Monday, October 16, 2017

Restart

Argh, I wrote a review of Gordon Korman's Restart, and then lost the paper where I wrote it. Mommy brain strikes again!

I enjoyed this story of bullying written from a unique angle: Chase wakes up in a hospital after falling off his roof. He has amnesia and needs to relearn everything about his recent life. As he does, Chase realizes that he is a bully and that most of the people in his life fear him. While he doesn't want to be a mean person, Chase learns that not everyone is quick to believe that he has changed. Even worse, what happens when he feels his old rotten instincts kicking in?

Gordon Korman books are always in a hit in my classroom and Restart will be no exception. While some of the characters are broad enough to be considered stereotypes, the main characters are thoughtful representations. Best of all, we get the insight of a bully in a fresh way.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Once and For All

I love Sarah Dessen's books. There is something so comforting about settling into a romance set in Colby, NC that has all of Dessen's excellent touches. Her thirteenth novel, Once and For All, follows the classic blueprint for her books, although this one is slightly different. As in her last novel, Dessen seems to be going for a darker tone. I think many of her fans will be disappointed, but I like that she is challenging herself and her readers.

Although she works for her mother's wedding planning company, Louna has given up on love after a tragedy with her first boyfriend. She doesn't want to risk getting hurt again, even when there is an appealing possible boyfriend right in front of her. I wish that I had liked Louna and Ambrose a bit more. Then I would have been rooting for them to get together rather than waiting for the inevitable.

My favorite part of the book was a line from Ambrose, saying, "The bottom line is, all anyone really wants from another person is their attention. It's so easy to give and counts for so much. It's stupid not to do it." That's a beautiful thing to keep in mind as we go through life. I hope that this is a takeaway for teen readers as much as it was for me.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

I stayed up all night reading Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequited.  As the parent of an infant who is in desperate need of sleep, this is the highest praise I can give a book. I mostly read board books these days, but had been waiting for something new from Albertalli, whose previous book I adored.

Molly is seventeen and feels like she will never fall in love. Sure, she's had plenty of crushes, but nothing has ever come of it. It doesn't help that her twin sister finds love easily. It also doesn't help that she is self-conscious about being overweight. It seems like she is doomed to a loveless existence, when there is suddenly possibility everywhere. Will she be able to get over herself to take advantage?

Albertalli has an incredible voice that makes me greedy for her words, similar to the way I feel about Jenny Han or Sarah Dessen's writing. I love how inclusive her novels are: Molly has two moms, her sister is gay and dating a pansexual girl, and there are many different races represented. So many different readers will see themselves in this book, and Molly has the most authentic voice for an overweight character. I was so excited to read this and am now tapping my foot, waiting for whatever Albertalli writes next.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

I feel like I've been waiting forever for a new Jenny Han book. I love all her novels and was so happy to get the end of Lara Jean's saga. As always, Han's writing is beautifully descriptive and she has created a world that I want to stay in, eating Lara Jean's cookies and laughing at her irrepressible sister Kitty.

Lara Jean is having an incredible senior year: she is dating her first love, is awaiting admission to her dream college, and is eagerly planning her father's wedding. But life never goes according to plan, even when you are super organized.

The character of Lara Jean fascinates me, maybe because we are so different. She loves all the little details that make up a moment, the fashion extras like lace gloves and hair ribbons, the small variations from changing a recipe. I wanted to keep reading more and was sad when it was over. While Han said she won't write about Lara Jean again, I can hold out hope that she will write a book about Kitty someday!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Saving Red

I adore Sonya Sones and am always excited to read a new novel in verse by her. I hadn't heard about Saving Red when it came out last year, but was eager to find it when a Goodreads friend posted about it. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to my other favorite books by her.

While doing volunteer work, Molly meets a homeless girl named Red who is wild and spirited. Trying to make amends with a trauma in her past, Molly decides to get Red back home in time for the holidays. As she gets closer to Red, Molly realizes that she is mentally ill, not free-spirited. Undeterred, Molly learns a lot about Red, but even more about her own family.

