Friday, July 21, 2017

Ghosts

Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts was among the most anticipated books in my class this year. Students would ask me constantly when it would be published. When it finally was, the students tracked who had it and who would get it next. I love a book that the class fully owns with nothing from me except the money it costs to buy it!

Cat's family moves to Northern California because the air will help her younger sister's cystic fibrosis. Cat isn't excited about the move, and even less so when she realizes that the Day of the Dead and ghosts figure so prominently into community life. She rejects it repeatedly, until she realizes that maybe some time with ghosts is just what she needs.

I love Telgemeier's books and artwork, but I really didn't connect with the protagonist here. Cat is so negative about everything that she comes across as a drag. I want to be on the main character's side, but I found myself liking everyone else better than her. There is controversy around this book which is worth considering, but I also know that no amount of controversy will stop kids from devouring everything Telgemeier publishes.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Worst Class Trip Ever

It's safe to say that I am finished with the genre of middle school, silly, growing up, boy-oriented books. There's nothing wrong with the plethora of offerings from James Patterson and the rest of the gang, I have just read too many of them. My students love them and don't need me to recommend them, so I can turn my attention to less beloved genres.

As an addition into this set of literature, The Worst Class Trip Ever, is welcome. Clearly, Dave Barry can write humorous books and I know that my kids will enjoy it. The story follows Wyatt on his eighth grade trip to Washington DC and the hijinks that ensure when he may or may not have prevented a terrorist plot.

I read 100 pages and then said, "I'm done." Kids love these books and I am happy. I just don't need to read any more of them!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Overboard

Every few years I have a student who is obsessed with outdoor adventure novels. Once they breeze through all of Gary Paulsen's work and the Stormrunners series, I often struggle for good recommendations. This is an area of improvement for me, so I am happy to add Elizabeth Fama's Overboard to the list of titles I can share.

Feeling homesick and frustrated with the expat life that feels thrust upon her, Emily decides to hop on a ferry in Sumatra and escape for a little while. Unfortunately, the ferry sinks and Emily must fight for her life against whirlpools, exhaustion, sharks, and other survivors.

In addition to the exciting survival story, there are many cultural tidbits about life in Indonesia. It doesn't feel didactic, but the reader walks away with a broadened worldview. I wish that the ending was fleshed out a bit more, but overall, I thought it was a solid and quick read. Two of my students (not typical adventure readers) had been pressing this book on me all year. It's appeal goes beyond its genre and I look forward to book talking it to everyone next year.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Having read mostly young adult and middle grade books for the last ten years has put me at a disadvantage when it comes to adult books. There are many classics that I just haven't read. I was excited to see the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler's Kindred on Net Galley, as a way to get the story without sacrificing the school-related reading that helps me do my job well.

I'm so happy that this book has been made available in graphic novel format, as I think it will open up the important story to a wider audience. Dana, our protagonist, continues to be dragged from her life in 1976 to the Maryland during the slavery era. There, she must rescue the life of Rufus, a slaveowner and her distant relative. This continues many times: Dana is stuck in the past until almost dying jolts her back to modern life, only to be drawn back to the past when Rufus' life is threatened. She wonders if Rufus' death will lead to her freedom, and what other consequences there may be.

It is so important for people to learn about slavery and the brutality of the United States' history. Addressing it via science fiction in a graphic novel form opens up the topic and text to many people. This is too mature for my sixth graders, but I think it would be an incredible addition to a high school curriculum and would inspire students to read more of Butler's work. I know it has inspired me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nightfall

Wow, I haven't had a book scare me like that in a long time. Nightfall was book-talked by one of my students and the premise had me dying to check it out.

On Marin's island, there are fourteen years of Day, and then during the fourteen years of Night, everyone must evacuate or face the creatures that rule the island in the dark. Of course, Marin and her twin brother get left behind while hunting for their friend Line. They begin to realize that the stories they have been told about Night are true, and worse than they ever imagined.

The overall feeling of Nightfall is dread. I don't consider myself to be someone who is scared of the dark, but I felt so frustrated with characters who kept going into places alone and with only a candle to guide them. I realized that I would not last very long on the island.

While the ending wasn't as strong for me, probably because I started getting answers to all the questions, I still am enthusiastically recommending this book and hoping a sequel will eventually be published.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Beneath

Roland Smith's Beneath has a very deceptive cover. To me, it looks like it could be the cover of a B-grade horror film. In reality, it's an exciting middle school mystery that will hook readers.

Pat's older brother has always been a bit strange, but when Coop disappears to live with a community under the subways of New York City, there's only one thing to do. Pat must battle his claustrophobia to head underground to save Coop. It's not as easy as it sounds because there are many people living underground with secrets that are worth killing to protect.

