Wednesday, May 25, 2016

House Arrest

Adolescence is all about acting before thinking of the consequences. House Arrest's main character, Timothy, embodies this. Life has been difficult since his father left and his sick baby brother needs around the clock medical care, so when Timothy sees an unattended wallet, he takes it and runs. The result? A year of house and required journaling.

I love novels-in-verse and was excited to check this out. Author K.A. Holt captures the full range of emotions Timothy experiences, from anger to despair to hope. As much as he wants to lash out at the world, Timothy is always caring towards his brother.

It's nice to have a novel-in-verse that is appropriate for middle grade readers. They'll enjoy some of the surprises along the way and sympathize with Timothy's frustration with things he can't control. I'll be book-talking House Arrest when we begin our poetry unit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights

I love short stories and was a huge fan of the first collection in this series, My True Love Gave To Me. When I saw the summer version available on Net Galley, I was so excited to dive into it. While I slightly preferred the winter version, Summer Days and Summer Nights was worth picking up.

My individual story rankings:

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale by Leigh Bardugo – Why did Perkins choose to start the anthology with this story? It was too long and strange. I had to skip ahead. 

The End of Love by Nina Lacour – I loved this one about a girl who takes a summer school class and ends up with the girl she has been crushing on for year.  I want to read more Nina Lacour.

Last Night at the Cinegore by Libba Bray – Pulpy and fun horror with the requisite romance. 

Sick Pleasures: For A and U by Francesca Lia Block – The dud of the bunch. I grew up loving the L.A. pixie mania of Block's stories, but none of the magic is present here, just grim dreariness.

In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins – The one I was waiting for! I feel so lucky to get to read more of Marigold and North's story. I hope this series continues with an autumn and spring collection so that I can continue to learn more about these characters. 

Souvenirs by Tim Federle – My first Tim Federle story, although I've been following him on Twitter for awhile. The same enthusiasm, humor, and love of drama abounds here. I need to read a full novel of his. 

Inertia by Veronica Roth – Some people weren't meant to write romances, and it seems that Veronica Roth is one of them. I wasn't a fan of this strange tale of future medical science and last goodbyes.

Love Is The Last Resort by Jon Skovron – What a strange story! Set in a modern country club, the story is told like it was written by Dickens, complete with asides to the audience. Still, the ending is fun and it's an enjoyable read.

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert – What happens if you meet the perfect guy at a farewell party and you want to dislike him on principle? That's what this story is all about. It was a mellow story after the preceding one, but well-written and a nice introduction to the author.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare - Set in a circus that is run on the power of a demon, this one really wasn't for me. I think I am just not into Clare's writing style, as I couldn't get into City of Bones either. 

A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith - This one was really sweet and fun. It's all about a camp counselor who finds love with a guy who is a bit different. 

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman  - Perkins saved the best for last! Just like in the movie "Groundhog Day," the characters are caught in a time loop and need to figure out how to make it work for them. I love the strange science fiction of it all, mixed with the beautiful common moments. I've found a new author to explore. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

All the Answers

I've been enjoying Kate Messner's novels recently. Her first book that I read was Capture the Flag and it was not really for me. But then I loved Eye of the Storm and Wake Up Missing, so I was eager to check out All the Answers. Unfortunately, I think it will get grouped with Capture the Flag. The idea is great, but the execution was too drawn out for me.

Ava has always been a worrier, so when she discovers a pencil that answers the questions she has written, she might be able to take control of her life. For awhile, it works, until Ava gets answers that she really doesn't want, and doesn't know how to cope.

It was all a bit too much for me. Ava's father is constantly trying to find a gimmick to save his general store, her sister wants to be called by strange nicknames because too many kids in her class share her name, her best friend Sophie is fairly obnoxious and doesn't seem like she will stay her friend for much longer. It took me a long time to slog through something that should have been fun and exciting.

I'm not giving up on Kate Messner, but I definitely plan on sticking to her science fiction books.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


I stayed up way too late reading Marianna Baer's debut novel, Frost. Each chapter kept building a feeling of uneasiness until my eyes were stinging and I couldn't fight sleep anymore. It was worth it, though, as I will be thinking about Frost for a long time.

