Cloud and Wallfish (hardcover)
by Anne Nesbet
AR Level 5.8, 12 points
Cloud and Wallfish is about a boy named Noah who had to forget everything he thought he knew about himself when his parents pick him up from school and move to East Germany during the Cold War, right before the Berlin Wall was torn down. Noah is given a new name (Jonah), a new birthday, and a new identity, including a book of class pictures that aren’t really of him. He is given a set of rules that require him to be seen and not heard, lest he give away their true identities. Noah is told it is so his mother can study children with stutters (like himself), but he later finds that may not be the complete truth. Noah, lonely and confused, makes friends with a girl named Claudia whose parents died in a car accident and is being raised by her frightening grandmother. Claudia (Cloud) and Noah/Jonah (Wallfish, which sounds like the german word for whale) become friends and create a bond that cannot be broken by time.
What I liked about this book was that I learned a lot about what life was like for East Germans during the Cold War. It is a time period I was never really interested in, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge about it, and I appreciated that this book broke it down through both narrative and “fact files” so I could have a background. That was a clever strategy the author used.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I was disappointed. I had high hopes for this book and REALLY thought I’d love it. It is well-written, but it was a little slow for me. I actually had to renew this book from the library, because I couldn’t finish it in the time I had it. I also have questions that have yet to be answered. There were things that either weren’t explained or weren’t clear, possibly because I rushed through the ending to finally see the finish.
Book 7 of 40
by Jason Reynolds
Patina is the second installment in the track series. I’m not sure how many there will be, but Ghost was the first book, and I loved it! Patina is still a great novel, but I wasn’t as attached to the main character, Patina, as I was to Ghost. Patty (Patina) is a young woman who has a lot on her plate. She is the only African American girl at her fancy private school, and has put up a wall that makes it hard to get to know anyone. She takes on a lot of responsibility with her little sister Maddy, even though she lives with her aunt and uncle (who adopted them) since her dad passed and her mom had her legs amputated due to diabetes. Patty’s aunt Momly works hard to make sure everyone is well taken care of, but Patty still has the burdens of school, pleasing her mom, being poor in a rich school, having a white Momly, and being the best on her track team. When there is an accident, Patty’s life takes a turn and she starts to realize what is important to her.
What I liked about this book is the compelling character that Reynolds has written. I really enjoy his writing style, and I wish he had more middle grade-appropriate literature, but he is more of a young adult author. For me, Patty is relatable, even if I am not in her situation. I can relate to feeling like I have to take on more responsibility than I actually need to, and then feeling the weight of that choice.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it left me with a cliffhanger! I don’t need a cliffhanger to keep me returning for more… I will continue to read Jason Reynolds’ books, regardless. NOW I have to WAIT for his next one to come out to find out if Patty actually won the relay (although I think she did).
Book 6 of 40
Swing It, Sunny (paperback)
by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
This is the second book about Sunny that the Holms (brother/sister duo) have written. In Sunny-Side Up, Sunny went to Florida to stay with her grandpa while her parents figured out what to do with her older brother Dale and his drug problem. In Swing It, Sunny, Dale is at a military school, angry that he has lost his freedom. Sunny is home and navigating middle school. She enjoys a lot of tv with her friend, learns to swing a flag from a new neighbor, and dresses up like a nurse for Halloween (although she wanted to be a swamp thing). The biggest concern for Sunny is her brother. She loves him and misses him, but he is not himself.
What I liked about this book is that it is great for a students who has a relative with a drug or alcohol problem. It shows that there are pressures for the entire family, not just the parents, when there is a family member who is sick. Her dad did a good job of trying to explain that Dale was not himself, but Sunny had to experience the pain for herself.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it didn’t have a strong plot with a problem and solution that would be a good model for my lower readers. It had a lot of internal conflict, which made it a great story, but harder for my struggling readers to understand.
Book 5 of 40
Flat-Out Celeste (ebook)
by Jessica Park
Not too long ago, I read Flat-Out Love at the request of a friend, and while I started out cynical, I’m a sucker for a good love story. Or a bad one. Or one that is only so-so. What ever the quality, this is a love story, and I got sucked in right away, and wanted more from the characters. Flat-Out Celeste is the third installation, and a secondary character is now is the main character.
Celeste struggles socially. We as the readers might immediately think aspergers, but she is never actually diagnosed. Celeste is beyond smart academically, but does not have any friends because of her awkwardness. She has her choice of colleges, including Ivy League, but she starts getting emails from Jason, a student liason at Barton College, and they correspond regularly until it becomes flirtatious. They finally meet, and go out on a very awkward date. Celeste’s social anxiety starts to improve, and she and Jason make an instant connection. Despite some tough situations, Celeste’s life seems to be on track with Justin. She decides to try and fix her brother’s relationship with his exgirlfriend Julie (whose romance began in Flat-Out Love). All in all, this is a book filled with hope (for the socially awkward) and love (for all). It isn’t cheesy, but you may throw up a little in your mouth during some of Celeste and Justin’s conversations.
