Saturday, May 27, 2017


For almost two years, Loot has been my go-to recommendation when a student is looking for a mysterious adventure novel. I was thrilled to see that there was a sequel, called Sting.

March, his sister Jules, and their friends thought they had retired from their lives as teen criminals. That is, until they are swindled and lose everything they have. The only way out is to hunt down three cursed gems, but there are other thieves who want the same prize, including one that they know very well.

Sting doesn't stray much from the plot of Loot, but that was so good that it's worth living again. The stakes are higher and there is more action, so young readers won't get bored. Rather, they'll be like my student who wanted to know if there would be a third book. There's always hope!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Sometimes you just need to read a good book about growing up. Kate Messner is the perfect author for this situation; many of her books involve a close-knit and quirky family, a serious illness that the protagonist needs to accept, and information about an unusual hobby. All the Answers and The Seventh Wish fit that mold, so does The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. 

Let's check the boxes:

Family runs a funeral parlor
Annoying little brother who lives to tell jokes
A grandmother with Alzheimer's

Yes, it's all here. I have some die-hard Messner fans in my class who will be thrilled that I found this in my library. This will be my next book talk.

One note: Gianna was exceptionally disorganized and it stressed me out to read about it. I found it strange that her parents weren't more supportive in helping her create systems for success. Telling her to make a list isn't going to help someone with these issues. I kept waiting for Gianna to be diagnosed with ADHD, there were certainly plenty of hints, but nothing paid off there.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Nine, Ten

Fifteen years after September 11th, several books were published aimed at sharing the experience with young people. It made me wonder if fifteen years was no longer considered “too soon” or if writers wanted to commemorate the tragedy for readers who were too young or not alive to understand. For me, it would still be too heavy to read all the 9/11 books, so I chose Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Nine, Ten.

Nine, Ten tells vignettes of young people in the days leading up to September 11th. The reader watches the hours tick by with impending doom as parents head to meetings at the World Trade Center, a character befriends a fireman, and a Muslim student struggles with how much she needs to explain her hajib to her classmates. While I wasn’t particularly attached to any characters, I worried about how the events would affect them.

Baskin chooses to skip most of the horror of the day and its aftermath, keeping the novel safely in middle grade territory. In focusing on individual people, she helps young readers understand how unprepared everyone was for the events of September 11th. My favorite part of the novel was the end, when the characters’ stories intersect and made me tear up. While this won’t inform readers much about September 11th, it will give them faces to the humanity behind the history.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Return Fire

Return Fire was the most anticipated book in my classroom this year, even more than Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts. We read the Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s first book, Moving Target, as a class last year and even had a Skype call with the author. We were eager to learn what would happen to Cassie Arroyo and the spear; we weren’t disappointed.

Picking up where Moving Target left off, Cassie and Asher need to find the spear in order to free destiny. Having used the spear, Cassie is becoming increasingly less sure that that is the right decision. Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to make the right decisions for the world? After being betrayed and lied to by several people she loved, Cassie feels she can only count on herself, and the spear seems to be tugging at her…

Return Fire offers redemption for some villains, which means that Cassie is more forgiving than I am, or that this is a true middle grade novel where the reader needs to learn about giving second chances. I would not have been so kind as Cassie, which was a good discussion topic with the class. When can someone be forgiven? How do people learn to trust again?

The story wraps up fairly neatly in the end, and Gonzalez told us there won’t be any more in the series. I like when an author knows when to end a story, but will also be looking forward to her next book.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Millicent Min, Girl Genius is an exemplar for the #weneeddiversebooks movement. Our protagonist, Millie, is Chinese American, but it is never more than a background detail about the character. I have students who enjoyed seeing someone who looked like them on the cover of a novel, and were even happier to discover that it’s a good book.

At only eleven, Millicent has just entered the summer before her senior year of high school. That’s when everything starts to change: her mother signs her up for volleyball, her beloved grandmother is moving away, and she has to tutor the aggravating Stanford Wong. It’s not all bad, though. It seems that Millie is making a new friend, if only she doesn’t scare Emily off with her genius. We all know what happens when someone tries to hide his or her true self.

Some of my students will be reading this as part of their social issues book clubs. I’m happy that the social issue doesn’t revolve around being a minority, but rather about trying to fit in. I found Millie to be a charming narrator and am eager to hear what my students think.