The Benefits of Being an Octopus


The Benefits of Being an Octopus (hardcover)

by Ann Braden


The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a girl whose back is against the wall.  Zoey is a seventh grader who lives with her mom, 3 younger siblings, mom’s boyfriend Lenny, and his dad in a trailer.  They are living in poverty, and Zoey often goes without food or clean clothes.  She has way more responsibility than she should, taking care of her siblings, cooking, and protecting them from Lenny, who isn’t violent, but is verbally manipulative and plain mean.  Zoey does not do homework and does not feel she has any options in life.  When she is given the opportunity to join the debate team thanks to a teacher who takes interest in her, Zoey is reluctant, but it changes her life for the better.

What I liked about this book is the fact that my students will be able to connect to it.  It is a story that needs to be read, because it is reality.  There just aren’t enough stories these days that tell the reality of my students.  Poverty, hopelessness, abusive situations, filth and hunger, etc.  I hope it finds its way to the hands of someone who needs to read it.

What I didn’t like about this book was the hopelessness of the parents.  Both moms in this story were just useless for most of the book.  It made me really angry, being a mother, because my first priority is taking care of my children.  I always wonder how parents can send their kids to school without even washing their faces.

Book 74 of 2018


Everything I Never Told You


Everything I Never Told You (audiobook)

by Celeste Ng


Everything I Never Told You is kind of heartbreaking, really confusing at times, and a mystery that you will want to unravel.  This story takes place in the 70’s (with flashbacks from the 50’s and 60’s) in a family with a Chinese American father and white mother.   The oldest daughter Lydia dies at the beginning of the novel, and the whole time, we are trying to figure out why as we learn about her very flawed family members, their suspicions and regrets, and her own frustrations with life.  It is told from third person point of view, and the narrator tells the story of each family member.

What I liked about this book is that it was a mystery with a very personal touch.  I usually don’t really care for mysteries, but this was a book with little adventure.  Each character is complex, flawed, and you want to hate them while feeling sorry for them as you feel their pain.  You will definitely make guesses about why and how Lydia died in the lake, and you will be wrong.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little slow at times.  I listened to it as an audiobook, and the reader’s voice can be a little monotone at times.  That is the tone of the book, and it works.  It was just a little tough at times, like when I was driving and tuned it out.  I am still very much looking forward to reading more of Celeste Ng’s work.

Book 73 of 2018

Cardboard Kingdom


Cardboard Kingdom (paperback)

by Chad Sell


Cardboard Kingdom is a graphic novel about some kids in a neighborhood who spend their summer creating alter ego super heroes, and costumes out of cardboard.  Their super hero personalities are all exaggerations of their own personalities, and they are able to show their true colors.  One has tons of stuffed animals and is the controller of animals, another is loud and gruff in real life, and has a bold, rough super hero personality, etc.  There is one boy who is a sorceress as his super hero, but it is hinted that he might be gay or trans (in a very loving and accepting way).  One boy seems to have a crush on another boy.  There are many characters of color, as well as a bully.

What I liked about this book was the way it addressed diversity by featuring characters from all walks of life.  Not only were there LGBTQ characters, but there was one who was not accepted by her grandmother for her loudness, one whose dad was an abuser, and the bully was actually being bullied himself.  Another character’s mother was in an interracial relationship.  I think the more diversity is seen in books, the more it will be accepted as the norm.  Soon enough, kids won’t even blink, much less giggle, when two boys kiss or a character decides to dress as the opposite sex.  I also loved how these kids played with each other and got along (for the most part) all summer!  They were creative and didn’t watch tv or play video games.  That’s so inspiring.

What I didn’t like about the book was that it didn’t really have a storyline.  It seemed segmented and a series of shorter, somewhat connected stories, but later came together.  I wasn’t particularly attached to anyone.

Book 72 of 2018

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