The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (ebook)
by Stacy McAnulty
I didn’t know anything aboutThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl other than people were talking about it all over Twitter, so I decided to read it, in case it’s a Newbery contender. Lightning Girl is Lucy, a seventh grader who was struck by lightning when she was 8. The strike damaged her brain, making her a savant when it comes to numbers and calculations, as well as giving her a form of OCD that causes her to do “odd” things like sit stand sit stand sit each time she tries to sit down in class or the car and recite the numbers of pi when she’d stressed. Lucy is sent to public school, despite already completing high school online, and she becomes unlikely friends with a go-getter named Windy and an outcast named Levi. They join together on a community service project and learn the meaning of friendship and trust.
What I liked about this book was the voice that the author gave Lucy. I feel like Lucy was coming from somewhere the author has experience, whether it is OCD or math. Even if the reader cannot relate to either issue, he or she can certainly relate to the characters’ struggles with middle school relationships and finding your place. I don’t know anyone who didn’t get picked on by a bully or popular kid, feel uncomfortable in social situations at least once, or struggle with wanting to be normal or average. My students will certainly be able to relate to an aspect of this story.
What I didn’t like about this story was that we didn’t find out what Lucy’s choice was in the end, school-wise. I’m okay with that, and I think the reader can make his or her decision.
Book 14 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 60 of 2018)
Every Shiny Thing (paperback)
by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison
Every Shiny Thing is told from dual points of view. Lauren, a well-off seventh grader, lives with her parents and is devastated when her older brother is sent to a special school for students with autism. Sierra is also in seventh grade, but she was just placed in foster care when her mom gets drunk and lands herself in jail and rehab (her dad was already in jail from the beginning of the story). Lauren decides to raise money for kids with autism to receive therapy from her brother’s therapist by stealing things from people who already have more than they need and selling it online. She asks Sierra to hide the items in her foster family’s house, and Sierra agrees, because Lauren has been so kind to her. When the stealing becomes a bigger issue, Sierra starts to feel uncomfortable and their beliefs are put to the test.
What I liked about this book is that it is told from two characters’ points of view, and in two forms. Lauren is written in narrative with paragraphs. Sierra is written in verse. I like for my students to be exposed to more poetry so they see it isn’t all Shakespeare and love poems, but another way of communicating through writing. It is similar to Forget Me Not, but verse and narrative are equally represented. I think it is a good book for kids to read so they can question their own actions. It was pretty obvious that Lauren was in the wrong, and I hope my students will see that and recognize the ethical dilemma she put herself in. I think this story would also be refreshing after reading One for the Murphys, because we didn’t like the ending to that one (or at least, it didn’t end the way most of my students hoped it would, but it ended the way it should have).
What I didn’t like about this book was the anxiety I had over Lauren’s cleptomania. I understood that she thought it was helpful, but I really wanted her to get caught earlier so she’d stop. I didn’t like the way she felt Sierra owed her.
Book 13 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 59 of 2018)
Being the Change (paperback)
by Sara K. Ahmed
I was really excited to read Being the Change, because social comprehension is something that seems hard to teach. I always combined it with common sense, as far as how people treat others. I know we’re living in a world where it is important to be politically correct, but what exactly does that mean? It isn’t just about saying and doing things so you don’t offend someone or come off as being a jerk, but actually trying to understand where someone else is coming from and what you really believe. When I taught about the Civil Rights Movement, I noticed a lot of my students were using the term “blacks” and “negroes” but I wasn’t exactly sure how to talk about that terminology. I think I will start off early next year and teach each lesson in this book, and make sure to apply it to junior high when they’ll need to be socially competent. There are too many adults who can’t navigate life well socially.
Here are my big take aways from the book:
- I love that she talks to her students like people and doesn’t talk down to them. She doesn’t shy away from personal information (unless it’s too personal), and respects their privacy if they choose not to share. This builds rapport with the students and they’ll be more likely to be honest.
- The first lesson on Identity Webs is something I will definitely do. I have done things similarly, but this ask students to dig deeper and look at what influences them and not just what they like. It digs deeper and helps me to have a better picture of the child, and make personal connections.
- I definitely plan to use the Our News activities, and I will have a spot for students to post news items they’d like to talk about with the class, or maybe get more information on. I have used a news activity for writing during ELD, but that wasn’t so deep and didn’t give students to speak what was on their hearts.
- There are several lessons in the beginning that require students to write about themselves, like the history of their name and where they’re from. These will be great ways to introduce the autobiography I have my students write each year. It has motivated me to change up the writing assignments for each chapter.
- Finally, the bridges to addressing bigger topics, like bias, racism, the scary topics in the news, and personal fears will be great to use with students in sixth grade. Most adults don’t know how to properly conduct themselves in a situation where they realize they have bias and the lessons will help students so they’ll grow up to be decent human beings.
