Holocaust & WW II Book List for Middle School

Every semester my students are required to read one or more books from a selected list for an outside reading requirement assignment. This year the outside required reading choices have included Common Core text exemplars, graphic novels, and my top picks. For the final out side reading requirement I have teamed up with my social studies teachers to create a book list filled with reading selections about the Holocaust and World War II. Students are currently studying this time period in their history class.

When I shared the book list and assignment with my students I told them that there is still genocide and hate crimes happening in our world today. We must learn from history in order to make a better present and future for everyone. We can never forget what happened in our world during this time.

Following this assignment, and on the cusp of the Passover and Easter holiday, three people were murdered in a suspected hate crime in Kansas City. Lewis Corporon, a retired physician and his fourteen year old grandson were killed in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center. Terri LaManno, a mother of two was shot and killed in the parking lot at a Jewish assisted living facility where she was visiting her mother. The suspected shooter is Fraizer Glenn Miller/ Fraizer Glenn Cross, a founder of the White Patriot Party in the 1980s and active member the Klu Klux Klan. Hate still exists today and even leads to violence as with this tragic event.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states that it is important to teach the Holocaust because studying the Holocaust helps students to:
Understand the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping in any society.

Develop an awareness of the value of pluralism and an acceptance of diversity.

Explore the dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent to the oppression of others.

Think about the use and abuse of power as well as the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and nations when confronted with civil rights violations and/or policies of genocide.

Understand how a modern nation can utilize its technological expertise and bureaucratic infrastructure to implement destructive policies ranging from social engineering to genocide.


There are amazing resources to help teach the Holocaust in your classroom. The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and the educational organization Facing History and Ourselves have an abundance of lesson plans and primary documents to utilize in the classroom.

Below is the book list that I gave to my students.

Please note, this book list could have been about twenty pages, but there were certain books that I left off the list because they are required reading in high school (Night and The Book Thief) or they have been adapted into movies (The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas).

Voices from History: Ideas for a Historical Blog Assignment

In order to help students ask questions and be critical thinking citizens, teachers need to offer assignments (and reading material) that helps students see multiple points of view about people and history. Blogging allows for creative writing, especially in social studies. We want students to step into periods of history and understand different perspectives, experiences, and events.  At the same time tap into the Common Core Writing Standards:

  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.


The assignment described below was used with a unit on colonialism but this assignment can be adapted for any unit in history.  

Here is a Colonial Blog assignment that requires students to take on the identity of an imaginary colonist and write three blog entires explaining their reactions to specific events that angered the colonists. The focus of this assignment is to understand what caused the colonists to revolt against the English. 

First, students are to imagine a character that was living in a colony in 1760. Using data given in class, students select a country of origin, home colony, a religion, a profession, and a name. Students invent a name, age, and family circumstances. The assignment requires students to write a brief biography of their character. This includes: demographic information, family’s history, and a description of life in the colony. 

For the first blog entry, in character, the student is to write about how one of the British acts have affected you. Describe which rights have been violated and how this act changes your life. Tell how you will respond to this act. The following are the British acts during this period: Proclamation, Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Line of 1763, Quartering Act, Boston Tea Party, Sugar Act, Townshend Act, Intolerable Acts. The blog entries are expected to be based on the history of these events and be descriptive. 

The next blog assignment requires students to read the posted blog entries from other students and write a response. Comment on the experience of a fellow colonists. Give advise, sympathize, or ask a question. Tell what happened after your previous response. Tell how one of the British acts has affected you. Describe what is going on in your life, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you will respond to this act. 

The final blog assignment has students read the posted blog entries of the other colonists and write a response. Tell what happened after your previous blog entry and how another British act affected you. Describe what is going on in your life and that of your family, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you plan to respond to this act. 

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I WIll Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate

After three days of tedious testing I feel the need to share this video.

I have mixed feelings about the Common Core aligned New York State test designed by Pearson Assessments.

The 2014 eighth grade exam consisted of a total of twelve reading passages (majority non-fiction), 49 multiple choice reading comprehension questions, eight short responses, and two essays.

Students were asked repeatedly questions about the author’s craft, evidence to support the claim and main idea, the author’s point of view, vocabulary in context, and how the author develops his/her argument or central idea.

The most challenging text was a poem by Newbery awarded author, Laura Amy Schlitz. Her poem, “Edgar’s Falcon,” from Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (2007), about life in an English village in 1255 as told by the local children, was the one text my students lamented about after the exam.

