or in other places (p. 264)? Do you have a place where your words feel more or less safe? What makes a person or a place feel safe? 

10. Have you ever heard a poem or song or seen a movie that made you feel seen? 

11. Why does Xiomara call poetry club a prayer circle? Do you think that writing can be healing? Do you think art can be healing?

How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?

How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?

How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?

Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

I Am Alfonso Jones

On November 21, 2019, we met to discuss I Am Alfonso Jones, by Tony Medina.

We started off with an introduction and ice-breaker where we shared our names, pronouns, favorite song/song lyrics, and why was meaningful to us.

We watched a black history video featured in this article on why Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing still remains relevant.

We watched this clip featuring the character, Radio Raheem who is referenced in story.

An homage to “Do the Right Thing” from the Obamas

We then discussed the lyrics to “A Tree Never Grown,” from the album Hip-Hop For Respect. This song highlights police brutality in NYC under Mayor Giuliani’s Stop and Frisk program, specifically the murder of the unarmed Amadou Diallo by NYPD. His story parallels in some ways Alfonso’s and Diallo is also mentioned in the book.

We had a good discussion while analyzing the lyrics. None of the students had heard of Diallo and weren’t familiar with Giuliani or Stop and Frisk.

We then moved onto our discussion of the book. Here are some guiding questions:

Book Discussion

1. Medina includes real-life victims of police brutality (such as Eleanor Bumpurs and Amadou Diallo) as the ancestors that help guide Alfonso in the afterlife. What do you know about these ancestors? How do their stories echo Alfonso’s experiences? 

2. I Am Alfonso Jones highlights the aftermath of Alfonso’s death for his loved ones. How does Alfonso try to help the ones he has left behind? How do they help him on his journey on the Ark of Souls? 

3. Take a close look at the graphic novel’s illustrations. How do the illustrators Robinson and Jennings use black and white to convey the novel’s actions? Besides color, how are other ways that illustrations are important to understanding Alfonso’s journey? 

4. Before his death, Alfonso and his classmates are rehearsing a hip-hop version of the classic Shakespeare play, Hamlet. What are the similarities between Hamlet’s plot and the events of Alfonso’s life and death? Are there other classics works that you’re familiar with that resonate with the novel? 

5. Although I Am Alfonso Jones is fiction, the story reflects a reality for far too many young people. African American youth like Kimani Gray, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Tamir Rice also died at the hands of law enforcement. How does the graphic novel humanize Alfonso? How might we retell the stories of victims of violence to emphasize their full humanity? Would you draw a picture, write a poem or story, make a song, or something else? What would you include in your creation?

1. How do you define justice? Discuss some examples of the injustices in your community. What do you think racial justice means? 

2. What is the job of the police? Describe the relationship the police have with the people in your community. 

3. What do you know about the Black Lives Matter movement? What are some other examples of political activism or social justice movements? 

4. What do you know about Harlem? The Bronx? Have you been to either of those places? If not, how did you learn about them? 

5. What is your perception of the American criminal justice system? What experiences have formed your view? What do you know about racial profiling? Police violence? 

1. Ask students what they think the title, I Am Alfonso Jones, means. What do they think this book will most likely be about? What do they think might happen? What information do they think they might learn? What makes them think that? 

2. Have students look at the front and back cover art. Spend a few minutes flipping through the pages, noticing the illustrations. What predictions can they make? Do they think this book is fiction or nonfiction? What makes them think that? Ask why an author and illustrator may want to tell a story in a graphic novel format. 

3. Introduce students to Tony Medina (the author) and Stacey Robinson and John Jennings (the illustrators). You can find information in the “about the author” and “about the illustrators” section of this guide. • Ask if anyone has read other books by the same author/illustrators.  

Have students read the book’s dedications, acknowledgments, and author’s note and discuss what impressions they have. • Point out that the author and two illustrators are Black, and that the author and Alfonso Jones both identify as Black Puerto Rican. Ask students what impact the identity of an author or illustrator has on their experience of reading. Does that change depending on the identity of the characters? Or what the story is about? Or on the identity of the reader? 

