Tyler Johnson Was Here

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Tyler Johnson Was Here (ebook)

by Jay Coles

 

Tyler Johnson is the twin brother of Marvin Johnson, the main character of the story.  The brothers are living in poverty in a gang-infested neighborhood.  Their dad is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and their mother is struggling to pay bills.  Tyler decides to help his family by working for a drug dealer and then he goes missing.  Marvin, who is college-bound and doesn’t get himself into trouble, is devastated and doesn’t know what to do with himself and his feelings.

What I liked about this book was that it told the perspective of someone we might dismiss.  Tyler was supposedly a thug, drug dealer, dangerous to the community, and a nobody, but through Marvin, we see he was a brother, a son, and a friend.  He wasn’t dangerous- he was trying to live his life while helping his mom.  I love books that give me perspective, despite that perspective being devastating and heartbreaking.  It is important that we as humans see people for being people, whether they are “good” or “bad” in the eyes of the others.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it dragged in the beginning.  It had a slow start, and I had to actually look up what the book was about to keep me interested, which gave me spoilers.  I will not give spoilers- just read the book, and stick with it, even if the beginning is slow.  It is worth it to see it through to the end.

Book 94 of 2018

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Making Friends

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Making Friends (paperback)

by Kristen Gudsnuk

 

I honestly don’t remember when I read this book, but I know it was this month.  I hate when things are out of order, but it can’t be helped.  It’s been a busy month!

Making Friends is the story of a girl who is unhappy with herself, so she finds a magical book and is able to draw what she desires.  That happens to be a friend.  Then she realizes the consequences, because she isn’t truly happy, even when it seems she has what she wants.

What I liked about this book is that it is a relatable story.  It is odd and unrealistic in that a girl can draw things that come to life, but she has doubts about her own self-worth and wants to fit in.  This is something I am positive my own students deal with regularly, and reading a story they can relate to with a relevant moral at the end is something I want them reading, so it is worth putting onto my shelf, even if it wasn’t my favorite book of the year.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I felt genuinely upset for the magical friend who didn’t understand why she didn’t have family.  That bothered me, because she herself felt out of place and sad that her family didn’t care.

Book 91 of 2018

Rhyme Schemer

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Rhyme Schemer (paperback)

by K.A. Holt

 

Rhyme Schemer is a novel written in verse about a boy named Kevin, the youngest in a family of boys who all start with P.  His parents are busy doctors and Kevin is lonely, ignored, and seeking attention, even when it is negative.  Kevin gets into fights, and starts ripping pages out of library books to make found poetry about teachers, which he hangs around school.  He finds himself in a tough position, being blackmailed by another student at school.  If he does not let the other student be the rebel poet, he will post Kevin’s private poetry for all to read, getting him into more trouble.

What I liked about this book is that it is written with humor, yet it is a reality many of our students face.  I can name 5 kids in my class who mess around for attention, and I’d like to put this book into their hands.  It is a quick read, but will hold your attention and leave you thinking about it after you’ve finished.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I got the characters mixed up.  It is a short books and they’re introduced quickly, so there were more characters than I could keep track of, because I didn’t know which ones were important at first.  I had to go back and double check a few times.

Book 90 of 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow

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Where the Watermelons Grow (paperback)

by Cindy Baldwin

 

 

Where the Watermelons Grow is about a girl named Della and her struggle to find peace with her mom, who is schizophrenic.  Della lives on a North Carolina farm with her dad, mom, and baby sister Mylie.  Della wants more than ever for a normal mom so she can enjoy her reading, her best friend, and her summer.  However, her mother’s symptoms start coming back, and Della is reminded of the bad times before Mylie was born when they had to put her mother into the hospital.  Della thinks that if she allows her mom to get enough rest like she got in the hospital, her mom will recover and be normal.

What I liked about this book is that I could somewhat relate to it.  This is a tough story, because it is reality- mental illness doesn’t have to be schizophrenia.  It can be depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, etc., which are all more common and present in most families.  In my family, my step dad lived with undiagnosed schizophrenia until I’d already moved out, and depression has a strong presence in most of the women.  My biological father is an alcoholic.  I’ve witnessed mental illness, and I thought this book touched on a topic that isn’t talked about very often, but depicts the effects on a kid, like feeling responsible, wanting to keep it a secret, thinking you can fix it, etc.

