2019

This year, I stopped writing blog posts.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading- it’s that I was reading so many books at the beginning of the year, I fell behind and decided not to keep up.  I am trying to decide whether to start up again, or leave this blog behind.  I am so busy with teaching right now, I’m not sure starting up again is logical.  If you are a reader who benefits from my random thoughts about books, whether it is for your students or yourself, please let me know and I’ll start up again.

While I am thinking, I will leave you with a list of books I have read during 2019.  I am adding MG for middle grade (good for upper elementary/middle school) or YA for young adult (not appropriate for my students’ age group), as well as PD for professional development (teacher books).  I’m adding a few words to give you an idea of what it’s about.

  1. The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (MG- depression, botany, scientific method, biracial female lead)
  2. Echo’s Sister by Paul Mosier (MG- little sister has cancer, art, NYC, family)
  3. Spinning by Tillie Walden (YA- ice skating, graphic novel, memoir, LGBTQ)
  4. Blended by Sharon M. Draper (MG- biracial, divorced parents, identity, police brutality)
  5. Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson (YA- NYC, feminism, identity, relationships, death)
  6. Tight by Torrey Maldonado (MG- Bronx, projects, bullied boy, choosing friends)
  7. Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias (audiobook) (MG- nonfiction, inspiring, child promoting literacy, empowering young girls)
  8. Breakout by Kate Messner (MG- prison break, multiple POV, some racism, true story)
  9. Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy (MG- Arabic culture, historical fiction, boys, war)
  10. March: Book 2 by John Lewis (MG/YA- graphic novel, disturbing but true, MLK, Civil Rights Movement, memoir)
  11. Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (MG- homeless sisters, crows, cognitive disability, NYC)
  12. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (MG- mystery, Civil Rights Movement, two time periods, LGBTQ, divorce)
  13. The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (audiobook) (late MG/YA- LGBTQ, Legos, anger, inferred gang violence)
  14. In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart (MG- grief, awkwardness, Mr. Schu, bowling, family)
  15. Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (MG- graphic novel, relationships, awkwardness, series)
  16. TBH, This Is So Awkward by Lisa Greenwald (MG- story through texts/emails, girls, social/relationship problems)
  17. The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm (MG- science, sequel, fantasy, reverse aging, relationships)
  18. Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech (MG- poetry, boy, sequel)
  19. What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper (audiobook) (YA- post-Holocaust, historical fiction, music, survivor)
  20. New Kid by Jerry Craft (MG- Newbery potential!, graphic novel, identity, black boy in a white school)
  21. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (MG- disability, grief, bullying, family)
  22. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (audiobook) (YA- rap, gang violence, drugs, role model, identity)
  23. Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi (YA- title says it all!)
  24. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal by Jeff Kinney (MG- funny, Wimpy Kid’s friend)
  25. Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes (MG- poetry, daydreaming, parents, role model)
  26. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (YA- grief, heart-wrenching, depression, death of a sister, memorable)
  27. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (MG- graphic novel, India, identity, mother-daughter)
  28. The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (MG- India, homeless children, education, comraderie)
  29. Just Jaime by Terri Libenson (MG- graphic novel, friends, bullies, cool girls, summer)
  30. Internment by Samira Ahmed (YA- Islamophobia, internment camp, rising up)
  31. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (YA- first love, growing up, beach read, not the best, entertaining for sure)
  32. Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing by Ralph Fletcher (PD)
  33. Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (MG- bullying, exclusion, unexpected friendship, grief, depression)
  34. It’s Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han (YA- growing apart, falling in love, not as great as the first one)
  35. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly (MG- deaf girl, mixed whale, radio, defying parents)
  36. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han (YA- marriage, beach read, progressively more cheesy)
  37. ttyl by Lauren Myracle (MG- text, friendship, loyalty, secrets)
  38. Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA- poetry, sexual assault and rape, voice, memoir)
  39. Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby (MG- LGBTQ, mental illness, hurricanes, van Gogh)
  40. Click by Kayla Miller (MG- graphic novel, talent show, friendship, happiness)
  41. Camp by Kayla Miller (MG- graphic novel, friendship, camp, loyalty)
  42. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (YA- culinary arts, teen mom, future plans, NYC, powerful female lead)
  43. What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli (audiobook) (YA- LGBTQ, high school boys, fate, missed connection, NYC)
  44. Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (MG- grief, mystery, engaging, girl with red hair)
  45. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (MG- LGBTQ, cancer, sisters, family, military)
  46. Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (MG- LGBTQ, parallel to Knockout, identity and self-discovery, love story between 2 girls)
  47. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (MG- banned books, secret library, finding your voice)
  48. The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly (audiobook) (MG- Filipina Americans, poverty, Louisiana, abusive step mom)
  49. DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts (PD)
  50. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (MG- poetry, Newbery worthy!, Syrian refugee, Islamophobia)
  51. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart (MG- grief, facing reality, tear-jerker, cross-country traveling)
  52. Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick (MG- survival, Maine wildfire, escape, divorce)
  53. Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (MG- rabbit, autism spectrum, acceptance, formerly homeschooled girl)
  54. Dry by Neal Shusterman (audiobook) (YA- drought, California, survival, realistic)
  55. Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (MG- dark skinned girl, identity, self-love, alcoholism)
  56. The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier (MG- fantasy, unsettling, Stephen King for kids, good vs. evil, sticks with you)
  57. How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons (MG- historical fiction, Jim Crow era, racist south and liberal north, jazz music)
  58. The School for Good and Evil #1 by Soman Chainani (audiobook) (MG- good vs evil, fairy tale, LONG book, unexpected archetypal characters)
  59. Best Friends by Shannon Hale (MG- graphic novel, memoir, awkwardness, 6th grade friendships)
  60. Honeybees and Frenemies by Kristi Wientge (MG- bees, small town, pageant, acceptance)
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Tight

