Sunday, May 19, 2019

Scythe and Thunderhead

I've been doing a round-up of recent reads but Scythe and Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman deserve their own post because they are the best books I've read in awhile. All of my students are reading these books and we are waiting anxiously for the final book in the trilogy to be published in September. Until then, this is how we all feel about these books:


Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Few Recent Dystopian Reads

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
I had a good time reading it, but there were a few moments that stood out to me and made me wonder if it was undercover pro-life propaganda:

I kept reading and it turned out it is a strange plot involving inbreeding and hemophilia:

So, I liked the first one but won't be reading the rest of the series unless my students do and tell me it's great.

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

I LOVED Neal Shusternman's Scythe series and Unwind series, so had high hopes for Dry. Unfortunately, I think his son Jarrod was behind the wheel a bit more with this one:

Set during a Californian drought that turns into end days, it had my stomach twisted in knots:
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If I was a Californian, I would not have been able to finish the book. Instead, I am going to buy some bottled water to hoard.

War Cross by Marie Lu

Hooray for Marie Lu and her creative brain!

 The Young Elites by Marie Lu

I was a bit slow on the uptake and didn't realize the protagonist in The Young Elites is the villain.
Once that clicked, I enjoyed it more, although I don't feel the need to read the rest of the series.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A few recent reads

Contrary to what it looks like on this blog, I have been reading a lot. I printed out my Goodreads To Read list for my classroom wall, and have been steadily making progress. I am still unmotivated to review except in GIF format, but that's better than nothing. So here are a few thoughts:

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

This one was pretty engrossing. I really did want to know who was lying and it turns out, I was wrong! All my students are reading it and I had to check it out. I liked it, although 7th grade is the lowest age I would want reading it (and wouldn't recommend it to someone that young, but I will talk about it with them when they do anyway!)


Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Gillian Flynn for 9th graders. Fans of fun trashy novels by Abigail Haas will like this. I knew pretty early on what the twist was, but I don't know if high school students will. So they can join me in making this face: 

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

I read this novel-in-verse for our poetry unit and will be recommending it to students next year. Based on the life of the author's family, it is told from the perspective of a young child. The story suffers from the narrator's lack of understanding in some parts, but it enhances it overall. And the end? Here's me:

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Audiobooks for the Youngest Listeners

Here are a few Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr. audiobooks I enjoyed while my son was aged 17 - 21 months. As with everything related to toddlers, our feelings depended on hunger, how long the car ride was, the weather, and every other factor under the sun...your experience may vary!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle

This is the gold standard of audiobooks for us. I wonder if it's because it's the first one he listened to or if it's because he already loved the book, but whenever I put this on, my son would quiet himself and pay close attention.

Gwyneth Paltrow is the narrator, but it doesn't make a difference because her voice isn't distinctive. It is a warm and kind voice, though, and that makes listening fun. This one is worth buying.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? is a follow-up to the above. We hadn't read this one before listening, but my son loved it almost as much. It was nice to have some animals we hadn't encountered before, like the macaroni penguin and the water buffalo. Again, Paltrow's voice is soothing and friendly. Check this one out of the library.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The School for Dangerous Girls

I'm glad I read Eliot Schrefer's other novels before getting to The School for Dangerous Girls. I already knew he was a talented writer who could tell a story full of twists. With the Ape Quartet, Schrefer found his ideal genre and subjects. While his writing skills are still evident in this early novel, it's missing the spark of his other work, as well as his ease with crafting a plot.

Angela has been sent to Hidden Oaks, a last chance school for girls before they end up in prison or on the streets. She has to keep her guard up around the other dangerous girls and sadistic teachers, which she thought was the worst of her problems. The more she learns about her new school, the more trouble she realizes that she is in.

I stayed up late to finish the book, which says something good about it, but there was so much suspension of disbelief required.

SPOILERS: why did Mr. Derrian tow the line in order to pay for his son's college, only to run off with a student? And then his son didn't seem to care, or Schrefer didn't have time to write about it? What happens after the school is shut down? It doesn't seem like Angela or Carmen will be welcome at home, and Harrison's dad has run off. So do they all go live with Ingrid's family, as Carmen jokes? What's Juin's real story? I wonder if I will be brave enough to ask Schrefer any of these questions when he visits my class. END SPOILERS

I won't be recommending this book to my students. Instead, I'll hand them something from the Ape Quartet and let them see Schrefer at the top of his game.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain

So much of my reading these days involves parenting books, so I figured I'd jot some notes about them here so I can refer back.

