Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ghost

Hooray for Ghost, Jason Reynolds’ novel that had me glued to the couch from start to finish. It’s a novel that grabs your heart and keeps you cheering for the main character, even when he keeps making mistakes.

Ghost learned to run the day his father tried to shoot him and his mother. He didn’t think much of his talent until he came across the Defenders, an all-city track team. After being recruited to the team by the tough Coach Brody, Ghost decides he wants to channel all of his energy and rage into something good: being the greatest sprinter of all time. Of course, that’s harder than it sounds.


There is so much goodness in this book: the camaraderie between the runners, the struggles Ghost faces, the way people love him and look out for him in their own way. I hope that every school library gets a copy and that teachers talk it up wildly. I still help make the summer reading lists for a school where I used to work, and this will definitely be on the list for the 8th grade. It’s that excellent.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Green Book

For our unit on Mars colonization, students will be reading fiction about colonization. I have two students who read far below sixth grade level, so was struggling on what to have them read. A random conversation brought me to The Green Book, a strange and simple tale that seems like the perfect fit.

Pattie and her family have been chosen to leave the dying planet Earth and colonize a new planet, which she has the honor of naming Shine. At first, it seems like an ideal new home, but there is a struggle to grow crops and strange creatures share the planet. It seems that the children are the wisest members of the colony, as they are the ones who seem to solve all the problems.

While the book wraps up a bit too tidily, it addresses the main themes of our unit and will allow my students to engage more fully in the conversation about the risks, considerations, and potential successes of colonization.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spindle

I'm pretty surprised that I didn't review A Thousand Nights, the first book in this series, as I enjoyed it very much. Retelling 1,001 Nights seems to be a hot YA trend right now, and it really worked for the first book. Spindle, the sequel, doesn't fare as well.

Set in a land where spinning is forbidden and makes the spinners ill, a group of young exiled spinners are determined to break the spell that has destroyed their community. It starts with a cursed princess in a tower, making me think we are reading about Rapunzel, but then changes into Sleeping Beauty. The story is worse for the muddling of the two.

Eventually, I bought in to the plot, so was disappointed by such an abrupt ending. Even worse, we get an epilogue, but it is abstract and doesn't actually tell us what happens to the characters with whom it took so long to connect.

I was disappointed by this outing, but if the series continues, I will give it another chance.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nothing But The Truth

This book was interesting to me, and I hope my students will enjoy it, as some of them will be reading it during our unit of study on social issues in texts. Nothing But The Truth reminded me of Colin Kaepernick's protest, so that should be enough to get them bought in. 

Told through letters, memos, and transcripts of conversations, we learn about the controversy that occurs when Philip hums the national anthem in Ms. Narwin's class. What starts out as a minor dispute turns into a national news story, changing several lives forever. 

I am eager to hear my students' perspective on the main character. To me, Philip is awful (and it seems like others feel the same way, based on the Goodreads review titled "The Story of Some **hole Kid who ** up some poor teacher's life"), but I wonder if the students will take his side. Although the novel was published in 1991, it resonates today, when a student can easily ruin a teacher's career. 

I really enjoy Avi's writing, which veers wildly from book topic to book topic, but is always quality. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Enemy Series


With the rate at which I'm reading this series, it's only fair to review the books all together. For some reason, I adore zombie series and Charlie Higson's The Enemy series has really enthralled me. It's just slightly too gory for my sixth graders, but will be one that I recommend they check out in seventh grade.
 

There is something truly epic about the series. One of the characters, Small Sam, refers to The Lord of the Rings multiple times. There are some similarities, but I am more reminded of Game of Thrones. You need to be patient when reading a series like this. Small Sam appears in the first book and then doesn't pop up again until the fourth. There are so many characters to track and Higson clearly had the whole series mapped out before beginning, as the story loops back in time occasionally and you see scenes from new perspectives. It's brilliant and I love how it will challenge the reading skills of young people.

Of course, you can get engrossed in one character's story and they get killed or aren't mention for ages. I also appreciate the ruthlessness of Higson's writing. A character can be the star of a book and then get killed 3/4 of the way through. It's just so realistic for a world filled with zombies. One thing I have realized is that I wouldn't be very likable in a post-apocalyptic world. I find myself getting irritated with the weaker characters and wondering why they don't just get left behind.