In light of these three exam days, teachers and parents need to remind young people that test scores do not determine their success in life. Our students are more than a number.

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Top Ten Most Common Grammar Mistakes

– As pointed out by my colleague, Peter Gouveia

1. it’s = it is

Example: It’s time you let Grandmother out of the closet (it’s = contraction for it is)

Example: The dog buried its bone in the backyard. (its = possessive case for it)

2. Punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks

Example: As she peered inside the urn, Aunt Mary asked, “What happened to Uncle Henry’s ashes?”

Example: Cousin Phil replied, “I thought that was dust so I sucked it up with the vacuum cleaner”. (incorrect – the period goes before the quotation mark)

3. Avoid common spelling errors

a lot (always two words)

all right (alright is not a word)

lead (pronounced “leed” is present tense – “led’- is the past tense of “lead”)

past (refers to time) 

passed (refers to action – the student “passed” gas)

moot (irrelevant – it’s a “moot” point . . . not “mute” point

than (comparison – notice the “a” in “than” and “comparison”)

then (sequence – notice the “e” in “then” and “sequence”

4. Their vs. there vs they’re

Their is the possessive version (as in “The old man bounced off their windshield.”) Notice: the word “heir” is inside “their,” signifying inheritance . . . the person owns something. Also, it’s the only form of “their” to possess an “i.”

There signifies location (as in “The dog threw up over there.”) Notice: there is a “here” in “there.”

They’re is a contraction for “they are” (as in “They’re not enjoying the baseball game.”)

5. Commas

Use commas to separate words in a list: apples, oranges, and bananas. (Notice a common before the “and.”)

Use commas after introductory phrases and dependent clauses. Example: “When the grape fell off the vine, it let out a little whine.”

Use commas to separate two independent clauses, which are often joined by a “FANBOYS” conjunction – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. These clauses can be divided into two separate and complete sentence. Example: “Grandma was knocked unconscious by a hailstone at the barbecue, but we still managed to have a good time.

6. Subject-verb agreement

Use plural when the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by “and.” Example: “Dolly and Milly are getting Botox.”

Use a singular verb when two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by “or” or “nor.” Example: “Neither the soup or hamburger is appealing.” 

When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by “or” or “nor,” the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer to the verb. Example: “Either Mrs. Panzier or her students are making cupcakes for Diversity Day.”

Don’t be fooled when phrases come between the subject and verb! Pretend they are not there! Example: “Mr. Smith, as well as his students, is excited to learn about fungi!”

7. Me, myself, and I

Do not begin a sentence with “me.”

Incorrect: Please buy a large popcorn for yourself and I.

Correct: Please buy a large popcorn for yourself and me.

(Omit the “yourself and” from the sentence to determine which pronoun is needed.)

Incorrect: Him and I lost a few toes to frostbite.

Correct: He and I lost a few toes to frostbite.

(You wouldn’t day “Him lost a few toes to frostbite.”)

To emphasize or contrast”

“Paul knows everyone, but I myself am new here.”

“Your sister has blue eyes, but you yourself have brown eyes.”

When you’re doing something to yourself:

“I ask myself, “Why do faculty meeting last so long.”

“You set high standards for yourself.”

8. Use correct words and phrases

“Due to” modifies nouns and is generally used after some form of the verb to be (am, is are, was were). Example: “The teacher’s success in the classroom is due to her excellent rapport with her students.” (“due to” modified success)

“Because of” modifies verbs. Example: “The custodian resigned because of poor health.” (“because of” modified resigned)

Use the word “amount” to refer to the quantity of something that is measured as a whole, not by its individual contents. Example: “The amount of homework give to sixth graders is appropriate.”

Use the word “number,” as the name suggests, to refer t something that has a clearly defined count associated with it. Example: “The number of assignments the student did not do was appalling!”

Similarly, use “little” and “less” when discussing singular subjects; use “few” and “fewer” when discussing plural subjects. Example: “I will drink less milk and eat fewer cookies.” “Even though I spent less money on this past vacation, I still have fewer dollars in my wallet!”

Bad vs. Badly: IF you feel sadness or disappointment, you should say, “I feel bad.”

