The Key to Everything


The Key to Everything (hardcover)

by Pat Schmatz


This was a one-sitting read for me.  I got into the pool, opened it, sat in the pool for a few hours, closed the book, and got out.  It is a quick read, but you’ll also want to figure out how everything fits together.

The Key to Everything is a middle grade book about a girl named Tash who is in a transitional period in her life.  Her father is in prison and she lives with Kevin, who rescued her from foster care.  Next door is Captain Jackie, an elderly spit-fire of a woman who teaches Tash about life, imagination, and strength.  A fight causes Tash to throw a special key (holding the power of imagination) at Captain Jackie, right before Kevin heads to New Zealand and Tash goes off to camp for a month.  When they return, Captain Jackie’s house is locked up and no one is home.  Tash must solve the mystery of Jackie’s disappearance while finding the power to fight her mortal enemy, being alone.

What I liked about this book was that it was a bit of a mystery, and I didn’t know how these people were connected.  It was also a realistic portrayal of the modern family, with missing or incarcerated parents, gay family members who were discriminated against, and being stubborn when facing conflict.  I like that the people in Tash’s life were all very positive and supportive, showing that it doesn’t matter if anyone is blood-related, family is family.

What I didn’t like about this book was the beginning.  It took me awhile to get into it, because I as confused for the first 30 pages, which is a lot, considering the book is only 198 pages long.  I am glad things came together, though, and not all of my questions were (or needed to me) answered.

Book 71 of 2018

Louisiana’s Way Home


Louisiana’s Way Home (ebook)

by Kate DiCamillo


If you didn’t read Raymie Nightingale, you’ll still do fine with Louisiana’s Way Home, though it’s definitely easier to understand if you’ve read them in order.  In this story, Louisiana has been traveling with her granny, and she is learning about life from Granny’s perspective (get what you can for free, win arguments, etc.).  She is angry, because granny has taken her out of Florida, away from her friends, and she doesn’t understand why.  They end up in a small town in Georgia, and her granny, having lost all of her teeth, has abandoned her emotionally.  Louisiana is left with the stories her granny has passed on to her- that she is the orphan of trapeze artists, that her family has a curse, and that she can’t escape this curse.  Louisiana meets a friend, learns the truth about her family history, and has to figure out who she is before life passes her by.

What I liked about this story was the repetition of words and phrases, often leading to themes or motifs, and the was things came full circle.  I enjoy Kate DiCamillo as much as the next person.  I can agree that she’s a skilled author and creative storyteller, but she never stood out as my favorite.  However, this book blew me away.  I loved the way she wrote Louisiana and how certain things were repeated throughout the book.  This is up there on my list of 2018 books and it isn’t even out yet!

What I didn’t like about this story was how much anxiety and feelings of helplessness I felt for Louisiana.  As an adult, a teacher, and a mother, I wanted to take Louisiana home.  I feel like I have had students who would totally relate to her situation, and that makes my heart break for her and for the real people who could relate to this story.

Book 70 of 2018

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


So.  Many.  Emotions.  I finished the last book in the series for the second time.  I’m guessing it is better each subsequent time read, because I started catching little things I’d never caught on to, and being that I have a terrible memory, it was like reading it for the first time!  It’s kind of like knowing the answer to a math problem, but not knowing how I got it.

In Deathly Hallows, Harry and his loyal friends, Ron and Hermione, search for the missing horcruxes, which are objects that Voldemort has stored pieces of his soul.  If they destroy them all, they will be free from Voldemort forever.  However, they face many issues, and end up leaving civilization to figure things out.  Harry does not have a plan and he is angry that he was given this mission by Dumbledore, but he doesn’t know what it is, exactly.  He and his friends put themselves in danger time after time, and they are facing more than just an evil spirit.  The Death Eaters and those who want the rewards are just as dangerous.  There isn’t anything more I can say in an incredibly vague way so as not to give away the details of the story, so I’ll stop there.  If you’ve gotten this far in Harry Potter, just finish the book!

What I liked about this book was learning Snape’s role in Harry’s life.  Insert crying emoji here.  I remembered he was my favorite character, but couldn’t remember why.  This book had me crying for Snape and his loyalty.  Ugh I just love him.  If you’ve ever seen the phrase “Always” in reference to him, you’ll learn why.  For extra tears, watch the YouTube video of important scenes about Snape.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it ended the series.  I am sad and lonely.  I need my friends back.  And by friends, I mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I even loved Neville and Luna and their friends.  I can’t wait another 20 years to read it all over again.

Book 69 of 2018

The Hero Two Doors Down


The Hero Two Doors Down (audiobook)

by Sharon Robinson


The Hero Two Doors Down is about a boy named Steve whose idol is Jackie Robinson.  Steve lives on Tilden Street in Brooklyn during the 1940’s and 1950’s when Jackie played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  His neighborhood is mainly Jewish, and they are more accepting of black families since their relatives were persecuted during World War II, but Steve does get upset when he finds out that people still discriminate against Jackie and other ball players of color.  When Steven finds out that his hero, Jackie Robinson, is moving into the house on his block, he is ecstatic.  They form a friendship that helps Steven through some tough times in his life, and both are better because of it.

What I like about this book is the fact that it’s a true story.  Steven actually existed and grew up with the author, Sharon Robinson, the daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.  I think this makes him more human, rather than a dead baseball player.  I also like that readers learn more about Judaism, Unicef, and racism and segregation in a way that makes sense.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way Robinson squeezed a lot of tougher topics into a short, lower level book.  It is something that I appreciate, but also felt it was geared more towards older kids, but in a young kid’s voice.  I felt like a lot of the dialogue was thought out in an adult way rather than a kid’s way.  The definitions and descriptions were too “dictionary” and didn’t seem natural.  It taught the reader more, but I didn’t feel like it was realistic language.

Book 68 of 2018

Harbor Me


Harbor Me (hardcover)

by Jacqueline Woodson


Imagine putting 6 fifth/sixth graders into a room without any adults.  Wouldn’t you wonder what their conversations would be about?  I’d think it would be video games and nonsense, but in Harbor Me, these kids come from very different backgrounds.  The narrator is being raised by her uncle after her mom died and her dad is in prison, and her best friend is “rich” but resentful towards the kids who call her that.  One kid is African American and learning the “rules” for being black (like interacting with police and playing with toy guns).  One is devastated over his father being taken by immigration and not having contact with him.  A final kid is Puerto Rican and his culture isn’t respected for being “American” even though it’s part of America.  These kids begin to realize that although they are very different, they can still feel compassion for one another, and build bridges.  They are basically the hope for our future, because they take the time to listen and understand each other.

What I liked about this book is the way it tells very realistic, yet compelling, stories of kids that truly could exist today.  There are stories that will tell JUST an African American kid’s point of view, or an undocumented (or documented) kid’s point of view, or even of of a child with mixed race or a parent in prison, but this book tells them all.  Not only that, but it shows that none of that matters when it comes to being friends and showing compassion and empathy for one another.  We as adults push our own beliefs upon our children.  Let’s make sure we’re moving our society forward and not backward, or letting it remain stagnant by not being more open-minded and willing to change.

What I didn’t like about this book is only that I would have liked more background on each student.  I think each of them could have had their own book, and I would have liked to see how their new perspectives from the ARTT room affected their futures.  It’s really not something I disliked, but something I would hope for in the future, maybe.

Book 66 of 2018