Swing (ebook via NetGalley and the Launch Team)

by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess


I am lucky enough to be on the Swing launch team, so I got to read it before anyone else.  It makes me feel like a hipster.  There’s nothing better than reading a book by one of my favorite authors before it comes out, because I normally don’t have the patience to wait once I’m excited!

The story starts out with Noah (the narrator) and his best friend Swing, who recently renamed himself due to his destined greatness in baseball, as well as his passion for jazz music.  In their town, flags are mysteriously popping up, and we aren’t sure why.  Taking a knee for the National Anthem comes up, and an African American boy is accused of placing the flags, and the police interaction frightens the characters in the book, making the reader think maybe it is related to current events.  That is one motif in the story.  Another is the romantic relationships and heartache.  Noah and Swing have a best friend named Sam, and Noah begins sending her pieces of art anonymously.  She begins to realize her boyfriend isn’t all that great, which is good news for Noah.  Much like Alexander’s Solo, there are many stories within this story, and our protagonist goes on a journey with heartache and self-discovery, he faces a major life-changing incident, and then his life is changed because of it.  However, despite the many clues, the life-changing incident isn’t as predictable as I thought.

What I liked about this book is that it has strong characters with real emotions.  Swing is almost older than he actually is, though.  His faults almost aren’t real faults at all.  I think that’s on purpose.  Noah, obviously, would be more relatable, being the main character, and we feel his heartache and depression.  Unfortunately, his pain goes way deeper than I hope I’ll ever be able to relate to. I also appreciated that this book is relevant to today.  Alexander is calling for change, gently opening our eyes to a reality in a less obvious way than Dear Martin or The Hate U Give (two awesome books that I highly recommend for older students) or Ghost Boys (great for middle grade).

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t know where Alexander was going at times.  For awhile, I thought Noah was going to hurt himself due to depression, and then the story took a change.  I also had to start the story over again and read from the beginning, because I was lost if I didn’t read it straight through.  However, as usual, these two authors have joined up to create another must-read, one that is relevant to today, and will be a popular read with my middle graders.  (Sidenote: there is some very minor drinking and talk of “closing the deal” with a girl, but no obvious sex or cussing, which often make it hard for me to put on the shelf for sixth grade- I’d probably give potential readers the “there are some more grown up topics in this book; will your parents be okay with it?” talk.)

Book 65 of 2018

House Arrest


House Arrest (paperback)

by K.A. Holt


House Arrest, written in verse, is a healthy mix of sad and hopeful.  Timothy is a 13 year old boy with a gravely ill baby brother.  Levi has a tubes to help him breath, because his trachea is too small, and he is at risk for suffocating and getting sick from bacteria.  Timothy is under house arrest, because he stole a man’s credit card to help pay for a month of medical supplies for Levi.  He was caught, arrested, and put on probation, requiring him to write in a court-mandated journal and see a psychiatrist and juvenile probation officer.  To top it off, he is angry at his father who abandoned the family, his mom cannot afford their bills, and he is suffering from a crush on his best friend’s sister.  Timothy is an intelligent, well-meaning boy who is determined to do what is right, no matter  how it looks to the courts.

What I liked about this story is that it gives us hope in the darkest, most hopeless situation.  Timothy, despite everything, still believes he can make a bad situation better.  Many of my students come from situations that are similar.  They might not have a sick brother, but they live in poverty, many have had a parent or family member abandon them, and some live in fear.  It can always get better, though.  I love that there is a message of hope, and that there is support when you ask for it.

What I didn’t like about this story was the end… I feel kind of stupid, like there is a deeper meaning behind the last page, and I cannot figure it out.  I should know its significance, and it’s not coming to me.  Maybe someday.

Book 64 of 2018

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (ebook and paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


So in Order of the Phoenix, Harry is angry (like usual), but he is wondering why he hasn’t heard about Voldemort in the Muggle news.  He believes he is abandoned once again, and mad that he’s left in the dark.  He’s whisked away after being attacked by dementors and temporarily kicked out of Hogwarts.  Once he’s back in school, he suffers from very vivid dreams and excruciating pain in his scar, caused by Voldemort.  He doesn’t understand why, and Dumbledore isn’t around to explain things to him.  When his dream leads him to a familiar hallway, “stuff” hits the fan and he is riddled with guilt and frustration.  The ending is big- we now understand why Voldemort couldn’t kill him as a baby, and why he wants to so badly, still.

What I liked about this book was the explanation in the end.  I appreciated finally getting my questions answered, although it also left me with more.  I just love the series, the characters, and the way Rowling has their entire backstories written in her head, if not on paper.  I’m sure if you asked her, she could tell you their favorite meal or first memories.  It sounds so nerdy, but they really become like friends as you make your way through the series.  I’m so glad I chose to reread it.

What I didn’t like about this book… the only thing I can think of is its length!  870 pages is a lot.  I was discouraged because of the sheer size of it.  I was disappointed in myself for taking so long to finish it, so that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Book 63 of 2018

You Go First


You Go First (hardcover)

by Erin Entrada Kelly


You Go First is told from multiple perspectives.  Charlotte is a middle school girl with a best friend who suddenly turns on her for no reason, leaving Charlotte lonely, confused, and deeply hurt by her betrayal.  To top it off, her dad just had a heart attack, and she is worried about him.  Ben is also in middle school, and he is bullied by “cool” kids because he is geeky and awkward, but he doesn’t report the offenses to anyone else, and continues to strive for a position on student council.  His parents are in the middle of an amicable divorce, but he is angry and confused by it all.  He, too, is lonely.  Charlotte and Ben play Scrabble online together and occasionally talk on the phone, but never relay their troubles in an honest way, though both are struggling with similar situations.  They are both struggling with very relatable middle school issues while searching for who they really are inside.

What I liked about this book is how relatable it is.  I love the way she writes… as if she were just in middle school herself, but can see things much clearer now.  I remember feeling left out, hurt by friends, wishing to start over each year and create a new identity… it brings back these feelings for me as an adult, and I can guarantee most students will be able to relate to these two characters because of the way she describes them and their situations so vividly.

What I didn’t like about this book was that the bullies never got their punishment.  But do they ever, in real life?  I can guarantee the girls who tortured me in sixth grade don’t remember my name, and I’m sure they didn’t get any sort of retribution for the names they called me, or the tears I cried because of what they said and did to me.  The fact that they weren’t called out just adds to the relatability of the story.

Book 16 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 62 of 2018)

The Crossover (reread)

The Crossover (hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander

Yes, I read it again (see the original post here), because I am at a conference and this was my assigned book.  However, I picked up more this time than I did the first time I read it.  Before I tell you what I gained from it after my second read, I have to show you what blew my mind (because I just never noticed before):

If you take the cover off, it’s the color and texture of a basketball!!!  I discovered it after 4 hours of sleep and I was ecstatic (aka delirious).  I just had to share.  I love stuff like that.

What I loved about this book after reading it again… there are a few things.  First of all, I appreciated the language.  Alexander has such a way with words.  The part where they are playing basketball and he is describing his moves- it’s like a dance.  He is grooving.  The description shows how much skill he has.  It’s not just a game, it’s not just dribbling, it’s like a choreographed waltz across the court.

Another thing I didn’t catch the first time is how frequently “the crossover” came up in the story.  There was one that was especially meaningful, at a funeral.  I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t read it (although seriously, what are you waiting for?!).  The use of this basketball move as a metaphor is something that might need to be studied when speaking with students, and then they may catch on to how powerful it is!

I LOVE Kwame Alexander, and if you enjoyed The Crossover, definitely read Rebound, which is a prequel to this story.

Book 15 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 61 of 2018)