Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Strong Girl Picture Books

Oh boy, can I related to Rosie Revere, Engineer. I really want to do things well the first time I try them, and when things go wrong, I can struggle to try again. Ask me about the second time I can't because I haven't done it!

Rosie wants to be an engineer, but when her uncle laughs at her invention, she gives up. It takes some encouragement from her great-great-aunt (Rosie the Riveter) to get her back in action. Great message about perseverance that I should listen to.

Now I want to check out the author's other book, Iggy Peck, Architect.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova has huge buzz, so I was eager to check it out. I knew almost nothing about the life of the world's most famous ballerina, who grew up poor and was dedicated to sharing dance with the world.

Better than the story are the illustrations by Julie Morstad. They are in muted colors and feature so much beautiful snow. I know that young ballerinas will spend ages poring over the different costumes and deciding which they like best. Although it's a picture book, it feels elegant and mature and is worth including in a middle grade class library.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Seventh Wish

In her acknowledgments, author Kate Messner thanks her editor for supporting "a magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids." It sounds insane, but that's exactly what The Seventh Wish is, and it is excellent. 

I wish that a book about heroin addiction in a family wasn't necessary, but it is. In the past ten years, heroin overdoses have skyrocketed and many people are affected by this epidemic. Messner has written a book that opens discussions and provides insight, which could help young readers be more sympathetic and less likely to get involved in the first place. 

The book isn't only about a dramatic addiction in the family. Protagonist Charlie catches a fish that gives magical wishes, which sets the whole story in motion. This touch helps temper the very serious family issues. She is also an Irish step dancer with wonderful friends. I love that they support each other and that there is no additional drama from them about Charlie's family problems. 

I've already got all my read-alouds planned for the year, but I will make it a point to read the first chapter aloud to the class to get them interested. The more people who read it, the better. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Rules

Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie's The Rules took me back to my days of reading Christopher Pike novels on the beach all summer long. This is a trashy popcorn read that is self-described as a mix of "Saw" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer." That's an apt description for a book about wealthy teens getting killed off in ways that relate to their various flaws and vices.

One problem I had was the multiple perspectives made it difficult to keep track of the characters. Luckily, they were all massive stereotypes, so I just had to check the list in my head, "Is that the 'roid rage jock, the all-star athlete, or the druggy band member?" The characters weren't well-written enough to get attached to them, so it was easy to watch their gruesome deaths and wait to see who the actual killer is.

It's not a great book, but it hooks you in and I can see it being popular with developing readers who want some light horror.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Maybe a Fox

Oh, this is a sad one. Are middle grade books getting sadder? I'm not sure if it's because books about grief tend to get recognized for awards, but I don't know any young readers who love to cry when they read.

Still, Maybe a Fox is a great story about what happens when a beloved sister passes away. The twist is that we get the perspective of a fox who is connected to the girls. It all comes together in the end and had me bawling. That's why I think it would be better as a book that a parent reads a child than a book that a child picks up on their own.

There are some interesting choices. Maybe a Fox takes place in the past, but the only reason we know this is because the older sister Sylvie always wore a Florence Griffith-Joyner shirt. I don't know what this would add to the story, except maybe that there are no cell phones that might help during emergencies. I also thought it was strange that there are actually two devastating deaths in the novel. While they parallel each other, it feels like too much tragedy for a middle grade novel. I will book talk it and tell students why I enjoyed it, but I don't know how many students will pick it up.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


I am really excited about this one.

My students have begun exploring the vast world of dystopian fiction. There is so much out there for them, but not all of it is appropriate for eleven year olds. An Ember in the Ashes (review) has too much rape and Pivot Point has drug use as a focal point. I'm happy that Joelle Charbonneau's Need gives readers the thrills that they seek, without taking it too far.

When a new social media network opens up to her high school, Kaylee isn't very impressed. That is, until she learns that this site provides members with anything they need. All her other efforts to get a kidney transplant for her brother have been futile, so Kaylee signs up. But she and her classmates soon learn that there is always a price for what we want, and sometimes it is very steep.

My lofty hope for this novel is that my students will think twice about what they post online. But if they just end up being entertained by Need, I'm okay with that. I can't wait to book talk this to my class.