When you say, “I feel badly,” you are actually saying, “I am not able to feel well with my hands, probably because I burnt them while taking the casserole out of the oven without any oven mitts on.” (“Badly” is an adverb that modifies “feel”)

9. Stop runaway sentences!

Run on sentences are two sentences without proper punctuation. Commas by themselves, however, do not join sentences. To join two sentences, you must have a conjunction separating the two independent clauses. (Once again, think FANBOYS)

RIGHT The student was using a cell phone is the hall. It was confiscated.

RIGHT The student was using a cell phone in the hall, and it was confiscated.

WRONG The student was using a cell phone in the hall, it was confiscated. (This is known as a “common splice.”)

10. Put apostrophes in their place

It is important to understand where to place apostrophes, especially when you are focusing on possession. You must first determine if the owner of the object(s) is singular or plural.

The teacher’s room (one room owned by one teacher)

The teachers’ room (one room owned by more than one teacher)

Usually, this is rather simple because the apostrophe goes before the “s” when the owner is singular and after the “s” when the owner of the object(s) is plural.

The rules still apply even when the word ends in an “s.” 

The bus’s tires (tires belonging to one bus)

The buses’ tires (tires belonging to more than one bus)



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Media Literacy in Action: Teaching Critical Thinking and Digital Citizenship

This Friday I will be presenting at the Media Literacy Research Symposium at Fairfield University’s Dolan Business School. Below is a summary of my presentation and resources for teaching media literacy and digital citizenship.

Media literacy entails being able to read, review, reflect, and react to all media, both print and electronic. Today’s information and entertainment technologies communicate to us through a powerful combination of words, images, and sounds. Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills that empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, living room, the workplace, or the voting booth.

Media Savvy Kids was designed to expand the notion of literacy to include the ability to read, analyze, evaluate, and produce communications in a variety of media texts. Throughout the elective, students have the opportunity to examine how mass media is constructed and produced, and discuss how mass media shapes our understanding of the world. The elective focuses on all aspects of the media including movies, television, song lyrics, the print media, and due to the predominance of digital media, the internet and social media.

Media Literacy is essential in our globally digital world. Students are spending more and more time accessing, utilizing,and contributing to media through their mobile devices, tablets, and computers. Schools need to address media literacy across the content area in order to support students and address the Common Core Learning Standards alongside the International Society Technology Standards. If students are to positively participate in our digital and global society, media literacy is as necessary as reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking.

Global collaborative projects lend themselves to poignant conversations about digital citizenship. The purpose of the global collaborative project is to educate and promote responsible online choices as well as immersing students in an online educational community for learning and collaboration. Students collaborate researching and writing a report using a wiki and create a school-based action project that is documented on the wiki.

In our technologically advanced world today, digital citizenship can mean a lot of things. Students need to engage in conversations around these topics so they can make good decisions as digital citizens when it comes to etiquette and respect, responsibility and safety.


Additional Resources for Media Literacy & Digital Citizenship:

Media Education Foundation

Project LookSharp (Ithaca College)


New Mexico Literacy Project

Listen Up: Youth Media Network (PBS)

Paley Center for Media (NYC)

Museum for the Moving Image

Media Smarts (Formerly the Media Awareness Network)

Common Sense Media

Google Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum

Flat Connections Global Projects

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Dystopian Worlds: Mash Up & Unit Overview

This week I am beginning a new literature unit, dystopian literature circles. Due to the success of The Hunger Games and the forthcoming Divergent series, my students will select to read one of the following three dystopian novels for our next unit of study:

The Giver by Lois Lowery
Unwind by Neil Shusterman
Animal Farm by George Orwell

To begin the unit, I am starting by changing the rules in my classroom and then have students react and reflect on the rule changes in the classroom. I will introduce the idea of a dystopia and give a book talk about each of the book choices.

Day 2 Pre-Reading Activity consists of a lesson on key themes in dystopian literature

Day 3 Pre-Reading Activity students will complete a QR Code Quest addressing dystopian ideas presented in poetry, music, and art.

Day 4 Pre-Reading Activity is a non fiction text pairing with an article by Rebecca Solnit about the similarities between The Hunger Games and the current political climate today. The main idea presented in the article is that for as much as science fiction and dystopian literature is about the future, it always turns out to be very much about the present.

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You’re Invited to a Party: Character Analysis & To Kill a Mockingbird

You are cordially invited to tea with Aunt Alexandra!

These past two months my students have been reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  To help students understand the different experiences and perspectives of all characters involved, there needed to be some sort of activity that would allow my students to “walk in another person’s shoes,” as Atticus Finch told his daughter Scout in the beginning of the novel.  

