Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Carbon Diaries 2015

I saw a random recommendation on Twitter for The Carbon Diaries 2015 and I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did because it is a really fascinating look at how climate change could affect London. I advise the Eco Club at a Green Flag Eco School, so this interests me, but even if you aren't an environmentalist, it's worth reading. Told from the perspective of caustic teen Laura, we see how quickly global warming can destroy society.

In the "future" 2015, the British government decides to impose a 60% reduction in carbon emissions, through the use of carbon rations. Laura starts out feeling irritated with the restrictions, but then the drought begins, and then the floods, then the cholera, and so on. Laura needs to grow up quickly, and so do we if we are to avoid this fate.

I loved how the environmental disasters unfolded in the background and then became the focus. It reminded me of another favorite, Life As We Knew It. While it skews mature for my sixth graders, I would recommend it for 8th grade and up. Even better, there is a sequel set in 2017. My goal is to read it before that date.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

I am so in love with Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda that I don't even mind that it made me cry about five times on a flight. It had been lingering on my Kindle for awhile, so I am thrilled that I chose it to accompany me from Reykjavik to Milan (you know I had to throw that in). It is an utterly charming and wonderful novel.

Simon's email correspondence with "Blue" has slowly become the most important thing in his life. Even though he doesn't know Blue's identity, Simon shares with him the most intimate details of his life--most importantly, that he's gay. When a classmate decided to blackmail him with this information, it sets off a serious of events that leads to growth for everyone involved.

There is a lot of discussion about the coming out process and how it should done when and how the individual chooses. I think it's really important for all readers to get insight into how this can look and feel. I loved how fierce Simon's allies were and his wonderful voice. Becky Albertalli is an awesome writer who made me fall in love with multiple characters. I am eager to read more of her work.

Monday, October 10, 2016

To Burp or Not to Burp

This year, I'll be teaching a unit on the solar system for the first time. I like to balance what my students need to know about a subject with what they want to know. To Burp or Not to Burp will answer many of the questions that they have. The bold ones will ask them aloud and the shy ones will wonder, but they will all be curious about how the body functions in space.

This picture book gives a lot of great information and taught me a few things that I had never considered. I now know how astronauts sleep in space and understand better why they have to do so much exercise on the International Space Station. It's a good supplement to textbooks. All I'll need to do is display the book prominently, and I can see it being passed around the class by everyone.

Best of all, it had me thinking of other questions which aren't covered in the book, like if the astronauts hair and nails grow at the same rate in space and do astronauts get the flu in space. The best nonfiction gets the reader wondering, so I'm excited to begin our inquiry with Dr. Dave Williams' book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Tom Angleberger's feelings about standardized testing always comes through in his books, much to the delight of all the teachers who are in agreement with him. Fuzzy takes this to the next level, fully exposing how ludicrous it is when schools become obsessed with achievement at the expense of student welfare.

Max is excited when she is chosen to partner with the school's new robot, Fuzzy. The goal is to help him become similar to a real middle school student. But as Fuzzy becomes more human, the school's evil digital evaluation system takes notice and sets out to stop them, no matter what it takes.

I love Tom Angleberger's writing and it was fun to read something focused towards slightly older readers than his incredible Origami Yoda series. Fuzzy is funny and clever; it would make a great read aloud which could lead to some interesting discussions about the testing and assessing culture in our schools.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

All the Bright Places

As far as grabs for readers thirsty for more John Green go, All the Bright Places is a well written book. All the hallmarks of Green's books are there: endangered love, quirky misfit teens who love to read, parents who don't impede with the teens' lives, a weepy ending. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars will love it, the same way fans of The Hunger Games enjoyed The Testing: it's not as good as the original, but it's better than nothing.

I listened to it on audiobook, so it went slower than just straight reading. As we built to the finale, I wondered, will the author really have our manic depressive protagonist commit suicide? What does this mean for young readers with the same issues who read the book? While there was plenty of hope for Violet, our heroine, I wish that there could be a happier ending for Finch. I don't wish it for Finch, so much as for young readers who are grasping for a way out.

It's too mature and dark for my students, but with a movie starring Elle Fanning coming out, I bet some of them will be interested. I'll tell them to wait a few years so that they can enjoy it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hugely Anticipated Nonfiction Picture Books

I am on a mission to get fun, quality nonfiction in the hands of my students. These are picture books that I begged our school librarian to order, and I'm so happy she did!

Ben Franklin was really amazing, wasn't he? Mesmerized tells a story which would be the centerpiece of most biographies, but for Franklin, it's a little known aside. 

It recounts how Franklin used the scientific method to disprove a charlatan, create the placebo effect, and coin the word 'mesmerized.' There are so many different subject areas covered, all in an appealing book about how a brilliant man was a buzzkill for Marie Antoinette. What could be more fun that that?

Iacopo Bruno's illustrations draw the reader in and add to Mara Rockliff's engaging writing. 

There are so many ways to pique students' interests about Tricky Vic: tell them it's a story about a
man who conned Al Capone and lived; who escaped from prison; who impersonated a count to swindle people on a cruise ship. All of this is true, and more, about Robert Miller.

