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


Orbiting Jupiter


Orbiting Jupiter (ebook)

by Gary D. Schmidt

AR Level 4.4, 4 points


Orbiting Jupiter is told from the perspective of Jack, a sixth grade boy in rural Maine, living on a farm during the winter.  However, the story is really about Joseph, an eighth grade boy his parents are fostering.  Joseph came from a boys’ detention home, because he tried to kill his teacher.  He is a new father, and longs to meet his newborn daughter, Jupiter, but he cannot.  He also has an abusive father who comes back into the picture, and he plays an important part in the climax of the story, which was a pretty… climactic climax.  Jack does not know Joseph’s feelings or thoughts, but he is observant and tells us details that help us infer what Joseph is going through, and Schmidt’s style really made this book memorable for me.

What I liked about this book was Schmidt’s style.  I can’t say I’ve ever read one of his books, and the simple narrative style was really unique.  It was almost like dry humor- Jack would say something, and I could picture a kid with a straight face, no emotion.  I enjoy that type of writing.  There was also repetition of words and phrases to emphasize points, which was another feature I enjoyed.

What I didn’t like about this book was the shocking climax.  I’m not sure I didn’t like it, but it came out of left field, and I wanted to throw my phone (since I was reading the ebook on Overdrive).  I can’t tell you what happened, but I will say I wouldn’t have liked the book any less had there been a different ending!

Book 53 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

A List of Cages


A List of Cages (ebook)

by Robin Roe


I procrastinated so long on this blog for A List of Cages, I don’t even remember all of the characters’ names!  It isn’t that it wasn’t an amazing book (I finished it pretty quickly), I just got caught up in other books, and never bothered to blog about them.  Sitting down 7 books later, I’m totally stuck, so I apologize for the sucky post on an amazing book.

Adam is a senior with ADHD who has signed up for the greatest class ever- he gets to help the school psychologist for credit.  He ends up picking up a freshman named Julian and bringing him to appointments with the school psychologist.  We learn Julian is an orphan sent to live with his uncle by marriage, but Julian and Adam know each other.  When Julian’s parents died in a car accident, he was sent to live with Adam and his mother, a social worker, and it was hard on all everyone when he was taken away from them.  What Adam doesn’t realize is that Julian’s uncle is physically and emotionally abusive, and Julian is a shell of a person, afraid of everything and behind academically.  He is bullied and cannot stand up for himself, so Adam takes it upon himself to save him.

What I liked about this book was the points of view.  I enjoy books that flip back and forth so we can see things from different perspectives.  I liked Adam’s character. We all need an Adam who is willing to fight for us.

What I didn’t like about this book was the abuse.  It is hard for me as a teacher, a mother, and a survivor of emotional abuse, to read about a child being treated as Julian was.  What I experienced was nothing even near what Julian went through, but the fear and guilt and not being able to keep a friend rang true.  However, even I wanted to kill his uncle.

Book 51 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The War that Saved My Life


The War that Saved My Life (hardcover)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

AR Level 4.1, 9 points

Newbery Honor 2016

I love historical fiction, especially when it’s broken down so I can understand it from a relatable point of view, and it tells an aspect of the event that I am unfamiliar with… those are my favorite.  When it comes to World War II, I’ve read lots of historical fiction about the holocaust, and not a whole lot more.

This book is from the perspective of a London native who was evacuated with her little brother to the countryside of Kent.  I didn’t know that children were evacuated and put with families in the country, though it certainly makes sense.  Ada isn’t like all of the other evacuees, though.  She has clubfoot, and has spent her entire life locked away by her abusive mother and told she’s ugly, simple, and unloved.  Ada’s little brother Jamie is her entire life, and she has to protect him from their mother and the world, but she is the one who really needs protecting.

Ada and Jamie escape to Kent and are placed with a woman named Susan.  We learn she has recently lost her “best friend” (but astute readers can infer it was her life partner since she was also disowned by her father for their relationship, and she feels such a deep loss).  Susan shows Ada and Jamie love, attention, affection, and care of their basic needs, which the children had never felt, and Ada has a hard time accepting.  This is not only a story about World War II evacuees, but of an abused girl who learns to care, and realize she herself is lovable.

What I liked about this book was that it was sent in a time that I have little experience with.  I think any reader will be able to learn more about the war from a child’s perspective, and to me, that is fascinating.  I liked that Ada went through such a great change, and that things worked out for the best for her (I love happy endings), and that it left me guessing.  I wanted a flash forward to see her progress in a year.

What I didn’t like was there were some parts that were hard to believe.  I found it hard to take in that a mother could be so harsh and show little remorse, even in the end.  I also didn’t like that there was unfinished plot lines.  I thought there was more that could have been explained.  People disappeared and building relationships weren’t seen through.

I would recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Book 29 of 40 (year 2)