Book Annotations and Discussion Questions Written by Renata Sancken
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Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.


Arnold Spirit (aka Junior) is a young misfit on the Spokane Indian Reservation who finds solace in drawing cartoons. The only thing that could make him more of a misfit would be if he transferred to a nearby all-white public high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. But he’s determined to stick it out there and get a better education, so he relies upon his family and his sense of humor to get through the school year, despite facing harrassment and personal tragedies.


  1. Before you read this book, what was your impression of Indian reservations? Did reading it change your impression?
  2. How do you interpret the book’s title? Is Junior really a “Part-Time Indian”? Is his story “Absolutely True”?
  3. For me, one of the most surprising scenes in the book was the way Roger and Penelope reacted to learning that Junior lives in poverty. Often in books and movies, “popular” characters scorn low-income characters. Was this scene surprising to you? Was it realistic?
  4. Junior talks very frankly about race and, particularly, what white people are like. How did you feel about his assessment of white people? Of his tribe?
  5. Junior says, “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” Can you think of other books or movies that have a different attitude about poverty? Which do you think is true?

Hijuelos, Oscar. Dark Dude. New York: Atheneum, 2008.

Growing up in Harlem in the 1960s, Rico Fuentes fits in nowhere. His Cuban-American heritage means he doesn’t fit in with the white kids, but his light skin means he doesn’t fit in with the Latino or black kids. So Rico runs away to work on a farm in Wiconsin, where he makes some new friends and gains a new perspective on his culture.


  1. Both Rico and Junior from Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian find escape in creating comics. What role do comics play in their lives? Do you like to read comics or graphic novels? If so, what about them appeals to you?
  2. This book takes place in the 1960s. Do Rico’s struggles for acceptance feel relevant to you? How do you think this story would be different if it were set in modern-day?
  3. Rico relates very strongly to Huckleberry Finn. He says, “If you ever end up cutting out from a place, or even think about it, like I did from New York City, you suck up that Huck Finn story—with all the stuff about ‘lightin’ out’—like it’s your own.” Have you read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Did you enjoy it or relate to it? What novels do you most relate to?
  4. Gilberto’s farm attracts a strange community of people. What purpose do these characters play in the novel? In Rico’s life? Did you have a favorite character?
  5. The book ends before Rico actually returns to New York. What do you think he does when he gets back? How has he changed from his time in Wisconsin? How do you think he would have changed if he had gone to military school?


Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. New York: Orchard Books, 2006.


Jamie is a blonde, blue-eyed Australian teen who just wants to blend in at school. Jamilah is a Lebanese Muslim girl who plays the darabuka drums in an Arabic music band. Unbeknowst to her classmates, Jamie and Jamilah are the same person. But how much longer can Jamilah hide her culture from her classmates? And would it really be so bad if her friends knew she was a Muslim?


  1. This is the first book we’ve read that doesn’t take place in the USA. Based on this novel, how different or similar is the way immigrants are treated in Australia to the way they are treated in the U.S.? Particularly, how does the way that Muslims are treated in Australia correlate with the way they are treated in the U.S.?
  2. Why is Jamie so afraid to have people come over to her house? Are there things your parents do that embarrass you when your friends come over?
  3. Did you think it was plausible that Jamilah could so completely hide her heritage at school? If you wanted to hide your religion or culture at school, what things would you have to avoid mentioning?
  4. Jamilah says, “The only introduction most people have to my Lebanese Muslim culture is through headlines about terrorists under pictures of men with unibrows, missing teeth, back hair, and guns.” What do you know about Lebanon? About Islam? Did reading this book change your perception of that culture?
  5. Both Jamilah and Junior from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian face stereotypes about their cultures at public school. Do you think that Jamilah and Junior would be friends if they went to the same school? Why or why not?


Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.


Time are hard on the Paquette family dairy farm, and Tyler’s father hires a few migrant Mexican workers to help out. The new workers make Tyler nervous—are they here legally? Are they going to cause trouble? Despite his fear, he finds himself making friends with Mari, the daughter of one of the workers. Tyler and Mari have a lot they can teach each other, provided they can get past their differences.


  1. How would you react if you found out that your parents were hiring undocumented workers on their farm?
  2. Do you relate to Tyler’s fears about homeland security? Do you think undocumented workers are dangerous?
  3. How do Tyler and Maria relate to Tyler’s grandmother? What kind of relationship do you have with your grandparents?
  4. Tyler’s grandfather said, “We Paquettes came down from Canada back in the 1800s. Nobody but nobody in American got here—excepting the Indians—without somebody giving them a chance.” How did Tyler react to hearing this? What do you think about it?
  5. Do you think this book is a realistic portrayal of the lives of undocumented workers? Have you read or seen other books or movies about undocumented workers that you can connect with Return to Sender?
  6. Before reading this book, had you heard of Operation Return to Sender? Do you agree with the premise of the act—a “massive sweep” of illegal immigrants, intended to focus on dangerous criminals? To date, over 23,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested through this act.

Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. New York: Atheneum, 2006.

Nadira’s family came to the United States from Bangladesh to try to make a new life for themselves. Their visas expired, but they stayed on, hoping to make things work. Unfortunately, Nadira’s father is arrested under suspicion of being a terrorist. Nadira knows he’s innocent, but can she find a way to prove it before INS forces her family to return to a country she and her sister barely remember?