4. Provide students with relevant historical and sociopolitical context for understanding the themes in I Am Alfonso Jones. This will vary depending on your students’ lived experiences and prior knowledge, as well as current events and the learning goals particular to your class. 

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

Buck: A Memoir

We started our book club by watching a few videos.

The author, MK Asante speaking to a class at Howard University,:

Addressing controversy about teaching this book in Baltimore Schools


M.K. ASANTE – On Finding Your Purpose and Pursuing it Relentlessly (The BUCK Interview)
BUCK by MK Asante (Trailer)
YOUNG BUCKs: This song features a great deal of content from Asante’s memoir
but is also deeply rooted in current events.

Discussion Topics:

1 –Reading his mom’s journal, then including it in his memoir.

2 — Difference between school and education

3– His coaches willingness to go to bat for him as long as he was on the team

4 — The epiphany of discovering writing, his passion

Discussion Questions: 12-12:30

GENERAL QUESTIONS 1. Would you call the protagonist of this book a “hero”? Why or why not? Answering this question may require defining what you think it means to be heroic in the specific context of the novel. Does heroism in this case require being flexible or firm about the character’s previous beliefs (or some combination)?

2. Who or what is the enemy in this novel, if there is one? How do you know? Does the book give you any reasons to sympathize with the antagonist(s) that oppose the main character? If so, find specific moments in the book to discuss.

How does the protagonist understand how the “other side” came to have the beliefs and positions that they hold? Does this affect the outcome of the story?


1. Each member of Malo’s family can be seen as both heroes and villains, depending on one’s perspective. Malo sees Uzi as a personal hero who loves and protects him, but in the eyes of the state Uzi is a delinquent and sex offender. Chaka is a well-known scholar of Afrocentric thought, an intellectual hero in the field of African-American Studies, but Malo comes to see him as a man who has deserted his family. Amina is a famous choreographer and scholar who survives domestic violence and suicidal depression to provide a home for Malo, but she ultimately throws him out into the street. Is one perspective on each of these characters more “correct” than the other? Why or why not? How does Malo come to see Uzi, Chaka, and Amina by the end of the novel?

2. Malo’s Uncle Howard tells him at a crucial point in his life that there are “two wolves” at war inside everyone – a bad one and a good one, each made up of a range of feelings and experiences. Uncle Howard says that the one that wins is “the one you feed” (187-8). Do you think that this is a good description of the inner struggles that Malo goes through, or an oversimplification? If everyone is a combination of qualities, represented by the metaphor of the warring wolves, what sets apart the people we think of as “heroes”? Are there characters in the novel that seem to just feed one wolf?

9″There’s a war between two wolves inside everybody. One is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other’s good. It’s love, peace, beauty, happiness, truth, hope, joy, humility, kindness, and empathy….’In the story,’ I ask, ‘who wins…between the two wolves?’ ‘The one you feed.'” )

3. Throughout Buck, characters often treat girls and women as sexual toys, objects, or conquests rather than as fully realized human beings that deserve consideration and respect (66, 96-9). Do you think it is possible to be a hero and treat or think about others in degrading ways? Why or why not? How does Malo’s deeper relationship with Nia reflect his evolving understanding of himself and his priorities? (139-40) What examples of respect-based relationships can you identify in the novel?

4. Buck incorporates lyrics from contemporary hip hop and rap artist throughout the story, and in the final chapters begins to include quotations from authors that Malo reads and even Malo’s own poetry. How can art help to articulate feelings and capture situations that can otherwise be hard to express? This memoir is itself a work of art and an act of speech. Do you think that making art, speaking your truth, can be a heroic undertaking? How? What other examples can you think of beyond Buck?

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

Black Panther

On May 30th, 2019 we had the honor of hosting Representative Pramila Jayapal at our book club for Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 1, the graphic novel by T-Nehisi Coates. Multiple Interagency Academy school sites joined us to have the opportunity to meet with Jayapal and to hear her speak.

Everyone read the book, but this event was more of an opportunity to meet Representative Jayapal and get inspired. She tied her talk into the themes of courage and heroism.

