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 (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)
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)