  1. How does Ask Me No Questions’ portrayal of illegal aliens differ from the one found in Return to Sender? How do you think the Homeland Security-obsessed Tyler from Return to Sender would react to having Muslim illegal aliens at his school?
  2. Nadira says, “We’re not the only illegals at our school. We’re everywhere. You just have to look. A lot of the kids here were born elsewhere—Korea, China, India, the Dominican Republic. You can’t tell which ones aren’t legal. ... To find us you have to pick up on the signals. It might be in class when a teacher asks a personal question, and a kid gets this funny, pinched look in his eyes. Or some girl doesn’t want to give her address to the counselor.” On a day-to-day basis, how do you think life is different for students who are illegal aliens? 
  3. Nadira and Aisha react to their possible deportment in very different ways. Do both reactions seem realistic to you? Which sister did you relate to more, and why?
  4. In her valedictorian speech, Aisha says, “We were the people you don’t always see, flashing our polite smiles, trimming hedges, parking your cars in lots, doing the night shift. You needed us and we needed you. And then one day two planes came and smashed into two towers. … Overnight, we, the invisible people, became visible. We became dangerous.” What are your memories of September 11th? As children, did you perceive any shift in the way immigrants were treated?
  5. Ten Things I Hate About Me and Ask Me No Questions both have Muslim protagonists. How would you compare Jamilah’s faith with Nadira’s faith?


Myers, Walter Dean. Slam. Scholastic: 1996.


Greg “Slam” Harris is a great basketball player. He’s also one of the only black students at his high school. He knows he can play college ball—if he can keep his grades up. But how can he get colleges to be interested in him if his coach won’t ever put him in a game? And with everything that’s going on in his family and his neighborhood, will Slam even make it to graduation?


1.     This story uses a lot of slang. Is it slang that you use? Did it make this story easier or harder to understand? Why do you think the author wrote this book in this style?

2.     Slam is one of a handful of minority students at a primarily white school, and he thinks he got in “when they had all the fuss about getting more black kids to go to the magnet schools.” How diverse would you rate your school? What effect do you think diversity has on classroom learning?

3.     Why do you think Coach didn’t play Slam as a starter, even though he was the team’s best player? Do you agree with his decision?

4.     Goldy tells Slam,”If science is your life, then you got to love science and do science with everything you have. If basketball is what you’re about then that’s what you got to do. You have to keep your eyes open and see what’s going on around you, of course. But what you do you got to do it to the max. ... When you are doing what you love, you got to bust it. And when you do, it works. I can’t tell you how it works, but it does.” Do you agree with this? What do you love to do?

5.     When Margie and Karen see Slam’s video about his neighborhood, they call it “the ghetto.” How does that make Slam feel? What do you think Margie’s homelife is like compared to Slam’s? What is Ice’s homelife like compared to Slam’s? And how do these differences play out in the way they act at school?



Wright, Bil. When the Black Girl Sings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008.


Lahni Schuler is the only black student at her exclusive prep school. Adopted by white parents, she’s also the only black person in her family. Struggling to fit in with school and to cope with her parents’ divorce, Lahni and her mother start attending church for the first time. Lahni finds unexpected inspiration in the gospel choir, and she starts finding her own voice.


1.     Like Slam from Slam, Lahni is one of few minorities at her school. Unlike Slam, she’s also adopted. How do you think Lahni would be different if she had been raised by her birth parents?

2.     Do you think Lahni would have been happier if her parents had let her transfer back to public school at the beginning of the book? How would her life have been different?

3.     What did you make of the character Harry/Onyx 1, who “positively thinks he’s a black guy”? Did your opinion of him change over the course of the novel?

4.     The Church of the Good Shephard plays a big part in Lahni’s life. Would you describe her as a particularly religious person? If not, what else do you think draws her to church?

5.     How does Lahni’s self-image change after she meets Carietta? What role do Carietta and Marcus play in Lahni’s life?



Yoo, David. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before. New York: Hyperion, 2008.


Albert Kim does not fit in at school. By the end of sophomore year he’s given up trying to make friends and has declared himself an intentional loser. That changes over the summer when he finds himself working side-by-side with pretty, popular Mia Stone. Unbelievably, by the end of the summer he and Mia are “something.” Unfortunately, Mia’s ex-boyfriend Ryan is diagnosed with cancer, and the whole school rallies behind him. How can a healthy nerd like Albert compete?

  1. Albert makes jokes about how stereotypically “Asian” his parents are. How is his homelife different from that of his white peers? What does Albert mean when he says “Asian”?
  2.  Upon moving to Massachusetts, Albert wonders, “Why couldn’t we have moved to Southern California, where I’d been told that almost everyone’s Asian? Plus I was skinny, shy, and my hair was too stiff to feather properly like the Smith kids’ across the street.” How do you think Albert’s high school experience would be different if his family had moved to a neighborhood with more Asian-Americans?
  3. Albert says of his parents, “The pressure to excel and meet the standards established by society of what ‘success’ is are a thousand times more rigid and intense when you’re raised by Korean parents. This is the result of the typical distorted immigrant perspective how life really is in the States. I’m sure it applies not just to Asians but to any foreigner from any ethnicity who comes to this country.” How does Albert’s experience compare to that of Nadira from Ask Me No Questions, or Maria’s from Return to Sender?
  4. Albert clearly has trouble fitting in at his high school. To what does he attribute his misfit status? Do you think he has a clear view of himself? If not, why do you think Albert has trouble fitting in at school?
  5. How did Albert react to seeing the video of himself at the Walk for Cancer? Have you ever had an experience where you realized it seemed very different to those watching it than it felt to you at the time?

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