Representative Pramila Jayapal

We also had special guests Marcellus Turner (City Librarian from the Seattle Public Library ), as well as Kaaren Andrews and Melissa Rysemus (principal and assistant principal at Interagency).

To prepare for the book club, students reviewed this character sheet:

And we watched this video:

Students also did some preparation for Representative Jayapal’s visit by watching some videos and reading some articles.

Jayapal engaged the rapt audience with her stories. She shared her immigrant experience and how her parents took their entire savings and sent Jayapal to the US alone at 16 to give her the opportunity to go to college. She talked about not understanding what a sacrifice it was until her own child was 16 and she had difficulty contemplating ever sending them across the ocean all alone.

After 9/11, Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians were being attacked because of their turbans, hijab, and/or because of the color of their skin. Jayapal felt like she needed to do something, so she started the organization, Hate Free Zone of Washington that later changed their name to One America. It grew to be the largest immigrant and civil rights organization in the country. They used a variety of tactics, so she’s been arrested three times for civil disobedience, because she believes that we sometimes have to put our bodies on the line for things that we believe in (for example, civil rights abuses inflicted on incarcerated folks, criminal justice issues, $15 minimum wage in Seattle, immigration reform, etc.

She had always been skeptical of the government, but she decided to run for the Washington State Senate, because she saw it as an organizing platform. “If we can be in office, maybe we can change how politics are done.” So she ran for the Senate in 2014 and became the only woman of color in the state Senate at the time. In 2016 she ran for Congress and now she gets to serve in the US Congress, which means that she has moments where she can bring voices of people that she cares about that are not represented into those rooms.

Recently someone asked Jayapal how in her job she has the courage to deal with xenophobia, racism, the over-incarceration of black and brown folks, the systematic removal of reproductive rights, the school to prison pipeline, as well as the things that are said about people in these situations (which implies somehow that agency is the same for them and it’s not). We have institutionalized racism, poverty, economic inequality (that’s never been this bad since the 1920s – three people – two of whom live in Washington state have the same amount of wealth as 160 million Americans (the bottom 605 of this country). And, it got her thinking about all of this in the context of courage and heroism as it relates to Black Panther,

Jayapal believes that courage is being afraid to do something but knowing in your gut that it’s the right thing to do. She said that heroism doesn’t always constitute public acts of heroism and the people aren’t always at the front of the room. “Most of the people that I think of that I bring into the room are often at the back of the room but still leading and offering an example of what they believe their life can be like and doing it with conviction and doing it with power.” She’s worked with a lot of people that have been dealt a bad hand, perhaps made choices that they wouldn’t make again, who have been put in untenable situations, but what’s powerful is the courage and heroism that comes from recognizing where you are and taking that step forward (often without the support needed) but finding that support and recognizing the ability within yourself to know what is possible for yourself and not allowing others to tell you that you can’t do something or you can’t be someone or that you can’t have a different life than what you’ve had in the past.

One question from the audience during the Q&A was about the Equality Act and her support of her gender non-conforming child. Jayapal spoke from the heart as she did in this video telling lawmakers that is their responsibility as legislators to protect the freedom and rights of binary and gender non-conforming people.

This is Jose who asked Jayapal some of the best questions. We chatted after the event, and he asked for financial resources for college as well as engineering internship opportunities. I put him in touch with my friend, Kareem who is an engineer at Boeing and with Cooper an education advocate from Seattle Education Access.

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

What Can’t Wait

In April, we discussed What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez.

“Marissa has smarts and plenty of promise, but she’s marooned in a broken-down Houston neighborhood–and in a Mexican immigrant family where making ends meet matters much more than making it to college. When her home life becomes unbearable, Marissa seeks comfort elsewhere–and suddenly neither her best friend or boyfriend can get through to her. 

