Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


In Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts after a lonely summer.  As it turns out, someone was intercepting mail, and Harry thought his friends had deserted him, but that changes when he’s rescued from the Dursley’s by an enchanted car (see cover).  Harry and Ron find themselves in a ton of trouble, and one more rule broken will result in their expulsion from Howarts.  We meet Ginny, Ron’s sister, as well as a dopey new professor of the Dark Arts.  In the end, Voldemort makes his return through a different manifestation, and Harry once again defeats him.  However, we learn a lot about both of them in this story, including Voldemort’s past, Harry’s second language, and how the two enemies’ lives are intertwined.

What I liked about this book was the continued character development.  After spending time with Harry and his friends for two books, we learn more about the history of Voldemort, Hermione’s fall from girl power, and Ron’s hatred of spiders (I’m with Ron).  You also see their loyalty.  Even when Hermione didn’t agree with Harry or Ron, she continued to risk getting into trouble to help solve the problem.  Harry also risked his life to save Ron’s sister, and Ron went into the forest with massive spiders, and stuck by Harry’s side.  The themes of friendship and loyalty are well-developed.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it never stood out in my mind as being my favorite.  I think that often happens with second books- the first was so good, the second pales in comparison.  I thought the end was complicated and confusing, and students will miss important details.  That’s not to say it wasn’t well thought-out and detailed.  I understood everything, but I think it might take someone setting the book down and thinking about the details to get them straight.  The third book was my favorite, so let’s see if that is still true!

Book 3 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 49 of 2018)


Be Prepared


Be Prepared (paperback)

by Vera Brosgol


Be Prepared is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Vera Brosgol (the first was Anya’s Ghost), and this is more autobiographical.  The main character, Vera, is a Russian immigrant, and her main goal is to fit in with the more popular, American girls, but she is poor and Russian, and doesn’t look the same or have the nice dolls they have.  She is discouraged, but learns there is a summer camp she can attend while the others girls attend their own summer camps.  It is a camp for Russian American kids, and her mother finds a way to send her there.  However, Vera finds herself in the same problem, trying to fit in with the popular girls, but she’s the youngest, smallest, and least cool.  She declines help from the leader, and tries to make it on her own.  Vera learns she can’t isolate herself, and has to get herself out of her predicament.

What I liked about this book is I think students will be able to relate to Vera’s problems while learning about summer camp and enjoying a graphic novel.  Vera struggles to fit in, deals with the popular girls, and doesn’t understand what true friendship is, allowing herself to be used. She didn’t really put herself out there, and tried to be like the others.  I could relate to that.  Hopefully, this book will speak to some of my students who struggle with the same thing.

What I didn’t like about this book was the page with giant spider illustrations!

Book 2 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 48 of 2018)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first in a life-changing series.  Life-changing?  Yes.  Once you meet Harry and his friends, you will become a HP fan for life.  In the first few chapters, we learn about Harry’s dismal life pre-Hogwarts, living as an orphan with his abusive aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Strange things happen to him, but he doesn’t learn about being a wizard until Hagrid rescues him from his family and tells him about his loving parents and the world of magic.  Harry attends Hogwarts and makes friends with Ron, and later Hermione, who become loyal companions.  They learn about Voldemort, an evil sorcerer who killed Harry’s parents, and has come back to kill Harry.  With the help of Hagrid, Dumbledore, and his professors, Harry adapts to being a wizard and learns to trust his magical family.

What I liked about this book was my lens.  This summer, I decided to reread the Harry Potter series.  I read the first few books in 1999, and then read them in real time as they were published.  While I have read this book a few times with my class, I haven’t actually read the rest of the series.  Reading this on my own (without reading as a teacher) has brought back my love for Harry and his friends, and I am very excited to reintroduce this to my class with a new vigor.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was hard for me to get into it without thinking of my students’ comments, knowing that some of them hated it, and learning several of them skipped through chapters without appreciating it!  It made me wonder if I should read this with my class, because I don’t want them to think of the movies and then be disappointed by the book.  However, knowing how many I did turn on to the series, it is worth it.

Book 1 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 47 of 2018)

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street


The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (hardcover)

by Karina Yan Glaser


I put off reading The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, because I generally read books with real world problems, relevant to current events, or about misrepresented youth.  This book seemed too happy.  Well, I wasn’t wrong.  It is about a family of 7 (mom and dad, twin daughters, a son, and then 2 more younger daughters).  They are being evicted from their brownstone in Harlem, New York, but they don’t know why.  The kids are deeply troubled by this, because they love their home and don’t want to leave all they’re familiar with, including the friendly neighbors.  They decide to win over their grouchy landlord, who lives upstairs, but each attempt ends in failure.

What I liked about this book was that it was a pleasant surprise for me.  I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did.  While it wasn’t my favorite of the year, I really liked that the kids were raised in a family where they were taught tolerance, respect, and individuality.  The kids were cared about, were given responsibilities (like cleaning and cooking), and their parents clearly cared about their mental well-being.  It seems like most books these days DO focus on tougher problems.  While my genre happens to be underrepresented youth, it was refreshing to read something so wholesome, but still engaging.  I think my own daughters will enjoy this when they’re a bit older.  I also really enjoyed reading about all of their cooking, baking, and crafting, and I was forced to create a Pinterest board of recipes and crafting activities.  Forced by myself, because I want to remember these things.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a little predictable.  While I hadn’t worked out ALL of the details, I basically figured out in the first few chapters what the deal was with the landlord, and what would happen in the end.  Maybe it’s because I’m such an experienced, worldly reader.  I don’t think this really takes away from the story, though, because it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

Book 80 of 40 (I doubled my school year goal!)

