The Night Diary (hardcover)
by Veera Hiranandani
The Night Diary is about a Hindu girl in India who writes a diary to her late mother (who died during childbirth). Nisha is the twin to her brother Amil, and their father is a doctor. They live with their Dadi (grandmother) and have a Muslim cook named Kazi who is like family. When Britain sets India free, the Muslims and Hindus do not get along, and Pakistan is created for the Muslims, while the Hindus, Sikhs, and people of other religions get the rest of India. Nisha and her family have to leave their village amid violence and protest as refugees to create a new life amongst strangers on the other side of the border. Throughout their journey, Nisha keeps writing in her journal to her mother, hoping her mother can hear her from beyond.
What I liked about this book was that I learned so much! I can honestly say I know very little about India’s more recent history other than it was colonized by the British. I know The Secret Garden and The Jungle Book both spotlighted British rule, but that’s about all I knew before reading this book. I also appreciated Nisha’s character, and the detail she gave us so we could feel her pain and loneliness.
What I didn’t like about this book was the ending. I think I expected something bigger. I’m not saying it wasn’t a reasonably happy ending, but I think I expected a bigger climax or something. I enjoyed the story, though, and the ending would not deter me from recommending it to others!
Book 6 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 52 of 2018)
One True Way (paperback)
by Shannon Hitchcock
One True Way is an important book for middle grade kids who are either questioning or discovering their sexuality, or growing compassion for people who are gay. Allie and her mother recently moved to a small town after the death of her brother Eric and the subsequent divorce of her parents. She meets a girl named Sam who is friendly, charismatic, and a great basketball player, but needs tutoring in English. Allie soon realizes she likes Sam as more than a friend, and that begins her search for acceptance and her own identity in a small town where being gay isn’t acceptable. Luckily, she has a great reverend, counselor, and good friends to help her along her journey.
What I liked about this book was the way it didn’t shy away from the tough topics of bigotry, homosexuality in the Bible, and acceptance from family members and the community. Sam’s parents belonged to a church that called Sam an abomination and believed she’d outgrow being gay. However, Allie’s church believed in loving and accepting everyone, regardless of orientation. This is something our kids will grapple with, but the book is very positive and hopeful without being unrealistic. I think it will provide a peace of mind for students struggling with these new feelings.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was written for a middle grade audience, but the writing was simplified as though a third or fourth grader were reading it. The content is high middle grade, but the vocabulary and complexity of the text is on the much lower end. At times, it felt like George (by Alex Gino), where it was almost too simplified for the target audience.
Book 5 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 51 of 2018)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (paperback)
by J.K. Rowling
Harry joins his friends once again at Hogwarts, but this time, he is joined by a bigger mystery. He learns about the escape of a mass murderer, known by both muggles and the wizarding community. Death eaters are now at Hogwarts, and Harry is severely sensitive to them, but is tutored by Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, to protect himself. In the first two books, Harry had to defeat Voldemort at the end of the book after he returned and tried to get Harry. This time, Sirius Black is after Harry, and he learns more about his parents’ death and Black’s involvement than he expected.
What I liked about this book was the introduction of new characters that contributed to the complexity of Harry’s parents’ death. I flew through this third book in the Harry Potter series. I remember when I read it the first time, it was my favorite in the series, but I wanted to see whether that was still true. I love Sirius Black’s character, Ron and Hermione’s devotion to Harry, and watching the Potters’ story unfold.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was so so complex compared to the first two books. There was a definite pattern in them, and it was easy to follow and make predictions. In this third book, I almost wanted to take notes so I could remember the details of the conclusion. Of course, I can’t do that here, because I don’t reveal spoilers.
Book 4 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 50 of 2018)
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 (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 (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)