What Can’t Wait tells the story of one girl’s survival in a world in which family trumps individual success and independence, and self-reliance the only key that can unlock the door to the future.” ~From the publisher

We started off by reviewing our group norms:

  • Be respectful.
  • Everyone gets a fair hearing.
  • Share “air time”.
  • One person speaks at a time. Speak for yourself, not for others.
  • If you are offended or upset, say so, and say why. (Oops & Ouch – “When I heard, I felt.”).
  • You can disagree, but don’t make it personal. Stick to the issue. No name calling or put downs.
  • Everyone helps the facilitator keep us moving and on track.
  • Personal stories stay in the dialogue unless the group decides it’s OK to tell them to other people: What’s shared here stays here. What’s learned here leaves here.
  • Lean into discomfort.
  • Use academic language.

Icebreaker: Choose Your Superpower

After introductions along with sharing pronouns, I passed out cards containing options of super powers such as the ability to travel through time or the ability to stop time. We went around the circle reading our cards, revealing our choices, and explaining why we chose them. Most of the cards were taken from this web site.


Book Club!

Poetry Activity

We read George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From,” together.

“Lyon was Kentucky’s 2015-2016 Poet Laureate and she believes that ‘the question of where you are from reaches deep.‘ She wrote a list of things that describe where she is from, and she turned them into a poem. “

“Where I’m From” is written using different patterns (including repetition of sounds, words, and phrases). Students worked in pairs to identify some of those patterns and then wrote their own poems about where they’re from. Because Lyon used the introductory phrase “I am from” in each line, the students did too.

“I Am From” Poem Template I am from….. Adapted by Levi Romero Inspired by “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon I am from ___________________________________ (an everyday item in your home) from ____________________________ and ____________________________ (products or everyday items in your home) I am from the ___________________________________ (description of your home) ___________________________________ (a detail about your home – a smell, taste, or feel) I am from the___________________________________ (plant, flower, natural item) The ___________________________________ (plant or tree near your home) whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own. I’m from ____________________________ and ____________________________ (a family tradition and family trait) from ____________________________ and ____________________________ (family members) I’m from ____________________________ and ____________________________ (family habits) and from___________________________________.(family habit) I’m from ____________________________ and ____________________________ (things you were told as a child) and ____________________________________ (a song or saying you learned as a child) 5 I’m from___________________________________ (a family tradition) I’m from ____________________________ (place of birth) and ____________________________ (family ancestry, nationality or place) ____________________________ and ____________________________ (family foods) From ___________________________________ (a story about a family member) ___________________________________ (detail about the story or person) ___________________________________ (description of family mementos, pictures or treasures.) ___________________________________ (location of mementos – under my bed, on the wall, in my heart) ___________________________________________________________________________ (more description if needed) ___________________________________________________________________________ (more description if needed)

After our poetry activity we had a great discussion:

1 Unlike the other books in this series, this story follows the protagonist Marisa as she lives a fairly normal life in her Texas hometown. She goes to school, helps her family, has relationship issues, and dreams of going to college. Can everyday people be “heroic” under everyday circumstances? Why or why not? If you think so, give some examples of moments when you see Marisa behaving in ways that you see as heroic. What are the qualities that make up these actions? If you don’t think this is a book about a hero, how would you describe Marisa? Talk about the difference you see between heroism and this character’s actions. 

2 After a fight with her father about her dreams of college, Marisa goes to her boyfriend Alan’s house for comfort (pp. 120-4). In the middle of the night, she tries to initiate sex with Alan, but he stops her (pp. 126-8). Why do you think Marisa tries to have sex with Alan that night? Why do you think he refuses? What role do Marisa and Alan’s circumstances play in their actions—both in the moment, in bed together after Marisa has had a disappointing fight with her dad, and in a larger sense, as young people from a community where poverty and teen pregnancy are common? 

3 After Alan stops her from instigating sex (see Q2), Marisa goes to her sister’s house and is nearly raped by her classmate Pedro (pp. 140-3). Why do you think Marisa is afraid to reveal what happened with Pedro to Alan and others? Again, how do the circumstances around Marisa’s experiences with Pedro shape how you think about this encounter? 

