Solo

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Solo (ebook and hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

 

I am a big fan of Kwame Alexander, and I was so excited to get this (preordered) book in the mail, but never picked it up, because it’s just so thick!  I kept pushing it aside for shorter books, some of which I spent way too long reading.  I started this as a hardcover, but discovered the ebook helped me to get through it faster.  It’s easier to sneak an ebook at a party and in the car.  A book thicker than my forearm, not so much.

In Solo, Blade Morrison is on the verge of adulthood.  He is graduating from high school as a salutatorian, he has a hot girlfriend, and plans for college with a bright future in music.  However, his rock star father shakes things up when he crashes his graduation and lands himself back into rehab.  Blade relies on the love of his life, his girlfriend Chapel, but finds that their relationship is on the rocks.  When he finds out a family secret, Blade sets out for Ghana to find some answers, and learns more about himself than he first set out to find.

What I liked about this book is that it was written in verse, and I love Alexander’s lyrical style.  I felt it was especially paired well with the musical theme.  Saying I loved his writing style is old news, though.  Really, I got sucked into Blade’s story.  I wanted the best for him, and while I wasn’t raised in a mansion in Hollywood Hills, I can relate to it seeming like I have everything when people don’t really know what’s going on underneath.

What I didn’t like about this book was that his relationship at the end was left without closure.  I spent the second half of the book wondering how they’d make it work from across the globe, and whether she’d give up her simple lifestyle for a Hollywood one.

Book 13 of 40

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Graveyard Shakes

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Graveyard Shakes (paperback)

by Laura Terry

 

Graveyard Shakes is a graphic novel perfect for the month of October.  It starts with a father casting a spell to give his son 10 more years of life by taking the life of a child.  He enlists the help of a ghost and some ghouls.  Then it moves to sisters Katia and Victoria, who are attending a ritzy private school far from home, which I have to assume is in a small town or countryside.  Katia is a talented pianist and marches to the beat of her own drum, while Victoria desperately wants to fit in.  During a storm, Katia runs into the ghouls and Victoria sets out to save her from the dad and his spell.

What I liked about the book is that it was a fast read and it entertained me.  It also presented a student who could care less about what others thought, but needed to tone it down a big, and another who cared too much what people thought and needed to learn to be herself.  Although it was entertaining, it still had a message, which I appreciate if I’m to be sharing it with my students.

What I didn’t like about the book was that it was kind of dark.  I mean, killing an innocent child so another child could live.  Then he shows up later and the girls are okay with that.  It was just creepy.

Book 12 of 40

Wishtree

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Wishtree (ebook)

by Katherine Applegate

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You know I like to follow certain people on Twitter who will tell me what to read, and so far, I’ve done my best to keep up with the notable books published during 2017.  I started hearing about Wishtree back in February, but I didn’t preorder it, despite all of the hype around it.  I figured I’d get around to it before Newbery season came around, and when I discovered it in my Overdrive account, I jumped on it.

Wishtree is told from the perspective of a red oak named Red.  She is about 217 years old, and she has watched a neighborhood grow, along with the neighbors, both human and critter.  Red has many critter friends, including a crow named Bongo and families of opossums, raccoons, skunks, and owls.  She is visited by people once a year on wishing day when they tie their wish to her somehow.  Red is a kind and gentle soul and decides to meddle with humankind when a little Muslim girl named Samar wishes for a friend, and a non-Muslim boy lives next door.  His parents aren’t comfortable with Samar’s family, and someone carves “leave” in Red’s trunk and eggs the yard.  Red’s meddling causes an exciting wishing day and leaves the reader with a powerful message.

What I liked about this book was the message and influence it can have over students who read it.  I usually have at least one Muslim student each year, and while students are friendly and kind with these friends, they don’t necessarily know about what is going on in the world.  I appreciate that Applegate shows the ignorance of strangers, and we as the reader are forced to have feelings about it, which leads to understanding and compassion towards others.  I have never asked my Muslim students if they’ve had people treat them cruelly, but I know the potential is out there, especially in the world we live in today.

What I didn’t like about this book is I feel like with many of Applegate’s books, there is a huge climax that is rushed.  I had one of those moments where I put my hand over my mouth from feeling the feelings, but then it quickly went away and the story was over.  There was potential for more story and more background, but she kept it simple.  Short and sweet, I suppose.

Book 11 of 40

Maxi’s Secrets

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Maxi’s Secrets (Or What You Can Learn From A Dog) (hardcover)

by Lynn Plourde

AR Level 4.1, 7 points

 

Maxi’s Secrets is about a dog and her boy, Timminy.  Timminy is an unusually short fifth grader who is new in a small town (moved from Portland, Maine).  He starts at a new school where he is immediately bullied for his height.  He, however, makes it worse by not being able to laugh at himself.  He makes friends with a girl who is blind and several of her friends.  Most importantly, Timminy has a best friend named Maxi, a Great Pyrenees puppy, who is wise beyond her years and teaches Timminy her many “secrets” to life.  Each chapter ends with a lesson that Maxi taught Timminy.

