Friday, June 26, 2015

Codename Zero

Middle grade spy novels are huge--ten and eleven-year olds would love to be more powerful and equipped for every situation with gadgets and skills. Since that isn't the case, they get to live vicariously through literary spies. Loot, the Alex Rider series, and The Double Cross have all been popular titles in my class this year. Codename Zero is the latest spy novel to hit our shelves.

Carson is the school prankster who is suddenly in over his head. After a chance encounter, he's suddenly a member of a spy organization. His North Dakota town suddenly isn't so sleepy as he battles enemies and helps his friend evade capture.

My students aren't experiencing any "spy fatigue," they'll love this novel. It doesn't get much more aspirational than a prankster whose alter ego is a spy. It's less humorous than The Double Cross and about as intense as Loot. Sure to be a hit with the kids who are waiting for the next big mystery to solve.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bone Gap

Bone Gap has huge buzz around it, and you could forgive me from thinking it would be similar to The Secret Life of Bees, based on it cover. It couldn't be further from that novel; it is completely its own interesting, twisted, surprising book.

It's a novel that defies a neat summary, so I am going to skip that and just say that I found myself reading as much as possible, including during my planning periods at school. I wanted to know what would happen, and although I found the ending strange and less satisfying than I wished, I still enjoyed it.

Laura Ruby is a gifted writer, crafting sentences like, "Funny how you notice how beautiful things are just when you're about to leave them." The quirks of Bone Gap won't be for everyone, but good writing cannot be denied.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Paper Things

Middle graders enjoy "problem novels" -- they teach them about the world and the issues that others face. In the case of Paper Things, the issue is homelessness, although our protagonist, Ari, doesn't think of herself that way.

Ari and her older brother Gage are "between homes." After their parents' deaths, things didn't work out with their guardian, so they drift between the apartments of Gage's friend, girlfriend, and the occasional shelter. Once a start student on her way to the middle school for gifted students, now Ari struggles to get her work done and to keep her uniform and herself clean. Through it all, she keeps a positive attitude and hopes that things will work out for her family.

Paper Things is a great novel for teaching empathy. At one point, Ari is teased for having greasy hair. If the students had known that it was because she was sleeping in a homeless shelter, they never would have said anything. I hope it makes readers put themselves in some else's shoes before lashing out with unkind comments.

I'll be passing this off to my students who enjoyed Rain Reign and Okay for Now. I think this thoughtful portrait of homelessness is worth sharing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Make Lemonade

Wow, I really disliked this!

Our school librarian recommended it to me and I'm always excited to read novels in verse, but Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff did nothing for me.

Lavaughn takes a job babysitting for teenage mom Jolly's two kids, Jilly and Jeremy, and ends up getting more and more involved in their lives. I didn't find any of the characters likable, so did not care very much about their fates. Perhaps it's because I've known too many Jollys--people who don't take responsibility and say, "Nobody told me."

I only finished the book because I could read it in an hour. Now I have to think of what to say to the librarian when I see her again!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Sweet was a fun one!

Laurel is excited when her best friend's father pays for them to travel on a cruise where a new miracle weight loss drug, Solu, is being debuted. What could be better than traveling with the rich and famous, while dropping a few pounds? Too seasick to take it herself, Laurel notices that Solu works. But then it seems like it's working a little too well, and everyone on board might be in danger.

I love a good zombie novel and reading People magazine is a guilty pleasure, so this was a perfect fit. It's upbeat and frothy, even when the froth is coming from the blood of Solu addicts. This would be a great book for fans of Libba Bray's Beauty Queens - satire, violence, humor, and pop culture all rolled into one.

It's too mature for my fifth graders, but I know many former students who will love Sweet.