Throughout the novel the reader only hears Scout’s voice.  However, after the traumatic occurrences that the Maycomb community experienced, it was important that the community members come together to share their own points of view.  After all, so many people have so many different sides of the story to tell.  So, on this VERY rare occasion, students had the opportunity to dine and delight with ALL of the Maycomb citizens. Yes, my students became the characters and community members in To Kill a Mockingbird to gain a deeper understanding of each and every character in the novel.

Image      Image

To prepare for this activity, students chose a character to get to know especially well.  Students were to BECOME this character in style, demeanor, dress, speech, ideas, and point of view. 

This required some close rereading of the text. Students were asked to search throughout the book and find five different quotes that highlight different aspects of their character.

Then, students wrote a diary entry explaining information about themselves: occupation, something about family or personal life, accomplishments or achievements, what the character is known for, and how the character feels about the trial. Students were asked to explain how the trial affected the character personally, indirectly and directly. In addition, students answered the following questions:

What do you want to see happen in your town now? 

What message/lesson do you feel people have learned, if any? 

Do you predict changes or status quo? Explain.

Before the actual tea party, students were asked to prepare a series of questions they would want to ask other characters in the novel.  If given the chance to talk one on one with these people, what would that character like to know?  Students were to come up with at least 10 questions to ask, and write them on a notecard and bring the notecard to the tea party.

The day of the tea party students were to come in a realistic costume and with a prop the character would bring along. Students also  prepares an authentic Southern dish or drink for this social hour.  


  2. When Aunty says “Mingle” you should shift to speak to another person at the tea.  Your goal is to meet as many people as possible.
  3. You must ALWAYS stay in character.
  4. Keep in mind basic Southern rules of politeness; even mortal ENEMIES wouldn’t make a big scene at the Finch home.

This activity was originally shared with me by a colleague and I have adapted some of it for my students.  He first found this idea online. 

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Using the Common Core Standards to Inform Instruction

The Common Core Learning Standards cover this much:

I ——————————————————————————————————————————————————— I

The Common Core aligned assessments cover less than half of the CCL standards:

I ———————————————————– I

And, the state releases a small amount of the test for teachers and administrators to analyze:

I ——————– I

Also keep in mind, what gets tested is not always the most important.

This afternoon I attended a research seminar led by Dr. Brenda Myers, Superintendent of Valhalla Schools and former Superintendent of Groton Central School District both in New York State. Myers is an applied researcher in the areas of teaching, learning, and leadership development. The aim of the research seminar was to analyze the New York State English Language Arts test items to determine (1) the cognitive demand and instructional implications of the test; (2) the predictability and alignment of the test items to the Common Core Learning Standards; and (3) effective learning strategies for using the score reports and sample items to improve instruction.

Here is what I will do as a result of attending the seminar:

Teachers need to understand the standards in order to apply the standards in their classrooms. It is one thing to give teachers a copy of the CCLS and have the Core App on an iPad, it is another thing to ask teachers to create their own cheat sheet for the standards by grade level work. First, I will have teachers go through the standards and record the standards that they are already covering in their classrooms and what are the standards that they have been ignoring. Second, I will require that teachers create their own one page document of the grade level standards relevant to their classroom instruction.

During departmental meetings teachers need to have grade level conversations about what we want students to know and do, how teachers will teach and how students will be assessed. Teachers need to make sure they are covering all the standards including speaking, listening, and collaboration. Many teachers are teaching to the test, and teachers must be careful of how much of their understanding of the standards is based on the state aligned assessments.

Look at the New York State released ELA test questions aligned with the CCLS: What are students expected to know? What are students expected to do? Where might they find difficulty within the reading passage or the question itself? Identify the standard that the test question is addressing, the distractors in the questions and answers, and the skill being tested. Collaborate with other teachers to create a toolbox of instructional practices to help support our students as readers, writers, and critical thinkers.

Try giving students three questions about a text and have them write out their answers. Then, the following day, give students the same questions as multiple choice questions and let them use their original answers to help them answer the multiple choice questions. This strategy helps students do their own item analysis and identify the plausibility of distractors.

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I Heart Interactive Foldables: A Symbolism Flip Book

I love taking lessons taught in previous years and turning them into a complex foldable for my students’ English Interactive Notebooks. The Interactive Notebooks are a used for all notes and important information about reading and writing. The foldables allow for students to interact with the information, help understand the content thoroughly, and apply what they learned during activities and assessments. 