I didn't connect with the characters in this novel the way I usually do with Sones' work. Still, I appreciated that the book shows the spectrum of mental illness and different ways that people cope with tragedy. I think it will be eye-opening for young readers who haven't read much about mental illness before. It's a soft introduction to a heavy topic.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Cod's Tale

I grew up in Massachusetts and spent many summers on Cape Cod, but never gave much thought to the name's provenance. It was only when I read Mark Kurlansky's World Without Fish that I realized the waters where I swam used to be filled with giant, ugly cod. I loved Kurlansky's deep dive into overfishing, so I checked out the audiobook version of his children's book, The Cod's Tale.

Who knew how important this fish was to the history of the world, the development of many countries, and the growth of various industries? I was fascinated by what I learned. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, but I think the intended audience of young readers will want to have the book handy for the illustrations. This is a masterful piece of nonfiction writing that belongs in school libraries.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Animal Picture Books

I teach sixth grade, but am known around my school for being a prolific reader, which get me on committees such as Book Week and Summer Reading. I've been trying to expand my picture book reading so I can better recommend to the younger set. I recently read two awesome animal-related books that I had to share.

The first is Emily Jenkins' A Greyhound A Groundhog, which is all about the "ound" phonics. This fun and clever text has beautiful illustrations by Chris Applehans and a tongue twisting rhythm that will leave readers giggling. Best of all, they won't realize that they are practicing a challenging vowel pattern, over and over again. I wrote to our PYP Coordinator, asking her when this pattern is learned, because this book will definitely be recommended to that age group.


Brendan Wenzel's They All Saw a Cat is a book that I want added to our school's library. There are too few words for a summer reading list, but the message in this book is great: we all have different perspectives and see things differently.

The book follows a cat and the illustrations show how different things see the cat, according to their circumstances. It's a fantastic idea that can open up some excellent conversations. The discussion could be simple, such as the bee illustration below and how their eyes work. But I plan on using it in our unit on marine protected areas to get my students thinking about how many different stakeholders (fishermen, environmentalists, the government) see a stretch of water differently. Until the school has a copy for us to explore up close, I will be using this online read aloud.




Sunday, August 20, 2017

Roanoke: The Lost Colony

As we learned about the potential colonization of Mars, I wanted my students to learn about past attempts at colonization that failed. One that has always fascinated me is the colony of Roanoke, which vanished from Virginia in 1580. Jane Yolen's Roanoke: The Lost Colony is a picture book exploration into the topic.

I love an unsolved mystery and the fact that scientific and technological advances have yet to clear this up. This picture book offers different theories and interesting background information, but allows the reader to decide what they think happened. Moving forward, I'll always have this on display during this unit for students who want an extension or are curious to learn more.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By the time this review posts, I will be the mother of a son. Perhaps that is why I was so affected by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Perhaps I don't even need that reason because the writing is so beautiful. Whatever it is, I listened to the entire audiobook in a day and loved it all.

Ari has always felt different--angrier and quieter than most boys. He never had a friend until he met Dante, who was everything he wasn't: outgoing, loving, and happy. Through their unlikely friendship, the boys truly come of age and learn who they really are. It's a story about all kinds of love: between best friends, between outcasts, between families, and between people who love each other.

Many YA novels have static parent characters or leave them out entirely. Benjamin Alire Saenz delves into the emotional lives of Ari and Dante's parents, who are complex and interesting. The mother in me nodded every time there was a reference to how much these teenage boys love their parents, even if they weren't able to say it out loud. It is hopeful and beautiful.

Part of the reason I finished the book so quickly was Lin-Manuel Miranda's narration of the audiobook. I could listen to him read anything, and he embodied the characters so well. I highly recommend adding this to a high school class library.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Red Pencil

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and it really disappoints me. The Red Pencil was on my Goodreads shelf for a year and a half before I actually got my hands on it. I thought I would fly through a novel in verse about a girl in Sudan. I was so excited to connect it to my students' reading of A Long Walk to Water. I thought it would be a great way to excite students about poetry. None of that happened, though.

Amira is twelve years old when her village is attacked by the Janjaweed and she needs to flee to a refugee camp. It is there (after about 60% of the book) that she is gifted a red pencil that allows her to hope for more: to be educated. Of course, that is easier said than done when you are in a war zone.

I usually read novels in verse in a day, but I had to force myself to finish this book. I found the timeline unappealing: it took so long to get to the actual refugee camp and pencil, then I wanted to know more about what happened at the end. The beginning dragged out. If I struggled to read it, my students don't have a chance. I won't bother to book talk this one.