Book 12 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 58 of 2018)
The Dollar Kids (ebook)
by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
When the small, failing town of Millville gives 5 families the opportunity to buy houses for $1, they jump at the chance and make a new start. The children in these families become known as The Dollar Kids. They have a deadline to fix up their dilapidated houses, or risk losing it. The Grovers are split, with Dad continuing to work hours away, and Mum starting up her own restaurant. Comic artist Lowen Grover is escaping the death of his friend, which he feels responsibility for, and he struggles with anxiety and guilt. The Grover children begin to find their places in sports and friends, but it seems like the town is working against their mom’s business, their ability to be a real member of their town, and the renovations to the house. Lowen thought the dollar house would be an escape from his problems, but it seems he’s traded one problem for another.
What I liked about this book was the voice. I felt like Lowen was really well-written and the storyline was engaging, because we never learned how Lowen was “responsible” for the death of Abe until nearly the end. This story kept me going, because I was rooting for him and the Grover family, and was upset each time something prevented their family from being successful. Any book that tugs at my emotions and makes me teary-eyed will stick with me for awhile. I also liked that although things did not go their way, they were still willing to give back to their new community and be the bigger people. That’s an important message for our students. No matter how little we have, there is always someone with less.
What I didn’t like about this book was the way they worked so hard and were so loving, but they faced such frustration and cruelty. How can decent people be so mean and unjust, or work so hard to make sure someone else fails? I just don’t understand that.
Book 11 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 57 of 2018)
After Zero (ebook)
by Christina Collins
After Zero is about a girl named Elise who is living in near silence. She is the only child of an emotionally absent mother in a small town. Elise makes the transition from a lonely childhood being homeschooled to attending a public middle school. She has one friend named Mel, but by the beginning of the story, she has isolated herself from Mel and her friends. Being awkward and never knowing the right thing to say, Elise decides to say nothing, and spends most of the story mute. When a family secret reveals itself, Elise finds herself spiraling to the point of not being able to defend herself verbally when necessary, and she wonders whether she is able to speak anymore.
What I liked about this story is that it helped me to understand the stress and anxiety some students have. I have never had a student with selective mutism, but I have had painfully shy students who just wouldn’t talk, no matter what. This book will help my students have compassion for those shy students, and hopefully show them that the word “quiet” to a quiet student is not encouraging.
What I didn’t like about this book was the frustration I felt for Elise, not speaking up for herself, not defending her actions, and the obvious pain she felt when her mom basically abandoned her emotionally.
Book 10 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 56 of 2018)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn (paperback)
by Dana Simpson
Phoebe is a third/fourth grader with a feisty, cynical personality who isn’t liked by the other kids in her class, especially the most popular girl. Phoebe finds herself with a unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, who gives her one wish. Phoebe wants to be friends with her. We learn some interesting things about unicorns, including they are self-centered, think humans are below them, and love a good lawn. Phoebe uses her snark to entertain the reader, but no one else finds her quite as funny.
What I liked about this book is it’s written in a series of comics, which don’t all have to be read in order. Nearly each page has a pun, joke, or punchline, and I found myself laughing out loud. I didn’t need to remember what happened the page before.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it is written for kids (I borrowed it from my third grade daughter), but there are a lot of things that might go over their heads. I was laughing out loud, but I can guarantee she didn’t understand it all. It is clever writing, and she will enjoy it when she’s older!
Book 9 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 55 of 2018)
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (ebook)
by Karina Yan Glaser
I was so happy to read this second book about the Vanderbeeker family, and it was as sweet and wholesome as the first. In The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, the kids are suffering from summer boredom when Miss Josie suggests they plant a community garden in an empty lot next to the church. When Mr. Jeet suffers a stroke, the love and respect the Vanderbeekers have for their friends and neighbors makes the garden an act of love. At first, the kids go through the right steps to get permission, but when they don’t get a clear answer, they go ahead with their plan, and face consequences later. They recruit help from their friends and an unlikely helper. They keep the garden a secret from most adults until they need help in the end. The strong relationships this smart group of kids have with their community helps them with their garden.
What I liked about this book was the kindness and creativity of the children. Their parents brought them up to be respectful and solve their own problems, and although they faced a few issues, they faced consequences and worked together. I really hope there are non-fictional kids like the Vanderbeekers out there. They are generous and willing to spend their own money to help their community, and one went above and beyond to make sure another was able to make it to camp. They truly care for and respect one another.
What I didn’t like about this book was that Isa was absent for most of it! She was my favorite character in the first book, and she was away at camp for most of the story. I also loved the food mentions and crafts in the first book (to the point of creating a Pinterest page with links to their suggestions), and there weren’t as many summer foods mentioned in this one. Although, I desperately need some cheese croissants and someone to teach me to knit. Overall, I enjoyed this story and I hope to read more from this family.
Book 8 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 54 of 2018)