Leena's senior year was supposed to be perfect: she and her friends were awarded the small Frost House as part of their campus lottery, she is a leader of a student mentorship program, she is planning to apply to top colleges. But then Celeste Lazar was placed in Frost House and things start to go wrong. She may have a cute brother, but Celeste is strange and begins causing rifts between Leena and her friends. Then, things get even worse and Leena and the reader don't know what's Frost House haunted? Is Celeste's brother a darker character than he appears? Is Leena the one who is actually losing her mind, not Celeste?

This is a gloomy, creepy novel that had me guessing incorrectly about what was really going on. It had a surprising twist at the ending, which wasn't satisfying, but was a shock to me. I was completely caught up in Leena's descent into life at Frost House.

I've been trying to read Frost for four years. It was worth the wait; I really enjoyed being baffled and spooked by this book.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

We Need Diverse Picture Books

We Need Diverse Picture Books now, more than ever. I am making an effort to include more picture books into my fifth grade class. I love them as mentor texts, shared literary experiences, and ways to impart messages that I think are important. Here are a few that I think are worth reading:

The more Misty Copeland books, the better, in the hands of ballerinas of all races, please. What an inspiring woman she is. 

Firebird, illustrated by Christopher Myers, has Copeland in full mentorship mode: showing a young girl that she could be a successful ballerina, as well, provided she is willing to put in the hard work. She tells the young girl that she "was a dancer just like you, a dreaming shooting star of a girl with work and worlds ahead." The work part is an important message for all readers. 

Firebird has beautiful illustrations and Copeland's personal note at the end is excellent. I recommend adding this to your collection. 

Mem Fox's Whoever You Are is a book that was written for the very young, but has a message that would benefit adults, particularly the ones whose stories shout out at us from the nightly news. At a time when it feels like there is so much anger and prejudice in the world, it makes me hopeful to think that little children are getting this message. 

Like it says in the book, whoever you are, "Joys are the same, / and love is the same. / Pain is the same, / and blood is the same." Everyone's life would be a bit more peaceful if we all remembered this. 

Leslie Staub's illustrations are bright and welcoming, framed by beautiful borders that make the entire book feel like a family album. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it was a brilliant idea, if it was. Whoever You Are will fit well in a classroom and as a bedtime story.

I love a picture book that teaches me new things about the world. That's the case with Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. I had never heard of Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founded the Green Belt Movement. This is a shame because she was a fascinating woman and the principles of the Green Belt Movement would be useful here in The Bahamas.

Claire Nivola's book details how Maathai returned to Kenya from university and realized that her country, once clothed in a "dress of green,"no longer had enough trees to support the people who depended on them. She began a movement of empowerment, planting and encouraging others to take care of their precious resources.

I love the message of Planting the Trees of Kenya and think it would be a great addition to a school library. When my students study biographies, I like to have many picture book biographies available, so that they learn how this genre tends to go, as well as learn about inspiring people. Maathai's story is one that I am eager to share. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Somewhere Among

Unintentionally, it seems to be Japanese/American novel-in-verse week here at Devour Books! When I saw Somewhere Among listed on, I was eager to see Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu's take on this theme.

I've read many of Holly Thompson's novels in verse, which usually are about feeling foreign, but in Somewhere Among, our protagonist Ema feels entirely at home in Japan. Although her mother is American, Ema is culturally Japanese. Other people may see her as foreign, but she thinks and acts like a Japanese child. I loved the glimpses into Japanese life and that Donwerth-Chikamatsu trusted the readers enough that she didn't explain everything in detail. For me, the best part of the book was feeling fully immersed in Japan while reading.

Unfortunately, the book was very sad and I don't know many middle grade readers who can take this much tragedy in a book. Somewhere Among features September 11th, living away from a beloved father, a bully whose mother hits him, a sickly grandfather, a mean grandmother, and a mother whose pregnancy puts her own and her baby's health in danger. The young readers I know could handle one or two of those problems, but it was fairly overwhelming. For foreigners living in Japan, there are never enough books to support your experience. Everyone else should read Holly Thompson's books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth

Holly Thompson is a treasure for foreigners in Japan.