4 Why is it so hard for the adults who care about Marisa—from her mother and father to her math teacher Ms. Ford—to understand her situation? (On her parents, see pp. 27-9, on Ms. Ford, see pp. 62-5.) What social realities do each of them come from, and how are they different from Marisa’s? What do Marisa and some of these adults do to bridge the divides in their social realities and find solutions that make sense to both sides? (For instance, for Ms. Ford, see 106-110; for Marisa’s mother, see 224-6.) 

  1. Why do you think the book is titled What Can’t Wait? What does the title refer to? 
  2. Why does the author include many words or phrases in Spanish throughout the book? What impact does this technique have on you as a reader? How might it affect other readers? 
  3. At first, Marisa is very reluctant to apply to UT. Why is she so cautious, and what changes her mind? 
  4. What does AP Calculus represent for Marisa? How does it influence the decisions she makes? Give an example. 
  5. Describe the connection that Marisa has with her niece Anita. Does this relationship inspire Marisa or hold her back? Explain.
  6. Marisa’s father cannot read and knows little English, her sister got pregnant at seventeen and works at a gas station, and her brother only has a GED. In a family where education is not a priority, what motivates Marisa to work hard and get good grades at school? Be specific. 
  7. Why is Marisa expected to help pay the bills and babysit Anita for long hours after Jose’s “stupid” accident? What makes Marisa responsible for more in her family than her other siblings?
  8. How does Marisa’s home life compare to the experiences of Brenda, Alan, and other characters in the novel? 
  9. In Marisa’s application to UT, she is asked to describe a significant setback, challenge, or opportunity in her life. What challenge does she choose to write about? What other challenges does she face that she did not include in her application? 
  10. After Marisa’s fight with her father and the incident with Pedro, she begins to distance herself from Alan and Brenda. Why? What would you have done in her situation? 
  11. How are marriages and romantic relationships portrayed in the novel? 
  12. Give examples of how family is valued more than education in the Moreno family. Is this similar to or different from the situation in your family? 
  13. What relationship is most important in Marisa’s life? Give examples from the text to support your view. 
  14. What is the significance of the birthmark on Marisa’s cheek? What does it symbolize? 15. Discuss the ending of the book. What feelings does it leave you with in terms of Marisa’s future?
Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment


Binti (Nnedi Okorafor, 2015)
In this award-winning novel, Nnedi Okorafor creates an Afro-futurist world in which the young Himba woman Binti leaves her family and people in order to take a full scholarship at the interplanetary Oomza University. When an alien attack on her transport ship kills all of Binti’s new classmates and leaves her alone with the deadly Meduse, she discovers that objects and traditions from her homeland somehow protect her and make it possible for her to communicate with the enemy. This work is not only a tale of survival, but also of heroic action: at great risk to herself, Binti offers to negotiate between the Meduse and the professors at Oomza University, opening up lines of communication where there had been none before. In the process, she learns about the motivations and culture of the Meduse, and undergoes an enormous transformation that will make her even more of an outsider to her people at the same time as it allows her to build peaceful bridges between species. This nontraditional approach to heroism balances the importance of staying true to your origins with the power of being open to new experiences and flexible in unfamiliar situations.


On February 28th, we discussed Binti.

11:15am: Pizza

11:20-11:30, Ice-breaker: We each drew a “Choices” card (like a “would you rather”), read them off, listed our choice, and explained shy we chose it.

11:30-11:35 Review Group norms: on poster board

11:35-11:40 Interview with author (3:00 – 6:02)

11:40-11:55: Heroism discussion (reviewed the PowerPoint) Heroism theme overview (PPT)

11:55-12 Discussed Himba people and their cultural traditions including their hair rituals and looked at photos in this article.

12-12:25 – Book Discussion (see questions below). 

12:25/12:30 Introduce What Can’t Wait

Video of author (3:40-8:50): 

What Can’t Wait

“Another day finished,gracias a Dios.”

Seventeen-year-old Marisa’s mother has been saying this for as long as Marisa can remember. Her parents came to Houston from Mexico. They work hard, and they expect Marisa to help her familia. An ordinary life—marrying a neighborhood guy, working, having babies—ought to be good enough for her.

Marisa hears something else from her calc teacher. She should study harder, ace the AP test, and get into engineering school in Austin. Some days, it all seems possible. On others, she’s not even sure what she wants.

