Refugee

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Refugee (hardcover)

by Alan Gratz

 

It isn’t often that I preorder books.  Okay, that was a lie.  It isn’t often that I preorder books for ME to read.  I usually get them because they’re by popular authors (like Stuart Gibbs or Kwame Alexander) or because my daughter loves the book (like The Owl Diaries series).  I preordered Refugee, because it was in my Twitter feed for several solid months straight, meaning before it was even out, people were reading it and raving about it.  In my quest to read every single Newbery contender, I figured I’d order it before I forgot about it.  Oh my gosh, you guys.  You have to read this.  I’m not sure if it’s a Newbery contender (those tend to be like Oscar movies where you finish and you aren’t sure if you liked it or not, or you’re not sure if they were written for children or adults), but this is a must-read if you live on planet Earth.

Refugee follows the stories of 3 refugee children, all 11-13 years old, during different time periods.  Josef is a Jewish child living in Germany, when his father is taken by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp.  He is released, and the family reunites to board the St. Louis and said across the Atlantic in hopes of gaining entrance to Cuba as refugees.  Fast forward to 1994, and you’ll meet Isabel, a Cuban girl living in poverty under Fidel Castro’s reign.  She, with her family and neighbors, set out in a homemade “boat” to get to Miami after Castro says they are free to leave without being put into jail.  They face sharks, weather, a cargo ship, and several health issues that put their trip in jeopardy.  Our third story is Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in Aleppo.  He leaves Syria and travels across the Mediterranean Sea to try to reach Germany with his parents, younger brother, and baby sister.  Each of these three refugee children have a long, tough journey, and lose a loved one along the way.  We find out later that their three stories are connected, and that although they’re living during different times, their struggles are similar, and their goals are the same- to find a new, safe place to live without fear of living in terror.

What I liked about this book… when I first started it, I thought it was interesting learning about their backgrounds and living conditions.  I enjoy historical fiction.  But I was quickly sucked into their stories, and I was rooting for them.  When Isabel was just yards away from the shore, the tears began, and continued through the end of the story.  It is a very emotional, powerful, and REAL book that needs to be in the hands of my students.  The refugee crisis isn’t something we’re hearing about on tv with the war in Syria.  It has been going on all throughout history, and this book brings that to the reader’s attention.  He could write Refugee part 2 and include refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, Korea, the Kurds, the Christians in Muslim countries, etc.  There will always be refugees as long as there are wars.

What I didn’t like about this book… I can’t really think of anything.  It was engaging from beginning to end, and while heartbreaking, it is necessary.

Book 17 of summer 2017!

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Restart

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Restart (ebook)

by Gordon Korman

AR Level 5.1, 9 points

 

Imagine coming out of a coma and learning you were the most hated, feared, and worshipped person at school.  Chase Ambrose fell off a roof, and when he woke up, he’s horrified to learn that he, the star quarterback, used to beat people up, break the law, steal, tease, and it got so bad, one kid even moved to a boarding school.  Chase, who had a serious head injury, now wants to change his life.  He enjoys spending time with the elderly in a retirement home, and makes friends with an old war hero.  He joins the video club, despite his former friends making fun of him and his new friends.  Chase is put into several situations that prove while he has changed, he is still not perfect.  He is, however, taking advantage of his second chance, as though he has gotten a “restart” in life.

What I liked about this book was that it was told from multiple perspectives, but it didn’t repeat the same situations.  For example, if something happened through Chase’s perspective, the story picked up from someone else’s POV after that situation.  There was no overlap in narration.  I, as an adult, felt for Chase’s character, so I’m sure that students will also be able to relate to either being bullied or the remorse of being the bully themselves.  I think it has a good message.

What I didn’t like about this book was that his friends didn’t get what was coming to them.  It bothered me that his friends were so awful, yet Chase kept his mouth shut and didn’t let them get what was coming to them.  It was kind of hard to believe that 13 year olds could be that evil without getting themselves into more trouble that they did.  Surely kids with that kind of record get caught.  That may be my thinking as a teacher and an adult.  I’m sure it’s more believable to child readers.

Book 16 of summer 2017!

Disrupting Thinking

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Disrupting Thinking (paperback)

by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst

 

Disrupting Thinking got so much buzz on Twitter and in professional learning communities, I had to add it to my summer reading list.  I bought it over Spring Break, but saved it for summer since I knew it would be a lot to take in.  There were quotes and thoughts posted all over, and someone even said they threw the book across the room when they read how some kids were treated in schools.  So, my expectations were high.

The book is divided into 3 sections: The Readers We Want, The Framework We Use, and The Changes We Must Embrace.  I found the first third to be a little dry.  The second third was okay, and the last third was where I found the bulk of my “ahas” and “yeses!”  A lot of it made me uncomfortable, because I saw there were things I did that I shouldn’t, and things I know people around me do.

There are a LOT of things I could write about, but here are my top 5 “take aways” from Disrupting Thinking (in no particular order).  Remember, every reader/teacher is different, and different things affect us depending on where we teach, what we already do, and what our personal teaching philosophies and goals are.

1.  The BHH Framework  This is something I will implement immediately, like the first day of school!  BHH stands for in the Book, in your Head, and in your Heart.  I’m posting an anchor chart below so you can see the questions associated with each letter.  I loved that the authors included transcripts of recorded conversations between children about the book they read together to show the impact of the BHH strategy.  I appreciated that they shared a primary, upper, and middle school example, because while the depth of conversations are different at each level, they’re still impactful.

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from the book

2.  Silent Reading doesn’t improve test scores!  Have you heard that?  I heard it a few years ago, but ignored it.  So as it turns out, that’s only true if the silent reading is UNSUPERVISED.  Instead, the reading should be FOCUSED.  If the teacher is giving mini lessons, having conversations with the reader, and expecting the reader to be involved in the reading, then the results are opposite.  That means that as the teacher, it is not time for me to grade papers, organize my desk, answer emails, or pick up my own book.  I need to engage with my students about their books.  Oh, and more importantly, give them CHOICE!

3.  Doing things because we’ve always done them.  Spelling tests, for example.  We ask students to memorize a list of words, because we did the same thing when we were in school.  Round Robin and Popcorn Reading – I HATED that when I was younger!  I was nodding my head to many of these.  And you know what?  I’m guilty of a lot of the examples.  I do many of these practices because it’s just a practice, not necessarily a best practice.  This is where things got uncomfortable for me as a teacher.

4.  Best Practices Chart  I liked this chart.  I want to refer back to it often to make sure I’m doing the items on the chart.  We also have to be wary about “best practices” and figure out what makes them BEST.  Is there actual research, or is it just a common practice (see #3 above).

5.  Children receiving less because of “differentiation.”  The book pointed out that differentiation that results in a diminished educational experience for some is a form of segregation.  Ugh.  So the 4-5-6 “intervention” class I taught many years ago and prevented kids from participating in the general curriculum with their peers was hurtful!  I an struggling, because I have the top 1/3 of the grade level in a “GATE” class (with only a few identified students).  That means that my 34ish students are getting a different experience than the other 2/3 of the grade level.  However, I have to remind myself that they are receiving this because I am their teacher, not because they are GATE.  We used to be favored by our principal and receive extra benefits, but not anymore.  Equity for all, regardless of how high or low performing students are!

Book 15 of summer 2017!

Love & Gelato

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Love & Gelato (audiobook)

by Jenna Evans Welch

 

Love & Gelato starts with Carolina (Lina) and her mother, Hadley Emerson, who is dying of cancer.  Once she passes, Lina goes to Italy to spend the summer with the dad she never knew she had at her mother’s request.  Lina starts off resentful, but when she’s given her mother’s journal from when her mother went to school in Italy, Lina learns more about her mother’s past, her parents, and who she is.  While she’s making these discoveries, she becomes close friends with a boy named Ren who takes her to the places her mom wrote about in the journal, and they solve a mystery together while falling in love.

What I liked about this book was that it mixed up romance and mystery.  I don’t normally binge-listen to an audiobook, but I finished this in basically 2, maybe 3 days.  It was light, fun, and perfect summer reading.  I also appreciated that there was nothing inappropriate about it!  There was some kissing and a boy who wanted more than kissing, but there was no sex or talk of sex or violence.  That means I won’t freak out if one of my students reads it.

What I didn’t like about this book was maybe an audiobook thing.  It was a little hard for me to tell when Lina was speaking and when she was reading her mom’s journal.  I’m not sure what the book looked like (it may have been a different font), but as an audiobook, it was a little confusing if I wasn’t paying close attention.

Book 14 of summer 2017!

Invisible Emmie

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Invisible Emmie (paperback)

by Terri Libenson

AR Level 3.8, 2 points

 

Invisible Emmie is for the quiet, shy girls who are unsure of themselves and need to know there is hope for them.  Emmie is basically an only child since her older siblings are adults, and she lives with very busy parents.  She loves drawing, has a best friend, and a huge crush on a boy named Tyler Ross.  She and her best friend write fake songs about their crushes, and her letter gets out, causing extreme embarrassment.  Meanwhile, there is a perfect girl named Katie who is pretty, smart, confident, and also likes Tyler Ross.  Emmie’s embarrassing situation causes her a lot of stress, but also causes her to grow as a person.

What I liked about this book was the humor that Libenson uses in both her drawings and her uncomfortable situations.  Some of the humor is subtle, so an intelligent reader will have to think about the drawings and captions to understand, but it will give the reader a chuckle.

What I didn’t like about this book was the ending.  It bugged me.  I understand the meaning, but I think that 1) it will confuse younger readers, and 2) it didn’t make a lot of sense.  Whose imaginary friend gets jealous???

Book 13 of summer 2017!

All American Boys

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All American Boys (audiobook)

by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

 

All American Boys is a book that needs to be in the hands of everyone.  I really appreciate Jason Reynolds as an author, and I thought this one was really well co-written.  Both voices come out loud and strong.  It is about a boy named Rashad who is picking up some chips and soda, and is mistakenly accused of stealing by a cop.  The cop then beats the crap out of him, putting him into the hospital.  Quinn, in the mean time, witnessed what happened, but the cop is a family friend who is like a big brother to him.  Quinn can’t get past the fact that what the cop did was wrong, and he has to decide whether to push aside his loyalty to do what is right.  Rashad deals with his own feelings, being accused of doing something wrong just because he is black.

What I liked about this book was that it was told from two perspectives (and read by two different people on the audiobook).  Rashad is a black teen, and Quinn is white.  Jason Reynolds is a black author and Brendan Kiely white.  I liked that it was written and told from a black and white perspective.  I will never ever understand what it is like to be an African American living in America, facing discrimination and racism.  What stood out to me was the list of rules Rashad had to learn that were not part of my education as a white teenager.  These are the kinds of things that help us understand what is going on in today’s society (although I wouldn’t limit it to today- it seems like a lot hasn’t changed from 70 years ago).

What I didn’t like about this book (although I understand) is the cussing, only because I want to share this with my students.  Unfortunately, while many of my students hear (and use) the kinds of words, I am not about to respond to angry parent complaints.  It has a message that NEEDS to be heard, but it’s definitely a YA book.

Book 12 of summer 2017!

See You in the Cosmos

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See You in the Cosmos (ebook)

by Jack Cheng

AR Level 

 

See You in the Cosmos is about Alex, an 11 year old rocket enthusiast who has made it his mission to send his golden iPod into space for intelligent life.  He has recorded himself speaking on the iPod so aliens can learn more about planet Earth.  Alex has a mother who is missing most of the story (but we later find out is mentally ill), an older brother who lives in LA, and a dog named after his hero, Carl Sagan.  Alex goes to a rocket festival where he plans to launch his rocket, and he meets several men who take him to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles to help him find a missing dad and catch up with his brother.  Along the way, Alex discovers he has a Terra, who becomes very important to him.  This story is a series of events that leave you feeling sad, stressed, and confused, but only because it is told through an ongoing narrative mostly by Alex, who is naive and young, and doesn’t see things as clearly we as the readers see them.

What I liked about this book was the idea that family isn’t necessarily who created you or who you’re blood-related to.  Alex had a group of people who loved and cared for him, who took on the roles of mom and dad, older siblings, grandparents, etc., even if they weren’t those people.  It puts things in perspective when students are upset about not having a dad, for example, but they have a great step parent or uncle or family friend who love and care the same way a dad might.

What I didn’t like about the book (or I should say, YOU  might not like about the book, it didn’t bother me so much) was the voice.  It is a series of recordings by Alex, and written exactly as he would say them.  That means there are missing periods, tons of run-on sentences, and there are so many things that were missing (because Alex didn’t know) that I wanted to know.  It requires a bit of patience, and you have to get used to it, but I felt that added to the charm of the book.  I can see my students getting frustrated with the writing, though.

Book 11 of summer 2017!