Mighty Jack


Mighty Jack (paperback)

by Ben Hatke


Mighty Jack is a quick graphic novel about a boy named Jack and his sister Maddy.  Their single mom is busy working two jobs and Jack has to watch his sister, who is non-verbal and autistic, during the summer.  At the swap meet, Jack’s mom gives him the car keys and $5, but he trades the keys for some mysterious seeds when Maddy speaks to the vendor.  These seeds grow into a mysterious and magical garden, which they explore with the help of their neighbor friend.  From this garden grows magical and dangerous things, and Ben and Maddy find themselves in an adventure.

What I liked about this book was how engaging it was to read.  It reminds me a lot of Amulet, and Amulet has hooked many of my reluctant readers.  It has everything a good adventure story should have- family, danger, magic, and even a little romance.  I also like how it was quotable- there were several places with hints of a moral, and that is often hard to find in a graphic novel.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it left me on a cliffhanger- I wanted to know more!

Book 37 of 40

(Book 3 of 2018)


Before We Were Free


Before We Were Free (ebook)

by Julia Alvarez


Before We Were Free follows a girl named Anita and her family.  They are in the Dominican Republic during 1960-1961 and they have a terrible dictator (El Jefe) who becomes important in Anita’s life when she discovers her dad and uncle are part of an underground group who plan to kill the dictator to free the people and start a revolution.  While this is going on, Anita is growing into a young woman.  She begins to worry about her hair and her looks, she gets her period, and discovers boys, particularly her best friend Sam and her maybe-cousin, Oscar.  When El Jefe is killed, her dad and uncle are captured and she and her mom have to go into hiding.  This story is about before Anita and those in the Dominican Republic were free.

What I liked about this book was that it was a snapshot of what life was like not only for people living in the Dominican Republic during a dictatorship, but also what it was like for a girl, becoming a woman, during 1960s.  I appreciate historical fiction that teaches me about history, but also shows that the struggles girls go through today are similar (if not the same) as girls back then.  Anita got her period, worried about what a boy would think about her hair, wondered if they liked her back, and fought with her older sister much the way girls do today.  It is comforting knowing that that aspect of childhood hasn’t changed!

What I didn’t like about this book was that while it is historically accurate, I’m sure, it didn’t seem to be a horrific as I know it was.  I think the author focused on a coming of age story rather than a war story, and so many of the brutal details were left out.  It could also have been that it is told from Anita’s point of view, and she doesn’t know the graphic details of what went on.  She has a naivety about her, being 12, and that is what we as the readers are limited to.  That doesn’t make it bad, though.  The was a great book to read, considering I had never even heard of it before.

Book 36 of 40

(Book 2 of 2018)

Amina’s Voice


Amina’s Voice (hardcover)

by Hena Khan


Amina’s Voice is about a Pakistani-American girl named Amina.  She lives with her traditional parents and older brother, who is more Americanized.  Her best friend is Korean, on her way to becoming an American citizen, and they are befriended by a former bully, but Amina is unsure about this new friendship, and makes several mistakes she has to apologize for later.  She has an ultra-traditional uncle who comes to stay with them in Minnesota, and Amina questions whether her love of music is against her family’s Muslim beliefs.  When their mosque is vandalized, Amina learns about community and her own bravery.

What I liked about this book was that it teaches a lot about a culture most of us don’t know a whole lot about.  I understand the general teachings of Islam, I have a student whose family is from Pakistan, and I like to think I am a tolerant person who pushes education about diverse populations.  However, my immediate family has always lived in America and we aren’t discriminated against due to our religious beliefs.  This book educated me and helped me to understand where others are coming from.  I will definitely book talk this one, and hope that my students will respond as positively as I did.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was simple and didn’t have a complex storyline, so it didn’t engage me and challenge me as much as I like to be challenged, but it is a book that will go over very well with students in my class, so that is definitely a positive thing!

Book 35 of 40

(Book 1 of 2018)

All’s Faire in Middle School


All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson


All’s Faire in Middle School is the story of Imogene’s journey through the first few months of middle school.  Remember when you first started middle school and you didn’t know who you were yet?  I personally remember buying clothes and shoes that looked like everyone else’s, and being embarrassed of my family, although they weren’t any better or worse than my friends’ families.  I knew who the popular kids were and aspired to be friends with them, and looked down on the awkward ones.  These are the struggles that Impy faces when she starts Middle School after being homeschooled for all of elementary.  Impy’s parents aren’t rich, and they aren’t like her friends’ parents in that they are a part of the local annual Renaissance Faire.  Although Impy loves being part of the Faire, she isn’t sure if being herself is the right thing to do.  She finds herself hurting people she cares about and making a fool of herself to impress people she doesn’t really care about in the first place, and she has to find her way out of this very relatable situation without making everything worse.

What I liked about this book is that it’s very relatable.  It’s been awhile, but I can remember the sting of being embarrassed in middle school when what other people thought was the most important thing.  I remember my parents offering to buy me running shoes when I joined the cross country team, but I wouldn’t let them, because the running shoes were neon and ugly, and I only wanted the suede shoes with the star on the side (Converse).  I left the shoe store disappointed.  In this graphic novel (that is perfect for my sixth graders, by the way), Impy makes some choices that she has to live with, and that is a very important thing to expose sixth graders to.