(Book 46 of 2018)

Out of the Dust


Out of the Dust (paperback)

by Karen Hesse


Out of the Dust is a Newbery Award winner that I’ve always heard of, but never picked up until now.  My class is really into novels written in verse, so I thought this would be a great addition to our library.  Billie Joe is a fourteen-year old girl living with her mother and father in the dry, dusty panhandle of Oklahoma during the Great Depression when FDR is offering money to people to get back on their feet.  However, with the lack of rain and intense and destructive dust storms, Billie Joe’s family is left frustrated.  One day, her father accidentally leaves a pail of kerosene on the counter by the stove, and her mother thinks it is water, and creates a rope of fire.  Billie Joe accidentally throws it onto her mother, not knowing she was running back into the house after calling for her father.  Her mother is burned beyond recognition, and both she and Billie Joe’s baby brother die during childbirth a few days later.  After that, Billie Joe and her father begin to drift apart and fall into a deep depression.  Between the dust, lack of piano playing, and her burned hands, Billie Joe is left depressed and hopeless.

What I liked about this book is that it is a good way to teach about a time period and location students might not otherwise know much about.  Most are familiar with World War II, but they don’t know much about the United States before then.  I also appreciated that Billie Joe was in a desperate situation, but also found ways to help and show compassion for others.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it is just so depressing!  She felt guilt for hurting her mother, although it really was an accident, and she carried that with her for years.  She was also lonely with her father since he also wasn’t able to move on after his wife’s death.

Book 79 of 40

(Book 45 of 2018)

The Poet X


The Poet X (audiobook)

by Elizabeth Acevedo


The Poet X is about a girl named X (Xiomara) who is looking for her voice.  Rather, she’s found her voice, but she’s looking for someone to hear it.  X lives with her immigrant parents and her twin brother.  Her mother is a devout Catholic who wishes X were more like herself and less opinionated and outspoken.  She is rigid and unaccepting of who X is.  Her father has a shady past and basically ignores her.  Her twin, who normally sees and accepts her, has his own secret, so he is not as supportive as he could be.  He does, however, give her a nice leather journal, which she uses to write down her poetry.  She writes about her doubts about God and confirmation, her teacher, and the boy she’s been hanging out with.  She realizes poetry is her best outlet when no one else is listening.

What I liked about this book was that it was written from a perspective I’m unfamiliar with.  I will never be in her position, and reading about hers gives me a broader world view.  I also really like that it is about something many of my students are also feeling, or will be feeling soon, which is searching for themselves and their own voices.  Although I am not able to hand this off to one of my sixth graders due to the content, I would definitely recommend one of my former students read it.

What I didn’t like about this book was X’s mother.  I felt the same as when I read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.  I was so frustrated with both of their mothers, because they were unable or unwilling to view their daughters for who they were, and both were brilliant, beautiful young women who were searching for more than what they had been dealt in life.  I was particularly upset with X’s mother, because oh my gosh… the first period is a huge milestone for a young girl, and her mother turned it into a dirty, shameful, embarrassing moment.  That upset me.  As a mother of two daughters, I pray to God I learn from these mothers and make sure to see my girls and not expect them to be my clones.  Because really, I’m not that great, and they can be greater if I allow them to be.

Book 78 of 40

(Book 44 of 2018)

Front Desk


Front Desk (hardcover)

by Kelly Yang


Front Desk is about a girl named Mia who is a Chinese immigrant.  Her parents left in search of the American Dream, but they find themselves practically destitute and living well below the poverty line.  Mia gets made fun of for her clothing and the way she speaks, and her dream is to become a writer, but her teacher just marks her papers in red ink.  Mia’s mother even tells her you cannot beat a car when you are a bicycle, which leaves her feeling hopeless.  Mia and her parents end up running a motel in Anaheim, California on Coast Boulevard (aka Beach, I think) for a horrible, cheap, owner, who treats them terribly and expects way too much from them.  Mia also faces a lot of racism not only against her as a Chinese immigrant, but racism against black people, and she finds this especially intolerable.  Mia takes it upon herself to start writing letters to make situations better for herself and those she cares about.

What I liked about this book is that I wasn’t expecting the level of care when it came to telling the stories of Chinese immigrants.  I read a lot about immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and even middle eastern countries, but rarely about immigrants from China.  I appreciated that I was able to learn something I didn’t already know, as well as see basically no sterotyping.  I also liked how Mia was able to make use of her skills to change the injustices that she saw.

What I didn’t like about the book was the frustrations that Mia had with the adults in her life, especially her teacher.  We as teachers are supposed to be better than that.  I have many students who need to work on their grammar and spelling, but never in my life would I mark a paper up in red pen with exclamation points emphasizing how horrible it is.  She had a responsibility to be supportive and watch out for Mia, but she failed miserably.

Book 77 of 40

(Book 43 of 2018)