Garvey’s Choice (paperback)
by Nikki Grimes
Garvey’s Choice is a super fast read. It took me 30 minutes in one sitting (although I was distracted by my students during dance class). It is written in verse and is engaging, beginning to end. Garvey is an overweight middle school boy who cannot connect with his father, because Garvey is not interested in sports. He would much rather read his comics or play chess with his best friend. Garvey is teased and bullied by family and classmates due to his weight, so he is withdrawn and has only one or two close friends. He ends up finding his true passion, singing, when he joins the school chorus, and is determined to be himself and let everyone else see who he really is on the inside.
What I liked about this book was that it was written in verse. Not only that, but it followed a specific pattern, and gave it a rhythm, much like Garvey might be singing in his chorus. I also liked that Garvey was able to be himself despite bullying, but also realized he wanted to change for himself, not others. It didn’t glorify being overweight, but it also showed that what’s inside is important, and you can make changes in your own life if you are unhappy. Very empowering for students reading.
What I didn’t like about this book was that his dad was so mean. That is hurtful, having a parent who won’t embrace his or her own child.
Book 73 of 40
(Book 39 of 2018)
Escape from Aleppo (hardcover)
by N.H. Senzai
Escape From Aleppo is about a girl named Nadia who lived a fairly cushioned life in Aleppo prior to the Syrian Civil War. She is very concerned with her chipped nail polish and reminisces about times when she watched Syrian Idol and talked about how pretty she was. Now, she finds herself alone after her building is bombed. She searches for her family and is angry about being left behind, but is determined to find them. Luckily, she meets an old man who helps keep her safe and agrees to take her to the Turkish border to meet her dad. She also learns a lot about her priorities and herself when she has to be brave and make tough choices before reaching safety.
What I liked about this book was that I got to learn about what is going on in world I will likely never visit. I have visited Turkey during a time of peace, but I will probably never see a war torn country like Syria. It gave me an inside look at what it’s like to live during a war, from the viewpoint of a child in that city. I also learned a lot about the city and the devastation of the infrastructure, relics, families, and sanity.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it dragged on and on and on at parts. It took me much longer than it should have. I started to question whether it was really a children’s book, because it gave so much detail about what was going on politically, and I didn’t think kids would be interested at all. It left out a lot of the gruesome details, which I appreciated, but I don’t think kids would be able to relate to the story, and would have to invest in the main character to appreciate it.
Book 72 of 40
(Book 38 of 2018)
Ghost Boys (hardcover)
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This brand new book is an important read for our children. I’ve talked a lot about The Hate U Give and Dear Martin and other books that discuss gun violence and black kids being shot by police, but those are young adult novels. We need something for those in between kids that aren’t quite ready for these, but still need exposure to this growing epidemic. Ghost Boys is perfect for that, and it gives students a history lesson, as well. Jerome is a seventh grade black boy in a poor, dangerous part of Chicago. He is also bullied by three boys at school. He makes a new friend named Carlos, who is Mexican but from San Antonio. Carlos gives Jerome a toy gun to play with, and Jerome finds himself shot by a white cop because of it. He reappears as a ghost, guided by the ghost of Emmett Till. Jerome sees his family mourning, stands in court when the judge decides not to press charges against the police officer who killed him, and is surprised when the officer’s daughter can see him. He forms a relationship with the daughter, and helps her sort through her own feelings.
What I liked about this book is that it is a story that will stick with me. Jerome could be almost any of my students, several who live in a questionable neighborhood with possible gang violence nearby. Many are afraid of the police. When I’ve heard about these situations in the news, the victims are often portrayed as being older, dangerous, threatening, etc. but in reality, they’re young men, boys even. Jerome was very young at heart and not a threat at all, but this still happened to him. I hope this causes my students to question the way “black and brown” kids are viewed, and be aware and proactive when they find themselves faced with a situation.
What I didn’t like about this book was that the cop was let off. But honestly? How many times has this happened in our country? Seriously… it’s frustrating in a book, and it should be more frustrating and obscene that it is happening today in 2018.
Book 68 of 40
(Book 34 of 2018)
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)
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)
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)