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Tight (paperback)

by Torrey Maldonado

 

Tight is about a boy named Bryan who lives in the projects in Brooklyn, New York.  His dad is in and out of jail for fighting and teaches Bryan it is better to be feared than liked.  His mom and dad introduce him to a boy named Mike who seems great at first, but soon pressures Bryan into doing things he doesn’t want to do, but Bryan doesn’t want to be “soft” in front of Mike, so he does them.  Bryan just wants to live drama-free where he can draw and read comics, but Mike wants to go subway surfing and skip school.  Bryan finds himself in a tough position and has to make some tough choices for himself.

What I liked about this book is that I was picturing who I was going to hand it to in my class first.  It has everything that many of my sixth grade boys need- drama, not wanting to look soft or like a snitch, bulling, peer pressure, etc.  What I really appreciated was that there was no talk of drugs, alcohol, sex, or violence with weapons, elements that could push this into more of a YA or mature book.  This was just about a sixth grade boy and common pressures on him, things my own students are dealing with.  Plus, it’s easy reading, and short.  I already have a student to hand this to.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I really wanted Mike to get busted.  I know this had more of a lesson at the end, which was really, really awesome, but the teacher in me wanted Mike to get caught and disciplined.

Book 6 of 2019

Watch Us Rise

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Watch Us Rise (ebook)

by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

 

In Watch Us Rise, the story bounces between the points of view of Chelsea and Jasmine, high school juniors who attend a progressive high school in NYC, when they discover their school has a lot more progress to make.  Chelsea is white and a strong proponent of women, equality, respecting women’s bodies, and respect.  Jasmine is black and full-figured, and joins Chelsea with these added lenses.  Together, they form a Women’s Rights Club at school and their blog begins to get a lot of attention when they point out the harassment and narrow mindedness coming from several staff members and students.  They post everything from poetry to descriptions of the sexist and racist behaviors they see, but they soon run into opposition from their school and trolls online.  They do not let this deter them from their cause.

What I like about this book is that it teaches young readers about what women go through and gives them examples of young women their own age who are able to make a difference.  Many of the stereotypes pointed out in the book are widely accepted, and this book will educate readers and teach them to keep their eyes open to them.  I also appreciate that it teaches self-love, but the characters are both humanized when they start to question their own beliefs for the sake of romance.

What I don’t like, or didn’t care for as much, was that it seemed like the dialogue was, at times, too staged.  It was like the authors needed the readers to understand a bit of history, so the characters were educating each other.  I also felt that it might go over the heads of some readers who aren’t old enough to appreciate it.

Book 5 of 2019

Blended

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Blended (hardcover)

by Sharon M. Draper

 

In Blended, Isabella, or Izzie (as her mom calls her), is a sixth grade girl whose mom is white and dad is black.  She isn’t sure about her identity, but is leaning more towards black since her skin isn’t white and her hair isn’t blonde like her mom’s.  Not only is she a “blend” of colors/races, but her parents are divorced and each have a new family, so she is part of a blended family.  Isabella is put in the middle of her parents’ custody disagreement when they start to fight in front of her, and Isabella can’t take it anymore.  To top it all off, someone at school has played a racist prank on one of her best friends, and Isabella is sick of fending off comments about her identity as a mixed race girl.  A major event causes her family members to look deeper at their relationship with Isabella and with each other.

