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. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Serpent King

Do you need to cry? Really hard and for a long time? Then may I introduce you to Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King? I haven't read a book like it, and that's always a good thing.

It tells the story of three outcasts in rural Tennessee. Our protagonist is the son of a disgraced Pentecostal minister who handled snakes and is now in jail. Imagine bearing that load through high school. The best parts of his life are his two friends: Lydia, a fashion blogger headed to greatness, and Travis, a lovable giant who wears a dragon necklace and lives for fantasy novels. I enjoyed their friendship and the way they tried to protect each other from the many forces working against them.

While I felt this book deeply, I also felt that some parts didn't ring true. The teenagers were so eloquent and wise that it was unrealistic. While it made for beautiful reading, it didn't sound like any of the 11th graders that I know. For example, "I read somewhere that a lot of the stars we see don't exist anymore. They've already died and it's taken millions of years for their light to reach Earth," Dill said. "That wouldn't be a bad way to die," Lydia said. "Giving off light for millions of years after you're gone."

This is definitely grimmer than your standard YA fare, but it is a quality book that will leave you thinking about it long after finishing. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is the first in a series that I'm very excited to add to my classroom library. I'm always on the lookout for appropriate middle grade novels that are realistic to the lives of my students. True, our heroine Ana lives in a zoo, but she has a typical seventh grade life of family embarrassments, crushes, and friendship changes.

Author Jess Keating was a zoologist before turning to books, and this shines through in the novel. Each chapter starts with truly fascinating facts about animals that I found myself sharing with whomever would listen. Sixth graders love animal books and this nicely mixes that content with adolescent situations.

I loved Ana's voice and think my students will relate to her insecurities and share her mortification at some of the events in the book. There are some laugh out loud moments and Ana has a twin brother, which should appeal to the male readers in my class. Once I see how popular the first book is, I'll decide about adding the other two books to the library.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Take the Fall

I love a good mystery, especially one with unreliable narrators and lots of suspects. Take the Fall has those elements, but it falls short of expectations.

When popular Gretchen Meyer is killed, who is to blame? Her best friend Sonia is suddenly surrounded by potential suspects. When the primary suspect, Gretchen's ex-boyfriend, approaches Sonia for help, she doesn't know who to trust. As the novel progresses, Gretchen's dark side comes out and the reader is wondering who is the true villain.

I wish that this book had better writing and more fleshed out characters. I read until the end, but only to confirm my suspicions about the murderer. If you want to be shocked and thrilled, check out Dangerous Girls or Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas. Everything in those books deliver on the promises that Emily Hainsworth tries to make here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Outpost and Horde

I decided to review these two books together because Ann Aguirre's "Razorland Trilogy" took over my life and I read them in a row without coming up for air. It's been a long time since I loved a series this much. It's fitting that I read this after The Young World, which was another attempt at post-apocalyptic teen lit. Outpost and Horde are everything that novel wishes it was.

Over the course of the series, we watched the four main characters mature. Stalker went from a violent gang leader to someone more selfless and caring. Tegan changed from a tormented rape survivor to a talented medical practitioner. Fade went from an outcast to a loved leader. And our heroine, Deuce, went from a single-minded huntress to a complete person--a family member, military hero, and self aware individual. I loved watching their evolution. 

While the series started as one of many dystopian novels following in The Hunger Games' wake, it
developed into something more. At times, I was reminded of The Lord of the Rings. There was a small band of adventurers who are hopeful, despite the odds. There were journeys across the land filled with travails and loss. In my mind, I pictured the Freaks as the Orcs. These books surpassed my expectations and I was engrossed. 

There is some sexual content in the third book, so I will recommend it to upper middle school students. That's the only thing preventing me from running in and book talking the whole series to my sixth graders tomorrow.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Fun Picture Books

The Mermaid and the Shoe is a dreamy book about a mermaid named Minnow who doesn't know what her purpose is. She feels useless until one day she finds a strange object that sets her off on an adventure to discover what it is. In that search, she finally learns her purpose.

I loved seeing the world from the perspective of Minnow, particularly the way she conceptualizes things on land that don't make sense to her. For example, a lighthouse is referred to as a huge shell with a door and a child as a 'landmaid.' Author K.G. Campbell has fun with language in this story; I hope "eyes the size of sand dollars" is a phrase that catches on around my Bahamian school!

It's hard to be a goat when there's a unicorn in town. What good are your marshmallow squares when the unicorn can make it rain cupcakes? Goat spends much of the book seething with jealousy until Unicorn starts to appreciate Goat's special gifts. A fun message without preaching to readers.

I love the illustrations in this book and how fun and silly everything is. I've never read a Bob Shea book before, but need to seek out more. This is a book I'll be buying for my niece when she's in kindergarten.

I love the message in Chopsticks. Nobody's ever seen them apart, but when one chopstick is injured, the other has to stand on his own and learn who he is without his mate. Rather than dividing them, it gives them more to share with each other when they are reunited.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has written a funny book that young readers will love taking apart. There is silly wordplay (the whisk "whisks away") and fun illustrations. I love all the things that a chopstick could do; my favorite was testing a cake to see if it was done. This would be a great read aloud or bedtime story.

A brilliant idea that I'm surprised no one has had before. Tell Me a Tattoo Story is about a little boy whose routine is to ask his father to tell him about each of his tattoos. Fortunately, they are all heartfelt and appropriate! They detail a book he read as a child, his longest trip, meeting his wife, and the most special of all--the birth of his son.

I can imagine any parent with a tattoo wanting to buy this book for their child. It's nice that the father was in the military, but the story doesn't dwell on it. I hope Alison McGhee sells a ton of copies, based on this clever idea.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


I liked this way more than I expected! Enclave has been on my Goodreads list since November, 2013 and I finally got to read it. My students are thirsty for anything dystopian, so I am making an effort to read all the ones on my list. I often read the first book in a series, but don't always read the rest. As soon as I finished Enclave, I downloaded its sequel.

A plague has decimated the population of Earth and driven its inhabitants underground. Deuce grew up in one of these enclaves, where the life expectancy is short and growing shorter as mutants in the subway tunnels become more organized and deadly. She and her partner are exiled to the world aboveground and need to learn to survive in a place that may be even more deadly than where they left.

I liked the character growth we see in Deuce over the course of the series, and how she is valued by males for her strength. There is a lot of fighting and action in the book, but I never wanted to breeze past it because the descriptions are interesting. While there are references to 'breeding', I don't think this book is inappropriate for my 6th graders. I can see quite a few of them devouring the whole series, as I know I am going to. This book was worth the wait!