Lions & Liars


Lions & Liars (ebook)

by Kate Beasley


Lions & Liars comes out in June 2018.  It is about a boy named Fredrick Fredrickson (his mom wanted him to have a name people would remember) and his theory of life, which is that your place in life is like the food chain.  At the top is a lion, like the popular kid who doesn’t have to try to make friends- everyone gravitates toward him or her.  Fredrick, meanwhile, is the flea on the meerkat.  After being shamed by one of his friends at a party, Fredrick takes off in a small boat and finds himself downriver at a camp for boys needed reformation.  He is starving, and assumes the identity of the kid who didn’t show up, Dash.  However, he soon learns Dash has a certain reputation, and Fredrick needs to hold that up by being a lion.  Things, of course, turn sour and take a turn for the worst when he becomes stranded in a category 5 hurricane, but he learns some important lessons about life along the way.

What I liked about this book is that it will appeal to my students, and even kids below.  I can’t imagine it has a reading level over 4th grade, so it won’t be hard to read and understand.  Fredrick tries to be someone he’s not, which I know my kids can relate to, but he learns to accept who he is, good and bad.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it has some very unrealistic parts to it.  For example, a bunch of nails made a caravan of evacuated animals crash and the animals escaped.  For a young reader, that would be amazing and they wouldn’t even question it.  What would you think if you saw a lion attack a deer-like creature in front of you, or if you saw a monkey hanging out in a tree?

Book 57 of 40

(Book 23  of 2018)


The Creativity Project


The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection (hardcover)

Edited by Colby Sharp


The Creativity Project is a fun anthology of short stories, comics, poems, illustrations, photographs, and prompts that were inspired by, and continue to inspire, creativity.  Various authors came up with two prompts (intros to stories, prompts, pictures, etc.), and these prompts were sent to different authors.  The author then chose between the two prompts.  One, he or she responded to, and the other is in the back of the book for the reader to respond to or use with students.

I read the first few stories on Tuesday night when I received the book (preorder, of course).  I finished one by Grace Lin, then gasped and made my husband read it.  The next morning, my friend (a fellow bibliophile) read it, and ordered the book.  That day, I read the prompt to my sixth graders and had them write. One wrote a poem, one a comic, one a list, and so on.  We shared ideas, explained what we thought, and then I read the story aloud.  Jaws on the table.  They were impressed, and asked if we could pause our other read aloud and make this our new one.

What I liked about this book was that it’s engaging for everyone, it screams creativity (and not just because it’s literally called The Creativity Project), and it was really hard to put down.  It is a nightstand book when you’re too tired to get into your regular book, and class read aloud for the 3 minutes before the bell rings.  It is a writing assignment, a warm up, and a motivational tool.  It’s a discussion starter.  A Google Classroom discussion topic (“What was up with Dav Pilkey’s story?!”).  I swear, I deserve commission, because at least 4 people bought this book on Wednesday when I brought it to school (are you reading this, Colby Sharp?).  My principal walked around asking who wanted one, because she was on Amazon buying her own copy that moment.  So yes, you there was a lot to like about this book, and it can’t be simplified to one particular story, element, or reason.  It’s in the title (An Awesometastic Story Collection), in the vast list of notable authors who participated, and the premise of the book.

What I didn’t like about this book… there was one story I attempted twice and couldn’t get into.  I assumed I was tired the first time, but I was lost the second time, so I’m saving it for another day.

Book 56 of 40

(Book 22  of 2018)

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King


Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (paperback)

by Ben Hatke


I really enjoyed Mighty Jack, but it left me hanging.  Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is the second installation, and as far as I know, Hatke only has or plans to write these two.  Jack and Lilley have gone into the garden to look for Jack’s sister, who was captured by a giant.  When they get there, they discover a world with Goblins (who turn out to be good), Giants (who are bad), and these weird rat things that chew through the vines and pipes.  Jack and Lilley are separated, but both face danger in search of Jack’s sister.  They make allies and fight the bad guys, and have a final challenge at the end that will appeal to all of my female students.  It doesn’t leave us hanging, but segues into another of Hatke’s series by introducing us to some of his other characters.

What I liked about this book was the girl power.  Lilley took charge and was given an important job where she faced tough choices, but came out on top.  Jack had to rely on Lilley’s quick thinking a few times, which is a nice change up from “the boy saves the girl.”  However, there was the porch scene that was a nice surprise.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way is was crammed in.  I felt like there was potential for other parts to be developed and explained, but overall, Hatke did a great job of writing an engaging graphic novel for my sixth grade readers.  And their teacher.

Book 55 of 40

(Book 21 of 2018)

Vincent and Theo


Vincent and Theo (audiobook)

by Deborah Heiligman


This wonderful piece of nonfiction tells the story of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo van Gogh.  I have always been a huge fan of van Gogh.  When I first started getting into art, I studied him, did research papers on his life and work, cried when I saw a traveling show in LA featuring his work, and visited the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam about 14 years ago.  I thought I was a pretty big fan that I knew basically everything about him.  Well I was totally wrong.  After reading this book, I realized that I knew the basics and a lot of that was just blended together a sugar coated for kids.  For example, I knew he cut off his ear when he got into a fight with Gauguin.  I didn’t know that Gauguin was a fencer and there is still disagreement about whether van Gogh cut off his own ear, or Gauguin did it with his fencing sword.  This book also gave me insight into his childhood, various careers, relationships, and mental illness.  I learned he was starting to gain attention before he died, and many painters attended his funeral.  The biggest thing for me was Theo’s wife’s influence on Vincent’s career.  I guess I thought his paintings were just there and were then discovered for their awesomeness, but it was Johanna who propelled his career forward, despite Vincent and Theo being deceased.  I loved loved loved that I now know Theo and not just Vincent, because the two were equally impactful on Vincent’s work.

