by Jason Reynolds
Sunny is the third book in Jason Reynold’s Track Series, preceded by Ghost and Patina. Sunny is one of the four newbies on the track team, and I’m hoping Reynolds continues with the series so we can learn about the fourth, Lu. I’d also love a backstory on Coach. (Hint hint Jason Reynolds… your readers are asking!)
Sunny is a little nutty, and writes in his diary. He lives with his dad, and we learn he feels the blame for his mother’s death since she died of an amniotic embolism the day he was born, and his dad hasn’t come out of his depression yet. His mom’s best friend Aurelia takes care of him and teaches him since he does not attend school. Sunny feels very alone, isolated, depressed, and in need of change, so he quits running, which is what his mother did- run. He decides since he likes dancing, he will throw the discus instead, so he can remain on the track team. This third story in the series is different, and shorter than the other two, but Sunny is a fun character, and the ending left me the way most of Reynolds’ novels have left me… not sure whether to cry or cheer him on.
What I liked about this book was that I got to be with my friends again. The thing about these characters is that their characters are all so well-written, it’s like you know them and how they will react. For readers who aren’t familiar with them, the writing makes it easy to get to know them. I love a good backstory.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a little hard to get into. I think I wasn’t so attached to his character before (like Ghost and Patina), but I liked getting to know more about him. The story definitely picked up as I got into it.
Book 66 of 40
(Book 32 of 2018)
The Wild Robot Escapes (hardcover)
by Peter Brown
When I first read The Wild Robot, I had high expectations for it. I’d heard a lot about it, and there was a lot of talk on Twitter and the reading communities I follow. I was disappointed. That’s why it took me awhile to buy it for my classroom, and I almost didn’t buy the sequel, except that a few of my students read it and enjoyed it, so I figured I’d buy it and read it, anyway. I loved the sequel!
In The Wild Robot Escapes, Roz finds herself refurbished on a farm. She is the new helper to a widower and his children. They’re mourning the loss of a wife and mother, and Roz is mourning the loss (or separation) of her son, Brightbill, who is now the leader of his flock of geese. Roz builds a relationship with the animals on the farm and the two children, and they help her escape by removing her tracking device. Roz is then free to escape and try to return home to their island, but not before facing danger and an important mystery person in her life.
What I liked about this book was that Roz gained a bigger sense of the world in her role as a mother. She also learned her purpose, which is to help. She stands firm in not causing harm to others, while still protecting those she loves. I think this is a great message for our children, that you can make change and stand up and protect others without resorting to violence or hurting others.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it had me hooked! It’s usually the first book that is awesome and the second one that is harder to enjoy, but this was engaging and filled with emotion from beginning to end. If you’re like me and you didn’t care for the first book so much, definitely give the second one a try. I even missed lunch with friends, because I had to read in my classroom alone.
Book 65 of 40
(Book 31 of 2018)
by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass
Bob is an imaginative story about a girl named Olivia (Livy) who goes to Australia to visit her grandmother, and finds a friendly creature named Bob in the closet. Bob knows Livy, but remembers her differently, having been friends with her 6 years prior when Livy was 5 years old. Last they saw each other, Livy told Bob to wait in the closet, but never returned for her. Now, Livy has to get to k now Bob all over again, and finds herself in the middle of mystery she can’t quite wrap her head around since she forgets Bob when she leaves the farm.
What I liked about this book was that I didn’t predict it. Often with stories for younger readers or middle graders, I predict how the story will end, and I don’t enjoy it quite as much since it doesn’t challenge me. This is a shorter story, but entertaining beginning to end. I was interested in Bob’s origin and circumstances, why Livy couldn’t remember him, and how he related to the drought that was causing everyone to lose their farms. I did not predict the ending. It is an enjoyable story with mystery, humor, and imagination. I found myself giggling at Bob’s antics and the witty inner thoughts of Bob and Livy.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it’s not out yet for me to share with my students. It’s one that I wanted to take to class and put into the hands of someone else immediately, but I’ll have to wait another few weeks. I know it might take some selling since my group this year gravitates towards realistic and historical fiction, but it is one they will enjoy once they give it a chance.
Book 64 of 40
(Book 30 of 2018)
Lucky Broken Girl (ebook)
by Ruth Behar
Lucky Broken Girl is autobiographical. Ruthie is a Cuban immigrant during the mid-1960’s, and she is in the “dumb” class in New York City, because her English isn’t great yet. Right before moving into a normal fifth grade class, she is in a car accident and breaks her leg. Because medicine wasn’t as advanced back then, she is put into a half body cast and bedridden for nearly a year. She learns to become very dependent upon her poor mother, but she also is given a tutor who helps her keep up and become advanced. Ruthie deals with a lot of emotions, from the death of a friend’s brother, fear of becoming an invalid (and then not being one), and depression over being injured. This story is full of hope for Ruthie.
What I liked about this book is that it taught me more about what life was like during the 1960’s for an immigrant. It was scary for Ruthie’s family, and they were suffering from being away from all that was familiar, knowing they’d never return to Cuba because of the Cold War. I appreciate slice of life stories.