What I liked about this book was that it brought in children with disabilities.  One extremely short, one blind, one with a disorder leaving her with crutches, and one who isn’t disabled, but sad due to his mom leaving.  It is good to have diverse characters so readers can gain understanding, compassion, and acceptance.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t feel it was authentic.  I believe the author really experienced the love and death of her pet dog, but the thinking and interactions of the characters seemed very far removed from the way young people think today.  Not that I know… I’m 38 years old… but I spend my day with 11 and 12 year olds, and I listen to their conversations.  The story was entertaining and I know my dog-loving students will enjoy it, but I’m not positive they’ll be able to relate to it.  I heard a lot about this book on Twitter last year, but I wasn’t as impressed.  I took me 2 weeks to finish, which was a ridiculously long time for the level of difficulty.

Book 9 of 40

Under Rose-Tainted Skies

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies (audiobook)

by Louise Gornall

 

As my friend says, I gravitate to “sad” or “depressing” young adult books, and that’s why we don’t completely share the same taste in books.  Under Rose-Tainted Skies didn’t exactly feel depressing for most of it, but it did give me a glimpse into the world of a young woman with OCD and agoraphobia.  Norah’s mother goes out of town, and Norah is left to fend for herself within her home.  She is terrified of leaving the house, of strangers touching her, of catching diseases, etc., and settles her fears with self-harm.  She meets her new neighbor, and he has to learn her rules.  Norah’s ups and downs with mental illness make a relationship difficult, but the two of them have to learn together.

What I liked about this book was that I could experience mental illness without having mental illness.  Gornall, from what I’ve read, used her life experiences as inspiration for this novel, and while I am a homebody have a touch of anxiety now and then, I will likely never develop OCD or agoraphobia.  I can’t completely understand what it is like to live with mental illness, but reading about it helps build understanding.

What I didn’t like about this book is what often bothers me in similar books… there is always a mentally ill character with someone who loves and adores them and is willing to overlook their illness and be a perfect significant other.  I know there are people out there like that, but in every book I read, this is the first relationship and everything is perfect.  I don’t think that part is realistic.  However, I keep coming back for more, don’t I?  So it can’t bother me TOO much!

Book 10 of 40

A Boy Called Bat

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A Boy Called Bat (hardcover)

by Elana K. Arnold

AR Level 4.6, 3 points

 

This book is so cute!  A Boy Called Bat is about a boy called Bat (a nickname) and he is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Bat’s mother is a veterinarian, and she brings home a newborn orphaned skunk to care for until he is ready for release.  Bat becomes very attached to the baby skunk and names him Thor.  He sets out to find a way to keep the skunk long-term, despite the advice of his mother and a skunk expert he writes to.  The bigger storyline that might not be as obvious to child readers is the way he navigates his every day life with autism.  We are able to see social situations and family issues from his perspective, which is one that most of us don’t see, and I really appreciated that.

What I liked about this book was the perspective.  Autism is something that is a mystery to those who do not live with someone with autism.  I have had many students with autism, but it is a whole different way of thinking, and I think it builds understanding and compassion when we are able to learn more about it.  People, including students, are afraid of what they don’t know, and education is the best way to build that understanding.  For me, reading about it is the best way to share the knowledge with students.

What I didn’t like about the book is that it wasn’t a quick-moving story, and while it should have taken me an hour or two to finish, it took me 4 days.  It may not be the book’s fault, though.  I was especially tired this week and just couldn’t stay awake while reading it.

Book 8 of 40

Cloud and Wallfish

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Cloud and Wallfish (hardcover)

by Anne Nesbet

AR Level 5.8, 12 points

 

Cloud and Wallfish is about a boy named Noah who had to forget everything he thought he knew about himself when his parents pick him up from school and move to East Germany during the Cold War, right before the Berlin Wall was torn down.  Noah is given a new name (Jonah), a new birthday, and a new identity, including a book of class pictures that aren’t really of him.  He is given a set of rules that require him to be seen and not heard, lest he give away their true identities.  Noah is told it is so his mother can study children with stutters (like himself), but he later finds that may not be the complete truth.  Noah, lonely and confused, makes friends with a girl named Claudia whose parents died in a car accident and is being raised by her frightening grandmother.  Claudia (Cloud) and Noah/Jonah (Wallfish, which sounds like the german word for whale) become friends and create a bond that cannot be broken by time.

What I liked about this book was that I learned a lot about what life was like for East Germans during the Cold War.  It is a time period I was never really interested in, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge about it, and I appreciated that this book broke it down through both narrative and “fact files” so I could have a background.  That was a clever strategy the author used.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I was disappointed.  I had high hopes for this book and REALLY thought I’d love it.  It is well-written, but it was a little slow for me.  I actually had to renew this book from the library, because I couldn’t finish it in the time I had it.  I also have questions that have yet to be answered.  There were things that either weren’t explained or weren’t clear, possibly because I rushed through the ending to finally see the finish.

Book 7 of 40