Having lived in the country for sixteen years, she has the experience of being an outsider and her books, like Orchard and Falling into the Dragon's Mouth bring that to life. When I read one of her novels-in-verse, I am back in my Kagoshima days, trying to use the correct manners and doing my best to understand. I taught in Japan with an American man who had three children attending Japanese schools. I always wondered what life was like for them. This is a book that would have helped them so much.

Falling into the Dragon's Mouth is about Jason Parker, a sixth grader who attends public school and is shunned by his classmates for being different. Jason finds solace in aikido, where everyone starts at the same level and his language difficulties don't matter. Knowing how to do aikido is one thing, and being faced with a pack of bullies is another, especially in a culture where saving face is so important.

Thompson makes Jason's loneliness palpable and captures so many small parts of daily life. I am eager to track down Thompson's other books to be brought back to my Japanese days. I hope that every international school in Japan gets a copy for their library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Gordon Korman is simply magic.

This has been the Year of Korman in grade five. The students flew through the Dive, Island, and Everest series. A few are trading copies of Swindle. Next, they are going to love Ungifted.

After a series of humorous events, troublemaker Donovan Curtis is accidentally sent to a school for gifted students, where he most definitely does not belong. Everyone knows it, but Donovan brings so much life and unpredictability to his new school, that they want to overlook it. Unfortunately, no one can run away from their mistakes, and hiding them makes it harder for everyone (a great lesson for middle grade readers). Luckily, things tend to work out for characters like Donovan, and Ungifted is no exception to that rule.

This is a genuinely funny book that will have readers rooting for Donovan. The gifted and "normal" students are fairly stereotypical, but I think readers are smart enough to know this. I love the personal growth that I saw in the characters, particularly Donovan. In many ways, he is a typical middle school student, full of unthinking actions and fearful of consequences. Readers will relate to his impulsivity and the way that he thrives wherever he is placed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Nameless City

My students love anything presented in graphic novel form, so they would probably read this. As a more discerning reader, I want more from a book. This is too bad, because a fictional ancient civilization would fit in so well with what I teach.

I never got attached to any of the characters. I suppose the girl, Rat, was likable, but seemed to be a generic heroine. Faith Erin Hicks' illustrations were a bit rough for me, as well.

Not much to say except I was disappointed and won't be recommending this book to my students.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Picture Books About Bullying

Have you ever been unkind and unable to apologize or take it back? That's what Jacqueline Woodson's Each Kindness is all about.

Maya is the new girl in school: she wears second-hand clothes, plays old-fashioned games, and tries to fit in with the other children. Chloe and her friends are having none of it. They snub Maya and make jokes about her behind her back. One day, Maya doesn't return and the class' teacher shows them that every action has a ripple effect. Really, the teacher should have taught that lesson on Maya's second day, but no matter. That's all that happens in the book. Chloe can never apologize and the reader is left to decide if she will change.

The ending of Each Kindness is probably deeply unsatisfying for children, who want a happy ending and a simple solution for all problems. That's why this book is so powerful when it comes to teaching kids about bullying. Some actions can't be undone and we just need to live with them.

Patricia Polacco churns out "issue" picture books several times a year, but they always manage to be thoughtful and high quality. It's pretty impressive! This time, she has turned her pencil to bullying and how it looks in the digital age.

Interestingly, this picture book tells about middle school students and how a clique can quickly gain a member and then drop them. The characters are older than expected, but the same age as my students, so it works for me! Cady moves to a new school and befriends a friendly, chubby boy named Damien. They are great friends until the popular girls decide Cady is cool and let her sit with them and dress like her...and bully other people with them. Eventually, she has a change of heart and drops the cool girls, who are angry with her.

Oh, wait. That's the plot of the movie "Mean Girls." Just change the character names and it's the plot of Bully. It's fine with me, as my students haven't seen the movie yet, but I thought it was funny how similar the stories are. Still, I appreciated the small details, like how the popular girls would wear a clothing item on one page, and everyone else would be wearing it within a few pages. It's a good conversation starter, and that's really what we need when it comes to bullying.