Author Roland Smith wrote in a style that will keep readers motivated: short chapters, frequent action, and lots of surprises. Going into it, I didn't realize it was the first in a duology. My mission now is to track down Above, the sequel. I know that once my students finish this book, they will be dying to find out what happens next.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Will and Whit

Will & Whit has been on my TBR pile for years. I was happy to finally add it to my classroom library, although the cover had me a bit worried it would be too romantic for my sixth graders. I needn't have worried; it depicts a scene that is sweet and sad.

Will has been grieving for a year about the death of her parents, distracting herself with art projects and trying to stay out of the dark. She surrounds herself with artist friends, but when Hurricane Whitney knocks out the electricity, Will needs to face the dark and what it hides.

While I preferred Laura Lee Gulledge's first book, Page by Paige, (which prompted one of my international students to hug it and say, "This book is me.") I enjoyed Will & Whit. There is a major focus on STEM at my school right now, so I am happy to put forth something that celebrates artistry in many different forms. Will makes sculptures and creates lamps, her friends are bakers and puppeteers and there is a local carnival put on by teenagers. I hope this inspires readers to share their creativity with others and that everyone's strengths are valuable.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Clever Picture Books

I'm always on the lookout for interesting picture books to add to my classroom, to my school library, and for all the little loved ones in my life. These picture books are gems that will serve a variety of purposes, but most importantly, setting up conversations about their reading, a practice that is essential.

I must admit that I watched the author's video read aloud of this book. I love the premise: a hill and a hole are friends but want to see what life is like from the other's perspective. With the help of a mole, they are able to do this, at least for a little while.

I love the messages in Hill & Hole Are Best Friends, especially, "sometimes it's easier to do things than to undo them once they're done." This lesson is something that adults struggle with, so the younger we start discussing it, the better.

This book has the bonus of an awesome last line that will leave the reader wondering.


Oh my heart, I loved Worm Loves Worm. Who says things need to be done the way they always have? There is no better way to introduce concepts like gender, sexuality, and traditions than through worms, who are hermaphroditic and can be either the bride or the groom.

The book is deceptively simple, but packs so much meaning into its few pages. The rings, the veil, the band...none of it matters to Worm and Worm, who just want to be married to each other. The emphasis here is on love, where it should be.


There are myriad books about the first day of school jitters that kids have. Adam Rex's School's First Day of School flips this idea and talks about the building's experiences. This book won't give young readers new fears about school, rather, it will remind them of all the things they already know and do that take place in this unfamiliar place.

I love Christian Robinson's illustrations, which remind me of Ezra Jack Keats. There are so many cute details to enjoy, but the best is definitely someone laughing so hard milk comes out of his nose. This would be a great first day read, as well as worth sharing with someone who is about to start kindergarten.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander has been on my list of books to read for years. I knew I would like it: I enjoy fantasy and loved Suzanne Collins' writing in The Hunger Games series. Still, I never took the book home from my class library. Creating book clubs for our fantasy unit finally got me in gear.

Gregor lives in New York City with his mother and little sister, ever since his dad disappeared one day. When a freak occurrence pulls Gregor and his little sister Boots into the Underland, full of giant cockroaches, bats, and spiders, he gets wrapped up in a quest that could either kill him or get him everything he ever wanted.

I like that Gregor is a normal boy; he's like Percy Jackson but not as slick. Like most eleven-year-olds I know, he is clumsy and insecure. Gregor is also a good older brother and empathetic to others. A quote that jumped out at me was, "He could never hate people very long because he always ended up finding out something sad about them that he had to factor in. Like this kid at school everybody hated because he was always pushing little kids around and then one day they found out his dad had hit him so much, he was in the hospital. With stuff like that, all Gregor could feel was bad." I think it's really important for messages like that to be included in children's books, and I hope it is something my students consider in their interactions with each other.

There are four more books in this series and I am eager to see where they take our hero.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Loot

For almost two years, Loot has been my go-to recommendation when a student is looking for a mysterious adventure novel. I was thrilled to see that there was a sequel, called Sting.

March, his sister Jules, and their friends thought they had retired from their lives as teen criminals. That is, until they are swindled and lose everything they have. The only way out is to hunt down three cursed gems, but there are other thieves who want the same prize, including one that they know very well.

Sting doesn't stray much from the plot of Loot, but that was so good that it's worth living again. The stakes are higher and there is more action, so young readers won't get bored. Rather, they'll be like my student who wanted to know if there would be a third book. There's always hope!