When her life at home becomes unbearable, Marisa seeks comfort elsewhere—and suddenly neither her best friend nor boyfriend can get through to her. Caught between the expectations of two different worlds, Marisa isn’t sure what she wants—other than a life where she doesn’t end each day thanking God it’s over.

But some things just can’t wait…

Surveys: 12:35-12:40 Students filled out surveys.

Discussion Questions

  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor GENERAL QUESTIONS (FOR ALL SERIES BOOKS) 1 Would you call the protagonist of this book a “hero”? Why or why not? Answering this question may require defining what you think it means to be heroic in the specific context of the novel. Does heroism in this case require being flexible or firm about the character’s previous beliefs (or some combination)?
  • Who or what is the enemy in this novel, if there is one? How do you know? Does the book give you any reasons to sympathize with the antagonist(s) that oppose the main character? If so, find specific moments in the book to discuss. How does the protagonist understand how the “other side” came to have the beliefs and positions that they hold? Does this affect the outcome of the story?

  • When she secretly leaves her family and Himba homeland to attend Oomza University, Binti gives up on the possibility of a “normal” life, including marriage (p. 13). At the same time, she proudly continues her people’s traditions, including wearing otjize, a mixture of flower oil and clay, on her hair and skin. Thinking about Binti’s choices, which do you think takes more courage: leaving behind a comfortable social situation where you have a set place in the world or staying true to your roots in a totally new environment? What surprising protections do her culture and homeland give Binti? How does she use these to create a new kind of identity for herself? (For some suggestions, see pp. 30-1, 39-44, 47-8, 80-1).


  • By the end of the novel, Binti helps negotiate between the Meduse and the professors at Oomza University. She and the Meduse youth Okwu even become friends. But as part of her work as a “harmonizer,” Binti also changes physically: where she used to have hair, she grows okuoko, the tentacles that all Meduse have. How can taking on some of the physical characteristics of the Meduse help Binti serve as a bridge between them and humans? How does it separate her from her own people even more? Do you think that heroes should have to understand the experiences of the other side before they act, or is this an unrealistic expectation? Can heroes truly fit in with their own societies, or are they always outsiders in some way?


  • Binti has been called an example of Afrofuturist writing: a kind of fiction that brings together the history and experiences of African and African-descended people with fantasy and science fiction in order to imagine alternative futures and life possibilities for black individuals and communities. For instance, the Himba are a real people who live in Namibia and Angola who use otjize, but in Binti they are master creators of hyper-advanced technologies. What is the effect of combining “traditional” ideas about African peoples with technologies and ideas that we usually associate with the future, like cutting edge computers and space travel? How is this connected to who we imagine as having the power to shape the future?
  • The author, Nnedi Okorafor, also likes to harmoniously combine plant-based life with sophisticated technology (see pp. 12, 19, 41-2). Does this feel surprising to you? Why or why not? What does your group’s reaction tell you about the kind of relationships we expect between the environment and scientific advances?


Does anyone else think Binti was a little blasé about the whole tentacles growing out of her head thing? I mean, wouldn’t you be freaking out?

how she seemed to not really feel as violated as she should have felt. She dwells a lot on the mass murder of all her new friends, but the genetic modification of her body without consent, not so much… She kind of treats it like a bruise she can just cover up.


How do you interpret treeing?

I’m also kind of curious about this, too. For me, I saw it as a visual calculus of the probability of random things happening. Kind of a more sophisticated version of being pee shy, and remedying it by running over multiplication tables. Binti did it to help her not freak out during moments of anxiety, and I thought that was really cool.

what would your tentacle hair be like? color? texture? thickness or not?

What would make you want to leave your family to go somewhere where you will be most likely discriminated against? Would Binti have had the same education if this had not happened to her?


Do you think Binti’s family will accept her even though she’s essentially changed genetic structure and become a Medusa-human hybrid?


Do you think her family / ancestors expect these type of things to occur (eg. Genetic manipulation by aliens) and that’s part of why they don’t look well upon members who leave?