What I didn’t like about this book was the angst I felt.  Regardless of the choices Impy made, not everything was her fault, and that irritated me the way it would irritate a middle schooler.  There was a situation where Impy faced consequences when others at fault were not caught!  Ugh- the frustration of being a tween came back to me.  That is a sign of good writing if it can bring out those emotions after so many years!

Book 34 of 40


P.S.  This is book 82 of 2017!  But who’s counting?

Salt to the Sea


Salt to the Sea (ebook)

by Ruta Sepetys


Salt to the Sea… so good!  I had heard of this book, seen the cover, etc., and finally decided to read it when I saw it was on my husband’s high school’s potential summer reading list.  (To clarify… he’s a teacher, not a high school student.)  Although I’m madly trying to read all of the notable 2017 books before the ALA awards, I paused to read this one, and I’m so glad I did.

This book is told from four different points of view.  Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, Emilia is a 15 year old Polish girl, Florian is a 19ish year old who restores art, and Alfred is a German sailor.  Joana and Emilia are refugees escaping the Russians, and Florian has stolen an important piece of art in retaliation against his boss, who is just under Hitler himself.  Alfred appears to be a dim-witted, brainwashed Nazi who writes mental letters to the girl next door about how important he is, although we see through the story, he is the lowest on the totem pole.  They travel together to board a boat of refugees escaping the war, along with the shoe poet, a large woman, and an orphan named Klaus.  This is a snapshot of one group of people- refugees of world war II, displaced due to the Nazis and Soviets closing in on their homes.

What I liked about this book was… everything.  I really enjoyed this book.  I’ve read that Sepetys writes about the untold stories, the ones we’ve never heard of.  The fictional refugees in the story board a doomed boat, and it was a boat that really did sink with nearly 10,000 refugees aboard in 1945.  I really liked the chemistry between Joana and Florian, and I could see it becoming a movie someday.  This book reminded me of The Book Thief, and anyone who’s asked me for a recommendation should know my feelings on that book.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I felt like the ending was abrupt.  There was a chapter of many years later, but I wanted another book to tell me about the many years after.  I also felt the beginning could be confusing for someone who didn’t have the patience to learn the characters right away.

Book 33 of 40

Orphan Island


Orphan Island (hardcover)

by Laurel Snyder


Orphan Island is a mysterious setting where 9 kids live without adult supervision.  Each year (?… time is slightly ambiguous, seasons are virtually non-existent, and days are marked by rocks and slashes inconsistently), a young child is sent to the island in a green boat.  The boat knows where to go and moves on it’s own, although it is its own entity.  When the new Care arrives, the Elder (oldest orphan) gets into the boat and goes off to… well, we don’t know where, but it is assumed some sort of civilization.  The 9 orphans learn to care for themselves, and the Elder teaches his/her Care (youngest arrival) how to survive on the island.  It is very Peter Pan-like, an island where kids are free from adult supervision, and live happily without cares in the world.

When Jinny says goodbye to her best friend, Deen, she is the new Elder.   She takes Ess, her new Care, under her wing, but Jinny has several character flaws.  She is inherently selfish without realizing it, because she isn’t thinking of the greater good, but her own feelings.  She fails to teach Ess to swim or read, and doesn’t show Ben how to take over when she’s gone, her most important jobs as Elder.  Jinny is left with a huge decision once it’s her time to get into the green boat, and we are left wondering whether we’d make that same decision.

What I liked about this book was that it was very well thought out.  It’s clear that Snyder has a backstory for the island, and she did a good job of asking questions through the story that makes me as the reader wonder what I would do.  Think of when you were 12… If you were ever angry at your parents, confused about what you were feeling of what was happening to your body, you will be able to relate to Jinny.  That can be a good and a bad thing…

What I didn’t like about this book was Jinny’s character.  It’s hard reading a story where you don’t really care for the protagonist.  Normally, you’re rooting for the protagonist in the story, but as an adult, I wasn’t agreeing with Jinny’s decisions.  As a 12 year old, I might really be able to relate to her selfishness, and the way she felt about the others on the island.  She was looking for someone to relate to, and found solace in a letter written by a previous resident, Abigail.  Although it bugged me, I can see why this is a well-received novel.  I look forward to the reactions by my students.

Book 32 of 40

Me and Marvin Gardens


Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King


Me and Marvin Gardens is about a boy named Obe living in Pennsylvania along a creek leading to a river.  His family has lived on Devlin land (their land) for generations, but they have lost it year after year, mainly due to a relative with a drinking problem, who would have to sell it to cover his debts.  Now, there are homes being build in phases, and Obe cleans the creek daily due to the trash left behind.  One day, he discovers a new animal, and a curious trait of this new animal makes Obe imagine how it can impact their environment.  In the meantime, Obe is suffering nosebleeds and is being bullied by a former friend.  He is a thoughtful sixth grade boy with good intentions who needs someone to believe him.

What I liked about this book is it gives kids a great picture of how we impact our environment.  The theme of bravery also reminds students that they can stand up for themselves and what they believe in, no matter the potential consequences.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it dragged at parts.  The voice was interesting, but I’m not sure how many of my students could relate.

Book 31 of 40