I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

Courtesy of FCPS TLC

“I’d never heard of Zimbabwe. But something about the way the name looked up on the blackboard intrigued me. It was exotic, and difficult to pronounce. It was also the last country in a long list that Mrs. Miller had written in chalk. She asked each student in my seventh-grade English class to pick one place for a pen pal program our school was starting that year.

Alfirenka, Caitlin and Ganda, Martin; with Welch, Liz. I will always write back: How one letter changed two lives.  Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 387 pages. Hardcover. $18.00, ISBN 978-0-316-24131-1

From School Library Journal courtesy of Amazon.com

Gr 6 Up—The true story of two young pen pals who forge a life-altering connection. In 1997, Caitlin, a typical 12-year-old girl from a middle class American family, began writing to Martin, a studious 14-year-old from a Zimbabwe slum. In her letters, Caitlin described her life, which consisted of shopping trips, quarrels with friends, and problems at school. Martin was initially far more circumspect in his responses. Inflation had rocketed in Zimbabwe, and even finding money for postage was a struggle for the boy. Staying in school, which required paying costly fees, became merely a dream. Eventually, Martin revealed the harsh realities of his life to Caitlin, who began sending money and gifts. What started as chatty letters turned into a lifeline for Martin and his family, as Caitlin and her parents helped the boy stay in school and achieve his goal of studying at an American university. This is a well-written, accessible story that will open Western adolescents’ eyes to life in developing countries. Told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view, this title effectively conveys both of these young people’s perspectives. Caitlin’s early chapters, however, in which she discusses friendship and boyfriend woes, feel somewhat superficial compared with Martin’s genuinely troubled life. While these chapters provide an effective contrast between the two teens’ lives, they may discourage some readers from continuing with what becomes a strong and inspiring story. VERDICT A useful addition to most collections and an eye-opening look at life in another culture.—Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand

Want to hear Caitlin and Martin discuss their book? Bloomberg has a great interview.

Bloomberg Interview

Bloomberg Interview

  • 2015 Parents’ Choice Book Awards: Nonfiction, Silver
  • 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 6–8
  • 2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Young Adult Nonfiction


Courtesy of Amazon.com

Liz Welch (image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Courtesy of Amazon.com

Caitlin Alifirenka (image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Courtesy of Amazon.com

Martin Ganda (image courtesy of Amazon.com)









Caitlin’s Twitter

Martin’s Twitter


Liz’s Twitter





All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

“‘Whaaaaa? What was going on? He was accusing me of things that hadn’t even happened! Like, he couldn’t have been talking to me. I wanted to turn around to check and make sure there wasn’t some other kid standing behind me, stuffing chips in his backpack or something, but I knew there wasn’t.

Reynolds,Jason and Kiely, Brendan. All American Boys.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015. 336 pages. Paperback. $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-8990-4

From School Library Journal

“Gr 8 Up—Rashad Butler is a quiet, artistic teen who hates ROTC but dutifully attends because father insists “there’s no better opportunity for a black boy in this country than to join the army.” He heads to Jerry’s corner store on a Friday night to buy chips, and ends up the victim of unwarranted arrest and police brutality: an event his white schoolmate Quinn Collins witnesses in terrified disbelief. Quinn is even more shocked because the cop is Paul Galluzzo, older brother of his best friend and Quinn’s mentor since his father died in Afghanistan. As events unfold, both boys are forced to confront the knowledge that racism in America has not disappeared and that change will not come unless they step forward. Reynolds and Kiely’s collaborative effort deftly explores the aftermath of police brutality, addressing the fear, confusion, and anger that affects entire communities. Diverse perspectives are presented in a manner that feels organic to the narrative, further emphasizing the tension created when privilege and racism cannot be ignored. Timely and powerful, this novel promises to have an impact long after the pages stop turning. VERDICT Great for fostering discussions about current events among teenage audiences. A must-have for all collections.—Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal”

Link to Amazon.com
Link to Worldcat.org


Available in:


All American Boys is a One Maryland One Book for 2016. This is a program in which people all across the state of Maryland read and discuss the same book. For more information go to the Maryland Humanities website. You can also read more on their Facebook page.

Want to read an more about how the book came about – Read this article from NPR?



  • 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book
  • Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature
Courtesy of @JasonReynolds83

Courtesy of @JasonReynolds83

Jason Reynold’s Twitter




HRS Brendan Kiely

Courtesy of brendankiely.com

 Brendan Kiely’s Website,
and Twitter

© Chris Peeler 2013