What I liked about this book was that it gives me hope for my weirdos. I have had several students with autistic-like behaviors, students who wouldn’t understand a social situation no matter what drawing or map you made for them, etc. If Celeste and Justin can kindle a relationship and keep it going despite a distance, then there’s is hope!
What I didn’t like about this book was that there were so many errors! It was like the book had never seen an editor and was just published to the Internet. It bugged me, but it didn’t take away from the story itself.
Book 4 of 40
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (audiobook)
by Rita Williams-Garcia
AR Level , points
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground follows Clayton, a boy who basically worships his grandfather Cool Papa, a jazz musician and former soldier in the Navy. Clayton’s mother is not as fond of her father, and reacts coldly and callously when Cool Papa passes. She has previously unresolved issues with her father, and throws out all of his possessions without considering Clayton’s feelings. Clayton does not react well, and starts having trouble at school. The last straw is when his mother takes away his blues harp (harmonica), so Clayton decides to leave home and go underground (ride the subway). Clayton runs into some boys who are up to no good, and gets caught up in their schemes. Things do not go well for Clayton, but it is a happy ending for Clayton and his family, so all is well in the end.
What I liked about this book was the way Garcia-Williams approached the subject of death with children. It is a sensitive topic for children, and there aren’t many books out there to help children through the loss of someone important to them. This book also showed a child’s perspective of his mother not listening or trying to understand his grief. I think it would be really helpful for a student who recently lost a grandparent or a close relative to read this book, and perhaps even their parent who might not understand how their child feels.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was infuriating that his mother was so cold and indifferent to Clayton’s feelings. I hope that as a mother, I am more sensitive to my kids’ emotions. As a teacher, I will be aware of reading a group novel that not everyone is interested in, because I felt Clayton had valid feelings about the book he was being forced to read.
Book 3 of 40
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (hardcover)
by Nikki Grimes
I’m getting off to an awfully slow start this school year. I think it’s because I moved the week before I had to be back, so I’ve been unpacking and settling in. I also have 2 kids in school now, and my almost 10 month old is a mama’s boy and has to be near me all the time. Today I decided it was time to finish this book I’d been nursing since last Monday, so I took it into the pool and sat in a big round donut until I’d read the last word (ironically, part of the title).
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance is both a collection of poems written by African American poets about the Harlem Renaissance, and a play on those poems by Nikki Grimes. Grimes takes a line (or many lines) from poems by other poets and makes each word the last word in her original poems. It’s a style of poetry I’ve never heard of, called Golden Shovel. I really enjoyed learning about this form, because I enjoy structure, and it’s new to me. Grimes’ poetry touched on several relevant subjects African American youth face, such as police brutality, interracial couples, and self-image. She writes to her own children, which was what I found the most touching.
What I liked about this book was the carefully selected poems. Although the Renaissance was nearly 100 years ago, many of the conflicts faced then are still very relevant today, unfortunately, although different. I think it would be a meaningful book for our youth looking for poetry they could relate to. I can only appreciate it.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t my favorite genre, but that isn’t a fault of the book. While I enjoy novels written in verse, poetry in general is something I have always had to work hard to understand and enjoy. I know this is a high quality novel, but it isn’t something I’d say I read for fun. Although, readers sometimes read out of their comfort zones, right? A lesson for my students. 🙂
Book 2 of 40
Forget Me Not (hardcover)
by Ellie Terry
AR Level 4.1, 3 points
In Forget Me Not, Calliope is an eighth grade girl with Tourettes syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes her to make sounds and movements that she doesn’t do willingly, and this causes her to be embarrassed and pull out her hair. She also has low self esteem and not many friends. Compounding this is the fact that her mom can’t go without a boyfriend, but every time she breaks up with one, she packs Calliope into their Bug and they move to another city. Calliope has been to 10 schools, but this time is different, because she meets Jinsong, a boy in her building who secretly likes her, despite the fact that he’s popular and his friends make fun of Calli. Jinsong has to find the courage to come forward with his feelings. Unfortunately, he wrestles with his own disappointment in himself when he fails to defend her. The unlikely couple then has to face the possibility of never seeing each other again when Calli’s mom runs off and gets married.
What I liked about this book was that it highlighted a disorder that people have heard of, but aren’t really familiar with. The reputation of people with Tourettes is that they will say bad words or get violent, but that isn’t everyone. Calliope made sounds and hurt herself, and had to eat in a certain way, but the book showed that they were impulses she couldn’t control. Hopefully this book will serve to educate others, who will then be more understanding and tolerant.
What I didn’t like about this book was Jinsong. I understand as an eighth grade boy, having a friend like Calliope would be embarrassing, and could damage his reputation. As an adult, I wanted to yell at him and tell him he was a horrible person.
Book 1 of 40
*Would have been book 20 of 20 for my summer reading goal had I finished it on time! Unfortunately, this first week of school (and the weekend before) is crazy busy, so I kept falling asleep when I tried to read before bed.