Has a cover of a book ever made you more intrigued or interested to read it?


I love a good short story/novella, but do you feel this was a complete story? Knowing there are 3 books currently do you feel this is part of a larger novel or does it stand alone? This could also apply to novellas and longer books in general, not just this series.


[I enjoyed Binti a lot but can see both sides of this. I thought it might spark some discussion.]

Posted in Book Club | Leave a comment

March: Book Three

On Thursday, January 31st, we discussed March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell.

march 3 stickers

“By the fall of 1963, the Civil Rights Movement has penetrated deep into the American consciousness, and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is guiding the tip of the spear. Through relentless direct action, SNCC continues to force the nation to confront its own blatant injustice, but for every step forward, the danger grows more intense: Jim Crow strikes back through legal tricks, intimidation, violence, and death. The only hope for lasting change is to give voice to the millions of Americans silenced by voter suppression: “One Man, One Vote.”

To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative campaigns, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and an all-out battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television.

With these new struggles come new allies, new opponents, and an unpredictable new president who might be both at once. But fractures within the movement are deepening … even as 25-year-old John Lewis prepares to risk everything in a historic showdown high above the Alabama river, in a town called Selma.”


We started off our book club by listening to John Legend’s version of “Woke Up This Morning” a freedom song made as a revamp of the old gospel song “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus” from the 1960s. We watched Selma earlier in January and this is one of the songs that was played throughout the film.


For our ice-breaker, we broke into groups, and I asked the question, “If you had the power, what would you do to make a ‘better past’? You could choose an example from your own life, or from history. What would have to happen to make this past better? Who would benefit? Who might lose out? Why?”

We had an interesting discussion about historical figures who have caused great harm, weapons that we wish were never invented, and the institution of slavery, including the long lasting impacts that it continues to have.


Guest Presenter

We had a guest presenter, Belle Archaphorn, the empathy trainer from the Woodland Park Zoo as our guest speaker. She gave us a great overview of what empathy means and how the zoo teaches guests how to be empathetic toward all animals .



Before we started our book discussion we, watched a few quick videos:

Interview with the authors: (.40-2.40) 

“Good Trouble” interview with Congressman John Lewis:

Some of the questions we discussed:

  • What do you see as the reasons why John Lewis and his compatriots felt it was important to remain nonviolent? What happens when you refuse to strike back? How might it be effective? How does it work in the book?

  • Why does LBJ get so upset when Fannie Lou Hammer is giving her testimony? What does he think will happen? Similarly, what happens when the images get out of that woman’s face? How does this incident compare with other instances in which one person is confronted with someone else’s pain?

  • Does the testimony or the footage of the beatings (like Annie Lee Cooper’s on page 165) change minds? Does it change the laws? Why or why not? The civil rights movement is often remembered as a movement that inspired empathy in powerful white people to change their mind. Is that how you would describe what happens here? Why or why not? Why do you think John Lewis and MLK were able to have some success? Who made it happen?

  • On page 192, one marcher advises the other to “maintain eye contact” because “you gotta connect with your attacker’s humanity.” What do you make of this advice? Here, as in All American Boys, seeing becomes the gateway to empathy. One scientist researching this topic has declared that “empathy needs a face.” Do you agree? Can you remember a time in which eye contact changed how you felt about someone? What happened?

  • Malcolm X tells John Lewis when they meet in Africa that the movement should begin to focus on class, rather than race. This has been very difficult to do — people seem to resist feeling connected to others based on shared financial difficulties. What would happen if we did? If people wanted to change poverty for all, what actions would have to be taken? Who would be the victims? Who would be the oppressors?

  • Why might this trilogy be entitled “March”? How many marches can you find depicted or mentioned in March: Book One (front and back covers, pp. 5–9, 19–20, 88, 90–91, 96, 110, 116, 117)? Analyze the multiple meanings, and connotations, of the word march with respect to the “how far we’ve come” theme (p. 19) that runs throughout the frame story. Specifically, how do the actions of Lewis and his comrades exemplify the defining characteristics of marching, such as being resolute, unified, and steady? If the word is usually used to describe the movement of an army, what is the significance of nonviolent groups doing the same? Finally, how might John Lewis’ line “We have to march,” in response to the bombing of the Loobys’ house (p. 116), signal the climax of the book?

