Monday, December 11, 2017

Genuine Fraud

When John Green and E. Lockhart both have a new novel out, how does one decide which to read first? For me, it comes down to Frankie. Lockhart, as the author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, will always win for me. I read that book at least once a year and would love another book like it.

While Genuine Fraud is no Frankie, it was an enjoyable read that had me hoping my son's nap time would stretch for longer. We start the novel with a crime and then work our way backwards, learning more about our main characters and who they really are. My stomach was in knots at certain points, even though I had a feeling what was going to happen. This has been compared to a famous novel (I don't want to name it because it's a spoiler) but I enjoyed it in its own right.

Like in many of Lockhart's novels, there is a focus on feminism and female strength. Those were the pages that felt closest to Frankie and the ones that I reread several times.

This is worth adding to any high school library or giving to a YA mystery lover.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Karma Khullar's Mustache

I randomly picked up Karma Khullar's Mustache at the library because of the cute cover. What I got was a sweet novel about growing up.

Puberty is a well trod path in middle grade novels, but I've never come across a book about female facial hair. Now that I think of it, that's really surprising because it's such a common issue. I remember being in the sixth grade and desperately wanting to shave my legs. There are also many photos of me with pencil thin eyebrows. Karma had it worse: a budding mustache and religious beliefs that prohibit cutting hair. She and I solved our problems pretty similarly: taking care of it on our own and then having a larger issue to deal with.

While the facial hair is a major plot point, this is also a book about growing apart from childhood friends and about bullying. The ending is sweet, but it isn't saccharine and fairly realistic. There is a religious turn at the end that surprised me, but it was fairly minor.

I enjoy having this book in my list of recommendations. Obviously, I wouldn't hand it to a child with facial hair, but a book talk early in the year (before puberty kicks in) could lead readers who need it to Karma Khullar's Mustache.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Swing It, Sunny

Sometimes books don't need to have massive plots to be enjoyable. I think the best word for Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm's Swing It, Sunny is 'serviceable'. It will be popular because it's a graphic novel about a middle school student, but it isn't going to win any awards or blow anyone away.

In the first book, Sunny Side Up, our main character's older brother is constantly in trouble. In this sequel, Dale has been sent to military school, but he has a large presence in the house. Sunny and her parents tiptoe around discussing him, although at times it seems like there is a spotlight on Dale's empty chair, as depicted in the illustrations. I think this will be so relatable to many readers who have family members that aren't in the house. There are no easy solutions in the book, which is also realistic. The big lesson seems to be that life carries on, no matter what. For middle grade readers (and all of us), this can be an important reminder.

Monday, November 20, 2017

American Street

Now that I have access to an awesome interlibrary loan system, I set the goal of reading all the 2017 YA National Book Award finalists. First up: American Street by Ibi Zoboi. What's fun is that I am going into these books with no background, so I didn't even realize it was about a Haitian teenager. I have an affinity for books about Haiti, so was excited to dive in.

Fabiola and her mother left Haiti for a better life with their family in Detroit, but when her mother is detained at the airport, Fabiola must continue on her own. Thrust into a life with three wild older cousins, she must quickly adjust to American life. Soon, she is over her head and willing to set someone up for a crime in order to protect her family. But all actions have consequences.

I enjoyed American Street and was happy that Fabiola wasn't a saint; at times Haitian protagonists are written as too innocent and good. I liked how she stayed true to her Haitian roots, but thought there was less focus on her mother than one would expect. I was left with questions about her aunt, about how much the girls knew about their father's death, and about what happened at the end. Still, it was a worthwhile read and a good start to my National Book Award readathon.

Monday, November 13, 2017

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World

I would have been obsessed with This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World when I was a kid. I still love poring over the various online slideshows of what food families buy in a week, what toys kids play with, and where people live. Matt LaMothe has taken that concept, simplified it for early readers, and beautifully illustrated it. 

In the book, we meet Romeo (Italy), Kei (Japan), Daphine (Uganda), Oleg (Russia), Ananya (India), Ribaldo (Peru), and Kian (Iran). We follow them through a typical day and learn about their lives. The layout of the book is brilliant, with all seven different kids' lives on the same spread. It's fun to look at what they eat and see what is appealing, to look at where they sleep and compare it to ourselves, and to look at their hobbies and see what we have in common. 

The book ends on a beautiful note about how we all have certain things in common. I do wish that there was more diversity in the families presented. It was surprising to be that they all had two parents and there weren't extended family members living under the same roof as them. That was a missed opportunity to show some more ways that families can look different. Despite that, I believe this book belongs in every classroom and library. Excellent.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wordless Picture Books

Boat of Dreams is a puzzle and the fact that it is wordless leaves much to the interpretation of the reader. Rogerio Coelho's book lets readers wonder what is happening and how the two main characters are related to each other.

The illustrations in this book (I'm having a hard time deciding between calling it a picture book and a graphic novel, because it is longer) are beautiful. They're a bit dark, but that adds to the moodiness of the story. There is a steampunk feel to the book that will appeal to people who like the work of Shaun Tan, and the plot would appeal to fans of The Little Prince.

This would be a great book for discussions about what is happening. I can imagine students poring over the illustrations to support their ideas with evidence.

I don't know how much kid appeal Jeannie Baker's Mirror will have, but I certainly enjoyed it. With its unique layout, readers can simultaneously follow a day in Morocco and in Sydney, Australia.

The main characters go about their days, spending time with their family, shopping, and eating meals. While they may look very different at first, closer inspection reveals a lot of similarity between the two lives.

Special mention should go to the detailed mixed media artwork in the book. It is truly detailed and gorgeous (see below).

This book could be a great provocation for a unit on cultures or on consumerism. I think it's a worthwhile addition to a school library, although not essential for a classroom or home library.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lesson Idea: Over and Under the Pond

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating ten years of reviewing at Devour Books. To keep the site fresh for me, I'll occasionally be sharing some lesson plan ideas that I have about books I've read. The first is about Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal's Over and Under the Pond.

Ecosystems are studied at many grade levels. I know we study them in the sixth grade, but I'm pretty sure the third and eighth graders learn about them, too. This book could be used at any of those grade levels. Messner and Neal explore the ecosystem of a pond through the eyes of a mother and son on a canoe trip, as well as many of the inhabitants of the area.

Students could use Over and Under the Pond as a mentor text and work in groups to create a similar text about a different ecosystem. This would involve researching the various animals in the food chain, as well as the land. In her author's note, Messner writes about pollution and loss of habitat threatening ecosystems. Students could be sure to incorporate in their text. To make it interdisciplinary, the illustrations for their book could be done in art class. Students should be sure to explain about the animals in their ecosystem in the back of their book, similar to how Messner did it. The final product could be shared with a younger grade that also studies ecosystems.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Hate U Give

I hope that every secondary school in the United States gets a copy of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give for their library. This should be required reading for everyone: students, teachers, police officers, social workers, parents.

Starr has always had two sides to her life: who she is at the suburban private school she attends and who she is in the tough neighborhood where she lives. These sides collide when she is the sole witness to the shooting of an old friend. Everyone has an opinion on what happened and Starr's life feels like it is spiraling out of control. Does she do what's right, even if it is unsafe?

There are so many issues in The Hate U Give that it felt overwhelming: police brutality, racial tension, gang violence, sex. But I think this is the way life feels to many teenagers and it's a good reminders for the adult readers of the novel. There is so much to discuss here and it really fills a need in our libraries.

Monday, October 16, 2017


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.