This week  we are finishing one of our core texts, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I wanted to address symbolism in the novel.  Rather than present a Prezi or give my students a worksheet, I created a mini symbolism flip book with the different types of symbolism throughout the novel.  And because I don’t just want my students copying my notes directly into their notebooks,I added QR codes on a few pages of the flip book for students to search the symbolic elements and their meanings from the text.






The flip book addresses symbolism of names, animals, and elements in nature.  The elements in nature cover the seasons, plants and trees, and fire.  I added the image of the bird on the front of the flip book for an added effect suggesting the title of the text and the symbolic nature of birds throughout the novel. 

The Common Core Learning Standards require that students be able to determine the meaning of symbols and literary devices when discussing a text. This lesson helps students understand the meaning of symbols throughout the text and read about their significance and order to understand Harper Lee’s intentions, deeper meaning, and themes. 

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Graphic Novel Book List & Projects for Middle School Students

Each quarter my students choose an outside reading book based on a theme that I have chosen. The first quarter were teacher recommendations, the second quarter was Common Core exemplar texts, and this quarter I have selected graphic novels.  My students will have six weeks to read a text from the list below and then choose to complete one of the projects from a differentiated choice menu.

Thanks to many recommendations by other educators and perusing Amazon.com, here is a list of graphic novels for middle school students:

Journey into Mohawk Country adapted by George O’Connor is the diary of Dutch explorer Harman Van den Bogaert’s 1634 journey among the Mohawk people in what is now northern New York State and Ontario.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis is the exploration of the life and ideas of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell and his quest for absolute truth.

T- Minus by Jim Ottaviani is a narrative of the United States’ and Soviet Union’s race to the moon in which the engineers and mathematicians are as much the heros as and astronauts.

Clan Apis (Active Synapse) follows the life of a single bee. In doing so, the reader learns how ecosystems work, why life cycles are important and why the food chain is vital.

Dignifying Science by Jim Ottaviani spotlights several pioneering female scientists. Do you know who Marie Curie, Heddy Lammar, Rosalyn Franklyn are? Read this graphic novel to find out about the numerous women who have made a critical impact on science and our understanding of the world. 

Laika by Nick Abadzis spotlights the Soviet dog who was the first animal to orbit the earth and the female scientist who took care of him. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal moment in modern history, casting light on the hidden moments of deep humanity behind history.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang Chronicles the story of  two young men: Jin Wang and The Monkey King. Jin is the only Chinese-American student at his new school. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other?

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow  by James Sturm Baseball Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1905? – 1982) changed the face of the game in a career that spanned five decades.  Much has been written about this larger-than-life pitcher, but when it comes to Paige, fact does not easily separate from fiction.  He made a point of writing his own history…and then re-writing it.  A tall, lanky fireballer, he was arguably the Negro League’s hardest thrower, most entertaining storyteller and greatest gate attraction.

 To Dance, a Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel Dancers are young when they first dream of dance. Siena was six — and her dreams kept skipping and leaping, circling and spinning, from airy runs along a beach near her home in Puerto Rico, to dance class in Boston, to her debut performance on stage with the New York City Ballet.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland.

Cardboard by Doug Tennapel Cam’s father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever. So, to make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life. But the neighborhood bully, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all!

Brain Camp by Susan Kim is an old fashion scare story about two kids who form a friendship at a camp where strange things are happening among them.

Epileptic by David B is his autobiography about growing up with an epileptic brother. In search of a cure, their parents dragged the family to acupuncturists and magnetic therapists, to mediums and macrobiotic communes. But every new cure ended in disappointment as Jean-Christophe, after brief periods of remission, would only get worse. An honest and horrifying portrait of the disease and of the pain and fear it sowed in the family.

 Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations. They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally.

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she’s having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri In 1994, in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, a 14-year-old girl named Shavon Dean was killed by a stray bullet during a gang shooting. Her killer, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, was 11 years old. Neri recounts Yummy’s three days on the run from police (and, eventually, his own gang) through the eyes of Roger, a fictional classmate of Yummy’s. Roger grapples with the unanswerable questions behind Yummy’s situation, with the whys and hows of a failed system, a crime-riddled neighborhood, and a neglected community. How could a smiling boy, who carried a teddy bear and got his nickname from his love of sweets, also be an arsonist, an extortionist, a murderer?

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