What I liked about this book was that while I am not a big nonfiction fan unless it is professional development or something, I fell in LOVE with this book.  I might need to own it instead of just borrow it from the library.  I can’t stop thinking about it!  I knew a lot about van Gogh already, so I thought it was going to be like a text book about an artist I really love. I had no idea it was a love story between two brothers.  The author told equal parts Vincent and Theo, and we can see both had troubled lives, but they were the most important person in each other’s lives.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it took me awhile to get into it.  I think that’s because I am not normally a nonfiction reader, so it took a few chapters for me to realize it was a story with characters, only those characters were real people who once walked our Earth.  Once I got into it, I couldn’t stop listening.

Book 54 of 40

(Book 20 of 2018)

Amal Unbound


Amal Unbound (ebook)

by Aisha Saeed


Amal Unbound is about a girl named Amal living in a small community in Pakistan.  She is the oldest of five girls.  She realizes her parents desperately wanted her newest sister to be a boy after her mom falls into a postpartum depression, and Amal is left to run the household in her place.  Because her father pulled her out of school to help with the family, Amal is angry.  She gets herself into trouble when she talks back to a landlord, and is taken from her family to pay their debt as an indentured servant in his house.  This makes her even more angry, and frightened she will never have her freedom, her family, or her education, which she so desperately longs for.  Amal must find a way to  continue her education and find the strength within herself to go on.

What I liked about this book was that Amal found a way to stay strong and find a way to go on, despite the most desperate of situations.  When it seemed like she would never have what she desired- an education, her family, and her freedom- she found a way to stay positive and carry on.  Readers will hopefully see that despite the hardships we face, including times where we cannot control what happens to us, we have to hold on to hope, as well as find inner strength to carry on and make the most of a situation.  I also appreciate that Amal’s goal in life was to get an education and become a teacher.  Finally, at the end of the book, there is a blurb on Malala, a role model and cheerleader for women everywhere, particularly in countries where educating women is not a priority.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a frustrating reality.  Although Pakistan is a country that is changing, indentured servitude is something that exists.  We take our freedom and right to education for granted here in America.  I hope this opens the eyes of my students so they realize how lucky they are to have books at their fingertips and the opportunity to learn, despite being female or poor.

Book 53 of 40

(Book 19 of 2018)

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (audiobook)

by Becky Albertalli


I cannot wait until “Love, Simon” comes out in the theaters, because I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I didn’t know what this was about, and only started listening, because I’d heard about it a few times.  Simon is the protagonist, and he is gay, but no one knows.  He is emailing a mystery person, and all they know about each other is that they’re both students at the same school.  When he forgets to log out of his email on a school computer, another student threatens to reveal his emails if Simon doesn’t hook him up with one of his best female friends.  Throughout the story, Simon continues emailing this mystery person and their relationship blossoms, but he remains in the closet until someone outs him on Tumblr.  Then he is forced to take back control.

What I liked about this book… Ahhh I loved this story.  I loved that it was a coming out story, because although I am not gay, I know how important coming out is for people, and it should be the time and place of their choosing.  I loved the point of view of the story.  I know I’ve had students come through my class who maybe didn’t realize they were gay, or maybe they did, but I think they could relate to Simon in a few years.  He had girlfriends, but realized he didn’t feel the way he should have.  I know this isn’t clear, but I just think people need to read this and see that love is love, and romantic coming of age stories aren’t just for straight kids.  Everyone deserves to have that first romance.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted to punch Martin in the throat.  A lot.  I had to give Simon credit for finding some kind of forgiveness or peace.  It was really frustrating feeling Simon’s feelings because of what Martin did to him.

Book 52 of 40

(Book 18 of 2018)

You’re Welcome, Universe


You’re Welcome, Universe (hardcover)

by Whitney Gardner


Julia is high school student who is expelled for graffiti.  She is an artist, and spray paint on public places is her medium.  She feels her art is a gift to the universe.  This time, she is defending the honor of who she thinks is her best friend, but Julia soon finds out she’s not who Julia thinks she is.  By the way, Julia is deaf and has two deaf moms, which provides diversity and new perspectives for readers.  Julia puts her art in public places, and someone starts adding to her art, which she believes is an insult, and she is challenged to up her game without getting caught.  A new art teacher and a friend with other issues help Julia deal with her anger and create art.

What I liked about this book was how much I learned about the deaf community (and it is a community from what I’ve read here and in other books).  This won the Schneider Family Book Award, and there are three “minorities” here… Julia’s parents are lesbians (LGBTQ), Julia is deaf (person with a disability), and Julia is of Indian-descent.  However, being “brown” and having gay parents were secondary to Julia being deaf.  That, I felt, was pretty cool, because it seems like both are becoming the norm and more accepted, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago when it was something not talked about so much.  (Sidenote… my BFF in high school lived with her mom and her mom’s girlfriend, but everyone swore up and down they were just roommates… because having lesbian parents was taboo in the 90’s.)

What I didn’t like about this book was that there were a few reasons I might have to be careful when sharing this book with sixth graders.  I’ve said before that it’s hard for me, because I will finish a great book and immediately want to share, but sixth grade in an elementary setting is different from sixth grade in a junior high setting.  My kids are diverse.  Some can handle young adult, while others are still in the elementary mindset.  This book has a sexual situation (fooling around, not actually having sex) and there are a few bad words.  It’s a great book, but I had to give the “If you’re uncomfortable while reading it, please stop” lecture.

Book 51 of 40

(Book 17 of 2018)