It's interesting how many parenting books rehash what is taught in the first few weeks of teachers college. I've found that most books have an original nugget and then are padded out with tons of the same child development information. What about parents who already know about the zone of proximal development and Carol Dweck's mindset theory? Lots of skimming to find the heart of the book.

In this case, it's all about meeting your child on their level, talking with them, and truly interacting. Yup, got it. The nugget I'm taking from Thirty Million Words is to try to use the word "it" less frequently and use the actual noun instead, to reinforce the word. It's harder than it sounds! Glad I learned that, but didn't need 300 pages to get there.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

What If It's Us

WOW--NINE YEARS OF DEVOUR BOOKS! Happy Birthday to this little memory device.

Another review in GIF form because I'm a bit conflicted by What If It's Us.  I really like author Becky Albertalli and had never read Adam Silvera before, so had high hopes. I usually enjoy novels that trade off between authors and characters, but this one didn't quite hit it for me.

At first, I had a really hard time distinguishing between the two characters, Ben and Arthur. Although they were very different, I had to keep up with who was in summer school and who was doing an internship, as well as the various friends in their squads. It took a minute.

I realize that everyone has their faults and issues, but this book seemed to really highlight all of the character flaws. The only characters I found extremely likable were Dylan (one of the best friends-would have to open the book to figure out whose) and his girlfriend Samantha. They were funny and thoughtful and really. Not so much angst.

Am I happy that there are YA romance novels about gay teens?

Will I be recommending this to my students?

It was too long, the characters irked, and the ending was unsatisfying.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Graduation of Jake Moon

I was in my 30s and living in another country when my grandmother got Alzheimer's disease, but it was still awful to see the vague confusion on her face when she tried to figure out what was happening. This experience stuck in my mind as I read The Graduation of Jake Moon, about an eighth grader whose grandfather is slipping away to the disease.

During middle school, the last thing anyone wants is extra attention, so the embarrassing incidents that come along with the disease are devastating to Jake. He withdraws from his friends and his school so that nobody can make fun of him. But such a serious disease can only be hidden away for so long.

I ended this novel in tears because there really aren't many happy endings with Alzheimer's. Still, I feel like Jake grew as a character throughout the novel and the reader will, too. This slim volume will appeal to readers who like "issue" books, but is also perfect to hand to a student who may be in a similar situation.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


What a journey with this one! I never imaged when I was on page 100 of Orphaned and the plot was dragging that I would be in tears as it finished. I should have had more faith in Eliot Schrefer and that he would finish his Ape Quartet powerfully. Still, I hope young readers will have the patience to get into the meat of the story where really beautiful writing happens.

Schrefer goes for a bold challenge with this book: it is written in verse and from the perspective of a gorilla named Snub. While it makes sense that a gorilla's point of view would look very different from a human's, I found it frustrating at first to understand what was going on. And I love novels in verse! I had so many questions until I decided to let go of them and let the story unfold. When I did, I grew to appreciate the characters and story, and ended up in tears.

I'll be encouraging readers to persevere and finish this book because it is worth it in the end.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hey, Kiddo


There's a huge buzz around Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo. All of the praise is well-deserved. Krosozka delves into his family history and shares about his mother's heroin addiction, his loving but troubled grandparents, and his absent father.

While his mother popped in and out of his life (and jail), Jarrett grew in his artistic talent. By including many of his childhood drawings and museum clippings, Krosoczka shows young readers that cartoonists aren't born full formed; they develop their skills and take classes to improve. The emphasis on hard work is clear and I hope it is a takeaway for all readers.

This is a story that will speak to so many young readers, so it surprised me that there were only 5 copies in the Worcester area library system. This is where it is set and where the author's lie was shaped! I am going to encourage my local branch to get their own copy because it is another way for readers to see themselves in print, and because it is a book that deserves to be read.