The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 (paperback)
by Christopher Paul Curtis
In The Watsons Go to Birmingham, the Weird Watsons are an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan during 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Kenny is the protagonist of the story, and the middle child. He has an older brother Byron who is called a delinquent, and a younger sister Joetta, who is compared to an angel. Each chapter tells a new story of how they are wacky, get into tough situations, or make their parents mad. Most of the story is humorous and highly entertaining, and we get to learn about life in Flint, life during the 1960s, and how many situations Kenny goes through parallel our own lives (as children). Then they travel to Birmingham to drop Byron off with their grandmother for the summer so she can attempt to straighten him out, and there is a church bombing. This is when things get a little strange… Kenny, it seems, goes into a depression, because he believed his sister was in the church and he saw the “Wool Pooh” (which might be Death?).
What I liked about this book was that for the most part, it was funny. Kenny has an interesting outlook on life, and he is a very good storyteller. It almost reminded me of “A Christmas Story” in the way he narrated from a bold point of view. I also appreciate that readers learn more about what life was like for an African American family during this time, including down south in Birmingham.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a bit unclear. I read this book aloud to my class, and most of my class thought Joetta died and we were reading about her ghost. Several thought Kenny died and his ghost saved her. I’m still not sure what saved Joetta- his love for her? That part was confusing.
Book 50 of 40
(Book 16 of 2018)
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (hardcover)
by Pablo Cartaya
Arturo Zamora is going into eighth grade, and he has a pretty good life that includes a huge extended family, great friends, and a warm and welcoming small-town community outside of Miami, Florida. When a greedy land-developer moves into town and plans to build a huge, modern complex that would take over Arturo’s family’s restaurant, he and his family have to band together to fight against these plans. At the same time, Arturo faces struggles with his budding romance with his god sister Carmen, and learns to appreciate the poetry and determination of Jose Marti.
What I liked about this book is that it will give voice to my students who are growing up in America but value and embrace their Latino families. Much of the story is told in Spanish and translated, and there is description of Cuban dishes and Latin music that many will appreciate. The positive depiction of a Latino family living in America and the celebration of their culture is deserving of the award. I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, and I understood MOST of what was said in Spanish, but there is translation in case the reader does not speak Spanish.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it seemed a little predictable. There were situations, like with Abuela and Carmen and the end itself, that I saw coming. I didn’t see any other way for things to work out other than the way they did. I personally feel that stories that are predictable are perfect for readers who aren’t as strong, but need quality literature to relate to and enjoy, and that’s why it’s not a big drawback for me.
Book 49 of 40
(Book 15 of 2018)
Turtles All the Way Down (audiobook)
by John Green
Turtles All the Way Down tells a story similar to John Green’s actual struggles, according to what I’ve read. Aza is a teenager who suffers from mental illness. She is terrified of bacteria, and has an open would that she continues to open in fear of it becoming infected. There are other manifestations of this illness, and it deeply impacts her ability to maintain relationships with others. When she falls for Davis, a boy whose father is on the lam so he doesn’t serve time for fraud, she starts an internal battle with herself. Her best friend Daisy does not make it easier for Aza to be herself.
What I liked about this book was that it helps others understand the thought process of someone who has a psychological disorder like Aza. She is trapped inside of herself, and truly suffers. Her psychosis is something she can’t turn off. ALTHOUGH… why the heck didn’t she just take her medicine? I mean, seriously?
What I didn’t like about this book, despite a lot of hype… I’d been reading about it for awhile, and while it was really good, it wasn’t my favorite John Green book. I didn’t connect or become attached to the character of Aza right away. I didn’t know whether she was a boy or a girl for awhile. I felt like I was reading Paper Towns #2 for a long time. I had a student reading it while I was listening to the audiobook, and she told me I had to keep with it and the slow beginning would get better. It did get better, but I still didn’t like it nearly as much as his other novels. However, he is a phenomenal story-teller, and it’s worth the read (or listen).
Book 48 of 40
(Book 14 of 2018)
by Barbara Dee
Star-Crossed is a sweet love story between eighth-grader Mattie and her crush, Gemma, who plays Juliet in their school’s play. Mattie has two best friends who are loyal to the end, but she waits to tell them that she no longer likes the boy she “should” like, and instead, has feelings for Gemma, her popular British classmate. Mattie finds herself playing Romeo opposite Gemma as Juliet, and they share an on-stage kiss. I was anticipating the end of the story, because I wanted to see whether Gemma returned her feelings and their romance blossomed, or it ended badly for Mattie.
What I liked about this book is that it shows a perspective that needs to be shown. It seems like every year I have a student who might be gay or is vocal about his/her feelings, and there is very little age-appropriate literature to share with them. Many in sixth grade want to read about romances between students their age, and it is hard to find. Romance between same-sex students is even harder to find, which made me appreciate this very appropriate and very necessary novel. Students should see themselves in the characters they read about.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it didn’t end the way one of my students wanted it to. My student is very interested in literature about young people who are gay or transgender, and she will read whatever I give her with LGBTQ characters. I wanted her to enjoy this story, but she was unhappy with the ending, although she still enjoyed the book. I wanted her to love it. I didn’t love it (love is reserved for The Book Thief or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but I definitely enjoyed reading it, and I will remember it and recommend it to my students in the future.
