Monday, October 30, 2017

Lesson Idea: Over and Under the Pond

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating ten years of reviewing at Devour Books. To keep the site fresh for me, I'll occasionally be sharing some lesson plan ideas that I have about books I've read. The first is about Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal's Over and Under the Pond.

Ecosystems are studied at many grade levels. I know we study them in the sixth grade, but I'm pretty sure the third and eighth graders learn about them, too. This book could be used at any of those grade levels. Messner and Neal explore the ecosystem of a pond through the eyes of a mother and son on a canoe trip, as well as many of the inhabitants of the area.

Students could use Over and Under the Pond as a mentor text and work in groups to create a similar text about a different ecosystem. This would involve researching the various animals in the food chain, as well as the land. In her author's note, Messner writes about pollution and loss of habitat threatening ecosystems. Students could be sure to incorporate in their text. To make it interdisciplinary, the illustrations for their book could be done in art class. Students should be sure to explain about the animals in their ecosystem in the back of their book, similar to how Messner did it. The final product could be shared with a younger grade that also studies ecosystems.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Hate U Give

I hope that every secondary school in the United States gets a copy of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give for their library. This should be required reading for everyone: students, teachers, police officers, social workers, parents.

Starr has always had two sides to her life: who she is at the suburban private school she attends and who she is in the tough neighborhood where she lives. These sides collide when she is the sole witness to the shooting of an old friend. Everyone has an opinion on what happened and Starr's life feels like it is spiraling out of control. Does she do what's right, even if it is unsafe?

There are so many issues in The Hate U Give that it felt overwhelming: police brutality, racial tension, gang violence, sex. But I think this is the way life feels to many teenagers and it's a good reminders for the adult readers of the novel. There is so much to discuss here and it really fills a need in our libraries.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Argh, I wrote a review of Gordon Korman's Restart, and then lost the paper where I wrote it. Mommy brain strikes again!

I enjoyed this story of bullying written from a unique angle: Chase wakes up in a hospital after falling off his roof. He has amnesia and needs to relearn everything about his recent life. As he does, Chase realizes that he is a bully and that most of the people in his life fear him. While he doesn't want to be a mean person, Chase learns that not everyone is quick to believe that he has changed. Even worse, what happens when he feels his old rotten instincts kicking in?

Gordon Korman books are always in a hit in my classroom and Restart will be no exception. While some of the characters are broad enough to be considered stereotypes, the main characters are thoughtful representations. Best of all, we get the insight of a bully in a fresh way.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Once and For All

I love Sarah Dessen's books. There is something so comforting about settling into a romance set in Colby, NC that has all of Dessen's excellent touches. Her thirteenth novel, Once and For All, follows the classic blueprint for her books, although this one is slightly different. As in her last novel, Dessen seems to be going for a darker tone. I think many of her fans will be disappointed, but I like that she is challenging herself and her readers.

Although she works for her mother's wedding planning company, Louna has given up on love after a tragedy with her first boyfriend. She doesn't want to risk getting hurt again, even when there is an appealing possible boyfriend right in front of her. I wish that I had liked Louna and Ambrose a bit more. Then I would have been rooting for them to get together rather than waiting for the inevitable.

My favorite part of the book was a line from Ambrose, saying, "The bottom line is, all anyone really wants from another person is their attention. It's so easy to give and counts for so much. It's stupid not to do it." That's a beautiful thing to keep in mind as we go through life. I hope that this is a takeaway for teen readers as much as it was for me.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

I stayed up all night reading Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequited.  As the parent of an infant who is in desperate need of sleep, this is the highest praise I can give a book. I mostly read board books these days, but had been waiting for something new from Albertalli, whose previous book I adored.

Molly is seventeen and feels like she will never fall in love. Sure, she's had plenty of crushes, but nothing has ever come of it. It doesn't help that her twin sister finds love easily. It also doesn't help that she is self-conscious about being overweight. It seems like she is doomed to a loveless existence, when there is suddenly possibility everywhere. Will she be able to get over herself to take advantage?

Albertalli has an incredible voice that makes me greedy for her words, similar to the way I feel about Jenny Han or Sarah Dessen's writing. I love how inclusive her novels are: Molly has two moms, her sister is gay and dating a pansexual girl, and there are many different races represented. So many different readers will see themselves in this book, and Molly has the most authentic voice for an overweight character. I was so excited to read this and am now tapping my foot, waiting for whatever Albertalli writes next.