What I didn’t like about this book– I’m not exactly sure.  It was highly spoken and written about, so maybe I just expected it to be a page turner I couldn’t put down, but it surprisingly took me a week to finish.

Book 89 of 2018

All Summer Long

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All Summer Long (paperback)

by Hope Larson

 

All Summer Long is about a girl named Bina and her summer of change.  Her best friend, Austin, has gone to soccer camp for a month, and all of her other friends are busy.  Her mom and dad take her Netflix away, so Bina is forced to spend time with her best friend’s sister.  They bond over music and babysitting until Bina irritates her and is then left to find something to do on her own.  This is a story about Bina finding herself and pursuing her own passions while learning to accept change.  It also shows that friends can still be close, even when they have different interests.

What I liked about this book was that Bina stayed true to herself.  She reacted in normal ways when her feelings were hurt, but at the same time, she didn’t let other people tell her who she should be or how she should react to things.  I also liked that when they got to eighth grade, Bina didn’t conform to her friends’ or peers’ expectations.  She wanted to start a band, and despite fear of rejection, she tried it anyway.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t feel like Austin really redeemed himself.  He should have been a better friend to Bina!

Book 88 of 2018

The Best Man

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The Best Man (audiobook)

by Richard Peck

 

I really enjoyed The Best Man!  Richard Peck was one of my favorite authors when I was in fifth and sixth grade.  I can’t say I remember all of the books I read by him, but I do remember being taken by his characters and the predicaments they found themselves in.  One was about some kids who lived in an old house in the city, and there was an elevator that would take them through time and they had to rescue a ghost in the house.  It was called Voices After Midnight.  I’m sure there were others that I loved by him, because I remember picking up his ghost stories because I loved them so much.

This story is about a boy named Archer who is in fifth and sixth grade (it takes place over a little over a year).  He has a best friend named Lynette, who has a bold personality, and they a live in a suburb where everyone seems to be familiar with each other.  Archer and Lynette met at a wedding as small kids, and their friendship continues through a second wedding at the end of the book.  Most of the story is navigating the tricky middle school period where people are changing physically and socially, there are bullies to face and teachers to misunderstand.  Archer is an average kid who loves his family, especially his uncle, who he later finds out is gay.  Archer is particularly unobservant, and is the last to realize it.

What I liked about this book is the humor and wit it teaches young readers.  It is hard to find middle grade literature that is so cleverly written that it will engage adult readers enough to make them giggle, but Richard Peck was an expert in his field, and I definitely found myself laughing out loud as I listened to the story while walking the dog or driving to work.  I also appreciate the way Archer’s uncle was written.  Him being gay is a total nonissue throughout the story, as it should be in life.  It isn’t a plot point- it’s just part of the plot.  There is no homophobia, just disappointment that his partner is gay and not available to his many female fans.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted Hilary to be a fake.  He’s so snooty, I figured he was lying about everything, but I guess Peck wanted him to be a real person.  Looking for something not to like is a real stretch, because it is a really cute story that will keep readers going from beginning to end.

Book 87 of 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker

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The Prince and the Dressmaker (paperback)

by Jen Wang

 

I really enjoyed The Prince and the Dressmaker, a graphic novel about a girl who makes dresses for rich women, but isn’t able to show her true skills, until a prince hires her to make dresses for him.  He doesn’t want anyone to know his secret, so he keeps his female persona a secret and flaunts Frances’s designs as a woman.  He finds himself torn between his need to be who he really is, and his duty to his country and his family.

What I liked about this story is more than I can write without giving everything away.  The climax will leave you giggling, and the pictures are stunning.  I saw this on many Mock Caldecott lists, and I can see the merit in the illustrations.  However, I also have to say that I’m thrilled there is a book about a man who wants to dress as a woman, because it is something I haven’t read in a book suitable for children.  It is a complicated topic, but this story addresses the issue with likable characters who show acceptance.

There was nothing I didn’t like about this story!

Book 86 of 2018