Book 47 of 40
(Book 13 of 2018)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 (ebook)
by Sue Townsend
If you enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series but think that was too “young” for you or your students, you will enjoy Sue Townsend’s series about a boy named Adrian living in the UK during the early 80’s. He is an only child, so he doesn’t have the same family issues that Greg does, but his parents’ marriage in in jeopardy, he faces bullies at school, he has a crush on a girl named Pandora, and he is dealing with the stresses of being an adolescent in a world he doesn’t understand completely. Luckily, Adrian is an “intellectual” and is documenting his day-to-day in a diary, so we read first-hand his views of his mom’s infidelity and his dad’s depression. We feel feelings for his poor dog, and compassion for the old man he is helping.
What I liked about this book was how funny it was! I was rolling within the first page or two of reading it. Unfortunately, my husband did not enjoy it, because I usually read in bed once he’s gone to sleep. It really reminded me of the point of view of Greg in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because he sees things differently than we might as the reader. This book killed me whenever I read it, even in parts that shouldn’t have been funny in real life. Adrian is a likable character. When I first got this book on NetGalley, I didn’t realize it was a book previously published in 1982 with 11 books in the series. Townsend could probably have gone on if she hadn’t passed away in 2015.
What I didn’t like about this book is that I can’t share it with my students, who are only in sixth grade. I felt there was so much that would either go over their heads (since the lingo wouldn’t be familiar to them) or would be inappropriate for their age (Adrian is several years older and they aren’t quite ready for talk of dirty magazines or measuring private parts). If I taught high school, though, the entire series would be on my shelf.
Book 46 of 40
(Book 12 of 2018)
Saints and Misfits (audiobook)
by S.K. Ali
Saints and Misfits is about a Muslim girl who was sexually assaulted by a family member of a friend. It is more than that, though. It is about a girl navigating high school with the burden of the assault while also dealing with friends, parties, family trouble, the death of a friend, all while being Muslim and misunderstood by people who know her. The monster attempted to rape Janna at a friend’s house in the basement, but she got away, and never told anyone. This left her afraid, kind of angry at the world, and a bit cynical, in my opinion. Her father is remarried and her older brother has just moved back in with Janna and her mom, kicking her out of her bedroom. Janna has a crush on a non-Muslim boy, which means they can never be together. She is also coerced into being part of the quiz bowl at her mosque, and it seems that Janna isn’t getting to make many choices in her life, leaving her voiceless. With the support of some unlikely allies, Janna takes control of her life, and the story leaves us feeling better. Regardless of religion, all teens struggle with similar issues.
What I liked about this book was that although it was about an assault, it was not depressing like it could be. Part of why I chose to pick it up was it was described as “The My So-Called-Life of the Muslim world” and that was my favorite show growing up. I also really liked learning more about Islam and the Muslim culture, something I don’t know a lot about. I think books like these are important for so many reasons, one being that it builds an understanding of something misunderstood, and even feared. I like to think I am respectful and accepting of all people, but I admit that what I don’t know, I have misconceptions about. This book taught me more about chaperoned dates, wearing a hijab, and the expectations of young men and women who are Muslim.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t so much the book, but that I listened to the audiobook. I had to look up the spelling of several of the characters, which means I lost track of them. I also didn’t care for the narrator’s voice. I really enjoyed the book, but I think it would be better reading an ebook or the hardcopy.
Book 45 of 40
(Book 11 of 2018)
The House That Loud Built (ebook)
by Mae Respicio
Lou is a middle school girl who dreams of building her own tiny house. She is Filipina American, living in San Francisco with her mom and Lola (grandmother). Although she lost her caucasian father before she was born, she has a large, supportive family, including best friends and extended family. Her father left her a plot of land, and Lou feels it is the perfect place to build her tiny house, and feels closer to her father when she is there building. When Lou finds out her mother plans to accept a job in Washington, Lou is more determined than ever to finish her tiny house, despite the many obstacles that pop up in front of her.
What I liked about this book was that it gave us a strong female character who wanted to build a house, something males would generally be doing. It is a great girl-power book, because Lou is determined to accomplish her dream, and she makes every effort to learn more about what she aims to do. It seems really far-fetched, but Lou has plans. It is a good lesson for students to see.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t really a big deal, and it isn’t really something I didn’t like. I think that anyone reading the book who isn’t Filipino or can’t relate to the culture might be a little overwhelmed by the cultural references. Being Filipina by marriage, I was very proud of myself for knowing/understanding every single reference! I have eaten bibinka and I understand the importance of a balikbayan box to the family back in the Philippines. I know this book will appeal to my Filipina students because of the references, but I can see my students getting confused over all of the Tagalog words.
Book 44 of 40
(Book 10 of 2018)