Nonfiction books don't always have to be about heroes. Miller was a con man who spent his life tricking people in a variety of ingenious ways. That's what makes Tricky Vic so much fun: the reader has no idea what will happen next, which is even more incredible when you consider that it's all true.

The mix media art and color scheme lend to the "cool" mood of the book. I especially love that Miller's face is always just a fingerprint. Since he spent so much of his time under various aliases, this is the only way the reader knows it's really him. This should be in every 4th and 5th grade library.

Inventors seems to be a standard unit theme for upper elementary students. Most kids learn about Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, or our man Ben Franklin and the lightning rod. I love the idea of taking it further and learning who invented the small trivial items that make our life easier. Nothing earth shattering, but people who gave us more comfort. Meghan McCarthy had the same idea when writing Earmuffs for Everyone!

As we learn in the book, Chester Greenwood wasn't the first to invent earmuffs, but he innovated and made them easy to use and fashionable. Innovation is such an important skill for kids to learn and is far less daunting than "invent something." Readers will come away inspired to think of how to improve ideas that already exist. I want to read more of Meghan McCarthy's books.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pivot Point

My students are desperate for dystopian novels. Since I am looping with my same students from last year, they already read my usual suggestions. This means it's time for me to branch out in my dystopian reading so that I can make better recommendations. This led me to Kasie West's Pivot Point.

There's a reason why this is in my second swoop of dystopian reading: it's not quite as suspenseful or action-packed or well-written as the first round picks. Still, it's clever and I think readers will enjoy it.

Addison lives in a community where everyone has paranormal powers; her mother has powers of persuasion and her father is a "human lie detector." Addie is divergent (an unfortunate power now, due to the far more popular series), which means she can see both outcomes of a potential choice. I love "Sliding Doors" scenarios and was excited to see it applied to a YA novel. When Addie's parents separate, she must decide whether to stay in her community with her mother, or move to the normal world with her father. From there, we get to see both consequences of her decision, thanks to Addie's divergence.

I love the idea, especially living in an X Men style community where everyone has powers. One of my favorite parts of all X Men movies is when they are just showing off their powers, so I could have used more of that in this novel. Unfortunately, we don't see much of them, and when we do, they are kind of confusing.

There is a fairly large plot point surrounding a friend's drug addict father and several characters use their powers to get ahead romantically, so those place it firmly in the middle school category of books. Still, I think my students would enjoy reading this at the end of sixth grade. I'll keep it in my back pocket for a book talk at the end of the year.

Friday, September 9, 2016


I enjoyed The Crossover and was even more excited to read Booked, because soccer is life for my students. While this will be a hit, the cover alone will suck in half my class, I don't think it is as strong as Kwame Alexander's previous book.

The main complaint I will hear is that there isn't enough soccer in the book. There are references to teams and stars, but really only two actual soccer games. They go by quickly and will leave my readers wanting more, especially since this is a novel-in-verse, since they'll be filling in a lot of the blanks on their own anyway.

There's a lot of drama in the book: divorce, bullies, crushes, teachers, parents, injuries...a bit much for the average young adult, but I think my readers won't mind that. For me, I didn't get to know the main character very well as there was always something else that seemed to pop up.

It's worth adding to the library, but I hope Alexander's next book is truly excellent.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Single Shard

A Single Shard is a book I've been avoiding for years. Every classroom library I've been in has had it, but there was nothing appealing to me about the cover nor the idea of a novel about 12th century Korean potters.

And yet.

I now have more access to audiobooks thanks to my US library's Overdrive accounts. Their selection is still growing and all the audiobooks that appeal to me are frequently checked out, so I thought I would give Linda Sue Park's novel a try. It couldn't hurt to listen to it as I folded clothes or cooked, I thought.

I'm torn by A Single Shard. I enjoyed it and thought it was a sweet story. It somehow won a Newbery medal. I also don't know any young readers who would make it all the way to the end, since it is so simple and spare. Yet, I wouldn't want to read it aloud to a class because I think they would find it boring. So who should read it? I'm not sure. I think it is worth reading but I won't be recommending it. This wishy washy review isn't very helpful, but is the only way to sum up my feelings about A Single Shard. I guess this is the true definition of a 3 star review.

If you're going to read it, the audiobook is the way to go. I love a British accent and it's always nice to get your laundry folded!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Professor Gargoyle

I have a very boy-heavy class this year and the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series is perfect for them. The books are short, engaging, and the lenticular covers are the best, changing from regular yearbook photos to scary monsters.

The redistricting of Robert's neighborhood means that the only person he knows at the new Lovecraft Middle School is his longtime bully Glenn. Then rats start exiting lockers, creepy teachers seem to spy on the kids, students start disappearing, and Robert is wondering exactly what he's signed up for. He has to team up with unlikely friends to solve the mysteries of his new school, before he is the next to disappear.

I read this on my kindle, but recommended that the school librarian buy them in hardcover. The covers will suck them in, but the action and strange creatures will keep them hooked.