What I liked about this book was that it addresses the issue of being mixed race in today’s climate, which you don’t see much in literature these days, especially children’s literature.  It also addresses the bitterness that can come from divorce, and putting children in the middle of it.  I can already think of at least 3 students in my class who will be able to relate to that aspect of the story, although really, it’s the parents who need to read this book.

What I didn’t like about this book was that the issue of rude comments wasn’t really addressed with one of Isabella’s friends.  I am white, but my children are mixed race, and I am not sure if they will have to address these questions.  I’m not sure they’d be offended by them, but that is my white privilege, not knowing and not fully understanding that perspective.

Book 4 of 2019

Spinning

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Spinning (paperback)

by Tillie Walden

 

Spinning is a graphic novel memoir about the author, Tillie.  She says her book is about ice skating, but it is really about her youth while ice skating.  Tillie struggled with coming out as gay to her conservative family and friends in Austin, Texas.  She also struggled with a mother who seemed less than supportive and her absent family.  Tillie needed a place to fit, but didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere.  Although she was a successful ice skater, she didn’t enjoy it, and ended up quitting once she started to take control of her life.

What I liked about this book was the emotion Tillie put into her memoir so the reader feels her struggles.  I am not gay, I have never been sexually assaulted, and I have never been pressured in a competitive sport, but the author writes so we can have compassion for Tillie’s experiences.  That is the one thing that people wrote when reviewing this graphic novel- we feel Tillie’s heartbreak, depression, frustration, embarrassment, etc. as we read her words.  Although it is kind of an aside, I also enjoyed learning more about competitive figure skating.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way people were so unaccepting of Tillie when they weren’t in a place to have a say in her life.  I hate when people are bullied and the bullies aren’t punished, or the protagonist isn’t avenged.  However, that’s life.  My bullies are probably still bullying, or basically being awful people to others.  I wanted to see her mother redeem herself or her girlfriend get back into contact with her, or the man who assaulted her- he needed to be caught and punished!  Those things never happened (in the book).

Book 3 of 2019

Echo’s Sister

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Echo’s Sister (hardcover)

by Paul Mosier

 

Echo’s Sister‘s name is Laughter, or El, for short.  On El’s first day of seventh grade at a new school, she finds out her younger sister Echo has cancer, and this news devastates her.  She goes through all of the emotions- abandonment, fear, grief, resentment, anger, etc. as Echo goes through chemo and her family learns to deal with the news and reality of cancer.  However, El finds herself surrounded by love and support, but it takes her awhile to realize it.

What I liked about this book was the positivity the characters had, despite the cancer.  It really made me want to go and join a group to support cancer patients, or fundraise for someone who needs the support.  I think that if you aren’t directly affected by cancer, it is something you just won’t think about supporting, but there are so many needs that the families have.  Cancer is honestly my biggest fear, and I hope and pray no one in my family ever has to experience it.  This book gives a perspective that makes me really feel for the families of patients.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it gave me a sore throat, because I kept trying not to cry!  I hate crying.  My throat hurts, my nose is running, and my eyes are still watery.  Plus, I used many tissues.  Ugh too many emotions!  😉

Book 2 of 2019

The Science of Breakable Things

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The Science of Breakable Things (audiobook)

by Tae Keller

 

Natalie is an average middle school student.  She has a very excited science teacher who has everyone think of a question and answer it via the scientific method.  Natalie lives with her therapist father and her botanist mother, but she is a bit lost when her mother falls into a depression and Natalie is afraid she stopped caring about her.  Because neither of her parents are communicating with her, Natalie fears she is to blame for her mother’s depression, and she sets out to make her happy again by winning an egg-drop contest to buy the orchid her mother once loved to research.  Natalie uses the scientific method to try and solve the mystery of her mother’s depression.

What I liked about this book was the way it approached a sensitive and relevant topic, depression.  Although it is more commonly spoken about these days, it stigmatizes the depressed person and those around them, and so fewer people are willing to admit when they are depressed, much less seek help.  This book shows that depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about, and it isn’t the fault of the family members.  It is an illness that needs to be dealt with professionally.  I feel like many of my students would be able to relate to that.  I, personally, have many family members who suffer from depression, and this might have helped me when I was younger.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it made me feel very sad for Natalie.  I can’t imagine having a mother and then not.  It made me think twice about whether I abandon my own kids emotionally at times.  It’s not that I’m depressed, but sometimes I have so many other things going on, I am not giving my children the support they need, much like Natalie felt abandoned by both of her parents.

Book 1 of 2019