  • How does nonviolent resistance as espoused by Gandhi, King, and Lawson (pp. 76–77) work to bring about social change, and how does it compare to other methods? Contrast the violence which opens the book with the emphasis on the “peaceful transition to power” in the 2009 television’s broadcast (p. 14) and the similarly peaceful, largely silent pages (pp. 10-12) that precede it. What is the historical message implied by this contrast?

  • In what ways do Lewis’s religious background and values influence his approach to the struggle for civil rights as well as the movement as a whole (e.g., pp. 8, 27–28, 56, 104)? Do you feel that love of one’s attacker is a requirement for effective nonviolent resistance (p.82), and are there any signs of it in the book (p. 95)?

  • History is often considered to be made up of recorded facts. In contrast, what important role might subjective factors such “dreams” and “fate” play in history, according to March? Trace the theme of wishes, dreams, and the “spirit of history” during the course of the book (pp. 19, 25–26, 50, 73, 87, 113). When the alarm clock on page 13 goes off, in what ways might it signify the end of a nightmare, or the transition from a dream to a reality, in terms of national race relations? Does the inauguration of Barack Obama represent the complete fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, or merely a step?

  • The phrase “law and order” seems to imply that maintaining social order is an important function of police and other law enforcement authorities. But what happens when preserving the existing status quo makes such authorities the instigators of violence rather than those who protect citizens from it (pp. 6, 101)? How should individuals and groups respond when the justice system itself is bent to serve certain positions and interests (p. 107)?

  • What is the relationship between geography, community, and politics in March? As just one example, how does the isolation of the chickens in their henhouse reflect the isolation of Lewis’s family on their farm (pp. 20–22, 28)? What visual elements help convey these ideas? Similarly, how does the trip to Buffalo, with its bright lights and vertical heights (p. 42) that mirror the scale of Lewis’s aspirations for himself and society, illustrate his dawning  sense of possibilities both figuratively and literally (as a Northern city free of the everyday prejudices of the South)? On the other hand, in what ways does the rural community of Alabama exemplify the notion of a tight-knit community despite being spread out geographically (pp. 58, 72)?

  • To practice a crucial skill when reading the memoir form, identify and analyze the “turning points” in John Lewis’s life. Some of these the text’s  language highlights for us, as in “home never felt the same” (p. 66), Jim Lawson’s words signaling a “way out” (p. 78) and “my first arrest” (p. 103). What would you add to such a group? For example, is the attempt to transfer to Troy State (p. 66) a turning point even if does not work out? How do the authors use the visual layout of their pages to emphasize important moments and emotions (for example, by giving a large amount of space to a single image, up to a full page or “splash page”)?

  • The phrase “law and order” seems to imply that maintaining social order is an important function of police and other law enforcement authorities. But what happens when preserving the existing status quo makes such authorities the instigators of violence rather than those who protect citizens from it  (pp. 6, 101)? How should individuals and groups respond when the justice system itself is bent to serve certain positions and interests (p. 107)?

  • What role did economic factors play in the process of desegregation? Specifically, if African Americans had represented a far smaller part of the buying public, do you think tactics such as boycotts and sit-ins would have been as effective? (pp. 59, 83–84, 92–93, 96, 110) What example of economic freedom early in March may have inspired Lewis by providing a model of what racially integrated commerce looks like in practice (pp. 42-45)?

  • How do the events depicted in March connect to your life personally? Discuss with an older family member or friend their memories of the early 1960s and the civil rights movement. Alternatively, is there a modern-day issue for which you might be willing to take a stand? Would you use the same techniques as the Nashville Student Movement, or a different strategy? Has reading March changed your perspective, and if so, how?


After the discussion, we introduced February’s book, Binti.

Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

The Binti Series, Book 1: Binti

Posted in Activism, Awards, Book Club, Graphic Novel, Great Stories Club, Race and Social Justice, YA Literature | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment