Between Shades of Gray


Between Shades of Gray (audiobook)

by Ruta Sepetys


Between Shades of Gray is a companion novel to Salt to the Sea.  This novel is from the point of view of Lina from Lithuania.  She is Joana’s cousin.  In flashbacks, we learn about their close relationship; nearly sisters.  Lina is rounded up with her mother and brother (her father being previously taken) and put into a train car, shipped off by the Russians.  She isn’t sure why (we later find out how she was discovered).  Along the way, she meets several others, including a young man named Andrius.  They are sent to Siberia, and suffer through many years in a labor camp.  Her mother Elena befriends one of the soldiers, and Lina learns she isn’t the only one who is suffering through this war.

What I liked about this book was that we learn another perspective of World War II that we might not hear about.  I didn’t know about people being sent to Siberia, but this showed me more about how horrible it was.  Most people only think of the concentration camps, but this taught me how badly they suffered in other camps.  It was also painful not to know where your loved ones were.  And oh man- to have bodies strewn about, and the wild animals coming at them.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I loved Salt to the Sea, and this one just wasn’t as good.  It was good, but if I’d read it first, I would have liked it a lot more.  I think one thing I wanted was for the romantic connection to be stronger like it was with Joana.  Still a good read, though!

Book 43 of 40

(Book 9 of 2018)

The Nameless City


The Nameless City (paperback)

by Faith Erin Hicks


The Nameless City is nameless due to it being conquered about every 30 years.  Because of this, people in different parts of the city have given it different names.  Kaidu is a boy who was born into his place in society, learning to fight to protect the city.  He makes friends with a girl who is considered below him, someone who isn’t from the newer part.  When they learn the king’s life is in danger, Kaidu and Rat must find a way to make sure he isn’t hurt, but at what expense?

What I liked about this book was that the characters have to look at priorities and the good of all, despite what has been widely accepted by the majority.  They also see each other as friends instead of people from different social classes.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t as engaging as I hoped.  It actually took me a long time to finish since I read other books.  I wasn’t glued to it like I am with graphic novels.

Book 42 of 40

(Book 8 of 2018)

The First Rule of Punk


The First Rule of Punk (hardcover)

by Celia C. Perez


The First Rule of Punk is that there are no rules.  That’s what Malu learns from her father.  She also learns that when her mom moves her to Chicago, away from her father, Malu has to start over in a school filled with Mexican-American children who embrace their culture more than she does.  She also has a run-in with the queen of the school, Selena, who doesn’t hesitate to point out Malu’s faults.  When Malu decides to start a punk band to enter the school’s talent show, Malu meets some friends who test her commitment and help her grow.

What I liked about this book was that it was engaging, celebrated Mexican heritage and being Mexican-American (MOST of my class will relate to that!).  There was a lot that I learned, about the artist Jose Posada, punk music and philosophy, life as a Mexican-American child, and especially making a zine!  I think my students will eat this book up.  It is relatable and engaging and a great read overall.

What I didn’t like about this book was it hit a little close to home.  I couldn’t relate to Malu in most ways, except for that feeling of wanting to perform in front of an audience but feeling anxious.  I always wanted to be a singer, but I wasn’t given any singing talent.  I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to, anyway!  Then there’s Malu’s mother, who never seemed to be accepting of Malu’s fashion sense or interests, and they ended up with a broken relationship throughout most of the book.  Her mother expected Malu to act, dress, behave, etc. in a certain way without allowing Malu to be herself.  I wonder… do I do that with my own daughter?  She’s extra sensitive, and maybe I need to go easier on her.

Book 41 of 40

(Book 7 of 2018)

As Brave As You


As Brave As You (audiobook)

by Jason Reynolds


In As Brave As You, Genie and Ernie leave Brooklyn to stay with their grandparents in Virginia for a month while their parents go to Jamaica.  Genie and Ernie are city boys, and aren’t used to the country.  Genie, in particular, has many questions, and no access to Google.  He wants to know about the stars, why Grandpa wears glasses, what the yellow house is in the woods, etc.  Some questions he can Google, while others he has to learn on his own.  Genie gets himself into several situations, including murdering a bird and watching his brother get his teeth knocked out, but he also builds a relationship with his grandpa.  Everyone in this story learns about family and working through the past.

What I liked about this book was the point of view.  I enjoyed listening to Genie’s thoughts, questions, and worries.  He is curious and asks questions that many of us wouldn’t ask, like why a blind person wears glasses.  Another thing that isn’t specifically about the book, is the voice actor who read the story (since I listened to it as an audiobook).  Guy Lockard has narrated many of Jason Reynolds’ books, and he is an excellent choice.  He gives the characters a real voice, takes on their accents, and puts emotion and tone into the dialogue that I wouldn’t have caught while just reading.  You can’t beat that.  I want to listen to Ghost as an audiobook now, just because I appreciate Lockard’s narration.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it kind of stressed me out.  Not because of the trouble that Genie got himself into, but because there was a lot of talk about Grandpa’s revolver he took apart and put back together, and a blind man with a gun kind of sets up for a bad accident.  Ernie also went into the woods to learn to shoot on his 14th birthday, and that was an accident waiting to happen.  Since Grandpa’s father had committed suicide and Grandpa himself appeared depressed at times, I had a little anxiety throughout the story.

Book 40 of 40 (Woot woot!)

(Book 6 of 2018)

Meet Cute


Meet Cute (audiobook)

by various authors


Meet Cute is an anthology featuring many different (notable) authors.  The audiobook has a full cast of narrators reading short stories about the first time people met.  It is young adult, and several of the stories feature LGBTQ main characters.  At least one story is a fantasy, and most are realistic fiction.

“Siege Etiquette” by Katie Cotugno, read by Caitlin Davies

“Print Shop” by Nina LaCour, read by Dara Rosenberg

“Hourglass” by Ibi Zoboi, read by Bahni Turpin

“Click” by Katharine McGee, read by Betsy Struxness

“The Intern” by Sara Shepard, read by Kyla Garcia

“Somewhere That’s Green” by Meredith Russo, read by Dara Rosenberg

“The Way We Love Here” by Dhonielle Clayton, read by Bahni Turpin

“Oomph” by Emery Lord, read by Betsy Struxness

“The Dictionary of You and Me” by Jennifer L. Armentrout, read by Caitlin Davies

“The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love” by Jocelyn Davies, read by Bahni Turpin

“259 Million Miles” by Kass Morgan, read by Sullivan Jones

“Something Real” by Julie Murphy, read by Kyla Garcia

“Say Everything” by Huntley Fitzpatrick, read by Caitlin Davies

“The Department of Dead Love” by Nicola Yoon, read by Sullivan Jones


What I liked about this book was the different stories of first meeting.  I can’t think of which story was my favorite (because all stories are my favorite!), but I really enjoyed the experience of listening to the variety of stories.  I also liked that although they were love stories, they weren’t all lovey dovey and happy.  I can’t remember the last anthology I read, much less listened to, so this was a good experience.

What I didn’t like about this book was that some of the stories weren’t as good and engaging as others.  Some I didn’t want to end, but some were too long.  I didn’t know where certain stories were going, and can’t remember the endings.

Book 39 of 40

(Book 5 of 2018)

Passionate Learners


Passionate Learners (paperback)

by Pernille Ripp


I was so excited to get Passionate Learners in the mail.  I literally watched the Amazon truck on my phone, waiting for it to deliver this book.  I’m not saying I’m disappointed, but I will say that this book would have been more awesome had I read it 5 years ago.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a model teacher and I definitely have room to grow.  I’d say I’m an evolving teacher, and I try to keep up with what is going on in classrooms across the nation.  No homework?  I’ve considered it.  Flexible seating?  We have options.  Building relationships with students?  Duh- shouldn’t everyone do that already?  This book didn’t give me, a teacher of 16 years who keeps up with the latest trends and philosophies, a whole lot of new ideas.  It did, however, reinforce what I’m already doing.

This would be a great book for a new teacher, or one who has been teaching for a few years but is ready to make some positive changes.  I’ve been following Ripp on Twitter and we’ve done the Global Read Aloud, and she is a practical teacher with a lot to offer from her own experiences, so in no way am I putting this book down!  I know several teachers who would benefit from this book when they’re ready to move forward.

The book is set up in an easy-to-read format, and each chapter is short enough that you could read a chapter, implement it in your classroom, and then read the next chapter.  There’s also an appendix in the back with different forms and ideas for getting feedback from your students and sharing information with families.  I used the 50-day form with my students and their thoughts helped me look at what I’ve been doing all year, and what I need to tweak.

Book 38 of 40

(Book 4 of 2018)

Mighty Jack


Mighty Jack (paperback)

by Ben Hatke


Mighty Jack is a quick graphic novel about a boy named Jack and his sister Maddy.  Their single mom is busy working two jobs and Jack has to watch his sister, who is non-verbal and autistic, during the summer.  At the swap meet, Jack’s mom gives him the car keys and $5, but he trades the keys for some mysterious seeds when Maddy speaks to the vendor.  These seeds grow into a mysterious and magical garden, which they explore with the help of their neighbor friend.  From this garden grows magical and dangerous things, and Ben and Maddy find themselves in an adventure.

What I liked about this book was how engaging it was to read.  It reminds me a lot of Amulet, and Amulet has hooked many of my reluctant readers.  It has everything a good adventure story should have- family, danger, magic, and even a little romance.  I also like how it was quotable- there were several places with hints of a moral, and that is often hard to find in a graphic novel.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it left me on a cliffhanger- I wanted to know more!

Book 37 of 40

(Book 3 of 2018)

Before We Were Free


Before We Were Free (ebook)

by Julia Alvarez


Before We Were Free follows a girl named Anita and her family.  They are in the Dominican Republic during 1960-1961 and they have a terrible dictator (El Jefe) who becomes important in Anita’s life when she discovers her dad and uncle are part of an underground group who plan to kill the dictator to free the people and start a revolution.  While this is going on, Anita is growing into a young woman.  She begins to worry about her hair and her looks, she gets her period, and discovers boys, particularly her best friend Sam and her maybe-cousin, Oscar.  When El Jefe is killed, her dad and uncle are captured and she and her mom have to go into hiding.  This story is about before Anita and those in the Dominican Republic were free.

What I liked about this book was that it was a snapshot of what life was like not only for people living in the Dominican Republic during a dictatorship, but also what it was like for a girl, becoming a woman, during 1960s.  I appreciate historical fiction that teaches me about history, but also shows that the struggles girls go through today are similar (if not the same) as girls back then.  Anita got her period, worried about what a boy would think about her hair, wondered if they liked her back, and fought with her older sister much the way girls do today.  It is comforting knowing that that aspect of childhood hasn’t changed!

What I didn’t like about this book was that while it is historically accurate, I’m sure, it didn’t seem to be a horrific as I know it was.  I think the author focused on a coming of age story rather than a war story, and so many of the brutal details were left out.  It could also have been that it is told from Anita’s point of view, and she doesn’t know the graphic details of what went on.  She has a naivety about her, being 12, and that is what we as the readers are limited to.  That doesn’t make it bad, though.  The was a great book to read, considering I had never even heard of it before.

Book 36 of 40

(Book 2 of 2018)

Amina’s Voice


Amina’s Voice (hardcover)

by Hena Khan


Amina’s Voice is about a Pakistani-American girl named Amina.  She lives with her traditional parents and older brother, who is more Americanized.  Her best friend is Korean, on her way to becoming an American citizen, and they are befriended by a former bully, but Amina is unsure about this new friendship, and makes several mistakes she has to apologize for later.  She has an ultra-traditional uncle who comes to stay with them in Minnesota, and Amina questions whether her love of music is against her family’s Muslim beliefs.  When their mosque is vandalized, Amina learns about community and her own bravery.

What I liked about this book was that it teaches a lot about a culture most of us don’t know a whole lot about.  I understand the general teachings of Islam, I have a student whose family is from Pakistan, and I like to think I am a tolerant person who pushes education about diverse populations.  However, my immediate family has always lived in America and we aren’t discriminated against due to our religious beliefs.  This book educated me and helped me to understand where others are coming from.  I will definitely book talk this one, and hope that my students will respond as positively as I did.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was simple and didn’t have a complex storyline, so it didn’t engage me and challenge me as much as I like to be challenged, but it is a book that will go over very well with students in my class, so that is definitely a positive thing!

Book 35 of 40

(Book 1 of 2018)