What I didn’t like about this book was 1) the death of a child. I cannot handle the death of a child, no matter how significant or insignificant the character is. And 2) while I totally understand Ruthie’s horrible situation, I found her to be annoying. Yes, she whined, and yes, it was a rotten position. It might also be because I’m a mother of kids who are stubborn and don’t do what I need them to do. It is like the book was written for much younger readers, but the content and theme targeted a middle grade audience.
Book 63 of 40
(Book 29 of 2018)
Far From the Tree (audiobook)
by Robin Benway
I listened to the audiobook of Far From the Tree and it was 9 files, which is about 11ish hours. I finished in 2-3 days. Normal 6 file audiobooks normally take me at least a week. I just couldn’t stop listening! If you are a fan of the show This is Us, this book will give you the same feelings. Feelings like you want to cry (but you’re not depressed), root for the characters (like they’re real people), and shake them when they’re being dumb.
This story follows three characters, who all happen to share a birth mom, but have different dads. The youngest is Maya, and a lesbian who was adopted at birth by parents who are having marital problems. Grace is the middle child, and she recently gave a baby up for adoption after her boyfriend dumped her and his parents shamed her. Joaquin is nearly 18, and he has been in 17 foster homes and is ready to say no to being adopted by his currently foster family. The three meet and realize that family isn’t just who you’re biologically related to, nor who you live with. Family can take many different shapes.
What I liked about this book was pretty much everything. I loved the witty dialogue and banter, the way the author made me really care about each character, and how I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more of Grace and Peach, more of Maya’s struggle to find peace with herself, and Joaquin’s transition into a stable family. I did not want the story to end, but I thought Benway did a great job at closing each person’s storyline to give them a future, and us hope that they would be okay.
What I didn’t like about this book was the emotion that it made me feel. I don’t like to cry, especially not sitting in the parking lot of the nail salon, because I don’t want to stop listening to get my nails done (something I do so rarely, anyway). I neglected all of my responsibilities to listen to the story instead.
Book 62 of 40
(Book 28 of 2018)
Betty Before X (hardcover)
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson
Betty Before X is a semi-fictional biography of Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X. Before she became his wife, she was born to a young, unwed mother in Alabama. She was raised by her aunt before moving back with her mother in Detroit during the 1940’s. In the story, Betty’s mother Ollie Mae is a harsh woman who has no patience for Betty. Betty feels unloved and ends up moving in with a loving couple from their church. There, Betty is able to thrive as a young woman, joining the Housewive’s League to raise awareness of the mistreatment of black people in Detroit. While they are not living with the Jim Crow laws, they still experience violence and discrimination, and have progress to make. Betty remembers to count her blessings and work hard to move her community forward.
What I liked about this book is that I learned about a period of time I might not have known about otherwise. It showed several sides of the story- while Betty and the Housewive’s League tried to get people to boycott stores they couldn’t be hired at (don’t give money to a store if they aren’t willing to hire black people), others felt like they had to do what they had to do to survive (if Sears is having a sale, that’s where people would go). We teach that you can make a difference, no matter how small, but Betty and other characters felt hopeless at times, not seeing the difference they were trying to make. I like that it’s based on a true story, and gives students perspective.
What I didn’t like about this book was how cruel Ollie Mae was to Betty. As an adult, I can understand that she was probably resentful of Betty, and angry with herself for not being a good mother, so it was easier for her to be mean to Betty rather than admit that she made mistakes herself. It was just hard for me to read as a mother, the way she was so awful to her.
Book 61 of 40
(Book 27 of 2018)
Love Hate & Other Filters (ebook)
by Samira Ahmed
In Love Hate & Other Filters, Maya is a senior in a small city in Illinois. She is the only Muslim Indian girl in town, and her parents are immigrants who are very traditional and expect Maya to learn to cook and find a suitable Muslim Indian man to marry (after her studies). They even try to set her up with the son of their friends. Maya, however, is determined to go to film school at NYU and date a non-Indian boy at her high school. When a suicide bomber drives a truck into the federal building in Springfield, Maya and her family are threatened, because the supposed bomber had the same last name as Maya. She fears for her life when she is threatened by a classmate, which cause her parents to change Maya’s plans.
What I liked about this book is that it was easy reading, but I was caught up in the romance and the points of view. Alternating chapters told the story of the suicide bomber and his aftermath. I also learned about Indian culture and the pressures and expectations of desi women and their families. I feel like books that are engaging like this are the best, because the reader is so caught up in the storyline, they don’t realize they are learning about something they didn’t previously know about, as well as give perspective and increase understanding and tolerance. I would share this with my students if it didn’t discuss condoms. I don’t think sixth graders are ready for that yet (at least not the ones that would be picking this book up!).
What I didn’t like about this book was the end. It’s not the story I didn’t like, but I felt like after the climax ended, the story ended abruptly, and there was an epilogue that dragged on and on when it didn’t need to. It was only the last 5% of the book, though, and that’s a small “dislike” for a meaningful and engaging book overall.
Book 60 of 40
(Book 26 of 2018)