I'm going to ask our school librarian to add the whole series to her shopping list. Once hooked, I can picture students reading them the way I did: gulping them down, not coming up for air, and loving every minute.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

So B. It

So B. It is a book that I have been wanting to read for years, so I was happy that I finally got a chance to check it out. It was totally unlike what I expected it to be (in my head, it was a novel in verse), but enjoyable just the same.

Heidi's mother knows only 23 words and one of them mystifies Heidi: "soof." She gets it in her head that if she understood what that word meant, Heidi would know about her mother and her own life. This sets her off on a journey that will change her life.

This is a touching book that doesn't hold up to too much inspection. There are so many unanswered questions about how Heidi survived so many years in the care of her mentally disabled mother and agoraphobic neighbor. While none of these issues will bother middle grade readers, my adult perspective on things took me out of the story a bit.

Still, I know of a few readers who will enjoy So B. It and I will recommend the book to them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Enemy

Every reader knows the thrill of discovering an excellent new series, and then realizing that there are many more volumes to discover. I feel fortunate to learn about Charlie Higson's The Enemy just as the final book was published. I read the first in one day and am now eagerly working my way through the series.

I love the premise: a disease has turned everyone in London over the age of fourteen into a zombie, and the children are trying to survive by living in supermarkets and scavenging. When an invitation to start a new life in Buckingham Palace arises, the kids risk everything to make their way across London to safety.

In a novel like this, a lot of characters are going to die. It never felt gruesome or gratuitous, and it was fascinating to see which characters would actually survive until the end of the novel. Nobody was sacred, and I really enjoyed it because it seemed realistic for a doomsday situation.

There are brilliant, tiny details here. The kids call the zombies "mothers" and "fathers," which is just so sad. There are reminders all over that our heroes are children in a terrifying new world. I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dancing in the Rain

I love Lynn Joseph and wish she was prolific, coming out with something new and gorgeous every year. Unfortunately, that isn't the case and we need to wait for titles like Dancing in the Rain. This book still isn't widely available, even Amazon doesn't sell it directly. This is a shame because it's sad, beautiful, diverse, and hopeful.

September 11th changed many lives forever, including our protagonists, Elizabeth and Brandt. Elizabeth lives in the Dominican Republic, although her father worked on the top floor of the World Trade Center. Brandt's mother is a lawyer in the building, but after the tragedy, she decides to move Brandt and his older brother Jared back to Sosua. There, the children become friends while their mothers are numb with pain.

Nobody writes about the Caribbean like Joseph. Her descriptions evoke the tastes and smells and passions of the region where I've made my home. She also has created a gem in Elizabeth, who reminds me a bit of a Lia Francesca Block heroine. She believes in mermaids and whimsy and the power of hope. Elizabeth is the friend that everyone wishes they had.

Reading this just strengthens my desire to read Flowers in the Sky, the only Lynn Joseph book I haven't read. She is just too talented.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mirror, Mirror

Imagine being as brilliant as Marilyn Singer, who created her own form of poetry. Reverso poems come in two columns. The first is read from top to bottom; the second has the same words but is read from bottom to top. Only the punctuation and the meaning changes. I love this idea and how it complex it really is to write them.

I purchased Mirror Mirror for our class' poetry unit and will challenge all the students to read the book and write their own reverso poems. It's often the student you least expect who succeeds in these challenges. Mirror Mirror's poems are all about fairy tales and usually tell two sides of the same story. Below, you'll see "In the Hood," from the perspective of Little Red and the Wolf.

Singer has written two more books in this form, one about Greek mythology and the other about fairy tales. I want to add both to our collection because I love this clever idea.


Friday, March 3, 2017

A STEM Picture Book

There is a strong STEM emphasis at my school and it starts in the early years. Here is a popular picture book that relates to science, technology, engineering, and math.

Iggy Peck has always wanted to be an architect, ever since he created a tower of dirty diapers. While his parents support his ambitions, his second grade teacher has no interest in his passion. Iggy is undeterred and ends up using his skills to save the day. 

Unless a family member is an architect, it's an unusual ambition for a small child, so this book is a fun introduction to what that job is. I also like that Iggy had his classmates working with him to collaborate on the final solution. I read and loved about Iggy's classmate, Rosie Revere, Engineer and am excited to check out Ada Twist, Scientist, the next book in the series.