by Barbara Dee
Star-Crossed is a sweet love story between eighth-grader Mattie and her crush, Gemma, who plays Juliet in their school’s play. Mattie has two best friends who are loyal to the end, but she waits to tell them that she no longer likes the boy she “should” like, and instead, has feelings for Gemma, her popular British classmate. Mattie finds herself playing Romeo opposite Gemma as Juliet, and they share an on-stage kiss. I was anticipating the end of the story, because I wanted to see whether Gemma returned her feelings and their romance blossomed, or it ended badly for Mattie.
What I liked about this book is that it shows a perspective that needs to be shown. It seems like every year I have a student who might be gay or is vocal about his/her feelings, and there is very little age-appropriate literature to share with them. Many in sixth grade want to read about romances between students their age, and it is hard to find. Romance between same-sex students is even harder to find, which made me appreciate this very appropriate and very necessary novel. Students should see themselves in the characters they read about.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it didn’t end the way one of my students wanted it to. My student is very interested in literature about young people who are gay or transgender, and she will read whatever I give her with LGBTQ characters. I wanted her to enjoy this story, but she was unhappy with the ending, although she still enjoyed the book. I wanted her to love it. I didn’t love it (love is reserved for The Book Thief or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but I definitely enjoyed reading it, and I will remember it and recommend it to my students in the future.
Book 47 of 40
(Book 13 of 2018)
Stef Soto, Taco Queen (hardcover)
by Jennifer Torres
Stef Soto isn’t actually a Taco Queen, but her dad does operate a food truck that sells tacos and other Mexican food called Tia Perla (Aunt Pearl). Stef isn’t sure how she feels about her dad’s food truck- it is embarrassing being picked up after school, and her ex-friend Julia starts a rumor that Stef smells like tacos, which is tough in seventh grade. In their town, the city council will be voting on new regulations for taco trucks, which puts her father’s business in jeopardy. What Stef soon realizes is that Tia Perla isn’t just a taco truck, but a member of the family. She has to use her creativity to help her family.
What I liked about this book was that my students would be able to relate to it. I have mostly Latino students, and it is refreshing to finally read a book about a Mexican-American kid with parents who need help with their English, and who take pride in their pursuit of the American Dream. I think a large number of my students can find similarities between their own struggles and those of Estefania.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to read. I should have finished it in a few hours, but instead, it took me a whole week! Perhaps I was tired this week, but when books are especially engaging, that usually doesn’t matter. It’s a good book, but not a page-turner for me.
Book 26 of 40
Love That Dog (paperback)
by Sharon Creech
Love That Dog is a quick but meaningful read. I bought it, because it is by a reputable author and I wanted another (free form) poetry book for my library. I didn’t realize the value I’d find in it! This is written from the perspective of a young poet who doesn’t realize he’s a poet, but learns about poetry from a teacher who sees value in his writing. He is resistant to writing poetry, but learns that a poem doesn’t have to follow a format and can be fun and meaningful. His teacher shares his poetry, and he gets the opportunity to meet with his favorite poet, Walter Dean Myers, who visits his school.
What I liked about this book is it reminded me that what I am excited about (as a teacher) can positively influence my students. If I am excited about poetry and I encourage them to read and write and discuss poetry, they will eventually become less resistant. I do that daily with reading with my reluctant readers.
What I didn’t like about this book is that is was very short. I really enjoyed it, and I didn’t want it to end. However, it is also good for my kids who don’t want to read.
Book 25 of 40
Scar Island (paperback)
by Dan Gemeinhart
Scar Island is the nickname given to Slabhenge, where kids go when they are sentenced to serve time in a correctional facility, like juvenile hall, but on an island where they will be reformed. Jonathan arrives with so much guilt and self-hate, he isn’t scared about what will happen to him. He feels he deserves whatever he has coming to him. His crime isn’t made known to us until later (although I guessed early on), but he is on the island with 15 other kids with abusive caretakers. About a 1/4 of the way through, the kids find themselves on their own to fend for themselves, and it is much like Lord of the Flies with a kid who is picked on, a kid who is power-hungry, one who is smarter and braver than them all, and the followers. The kids find themselves in some real danger when a hurricane arrives on the island and Scar Island begins to fall apart, brick by brick. You will want to keep reading to find out what Jonathan’s crime was, and how they get off the island.
What I liked about this book was that it kept me reading. I don’t normally like to take a week on a book, and this only took me 4 days, which is longer than I’d want to read a book during a vacation. What was more compelling was Jonathan’s story and watching him change as he came to grips with his “crime” and his view of himself.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was kind of predictable. I was wondering the whole time if William Golding knew Gemeinhart took his idea from Lord of the Flies, but then I realized that was intentional, as Gemeinhart referred to the book (and several others, including Treasure Island). I thought that was an interesting thing to include, but I still found parts too predictable for me. Perhaps not to a kid, though.
Book 24 of 40
Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (hardcover)
by Rachel Renee Russell
The Dork Diary author, Nikki Maxwell, is a middle school girl living a not-so-fabulous life, including bullies, an annoying little sister, and embarrassing parents. She keeps a diary to document everything in her life. In this first book (of a 12 book series, I think?), Nikki is being bullied by the most popular girl at school, who is rich and beautiful and blatantly mean. Nikki thinks a lot of things in her head, but doesn’t say any of them out loud, much like I think a lot of us with self-control do. I could relate to her wanting to tell people off or say what she was thinking, but instead, keeping her mouth shut. Nikki ends up making friends with two girls who support her and come through for her at the end when the bullying takes a turn for the worst and Nikki doesn’t want to come to school.
What I liked about this book is that is has my kids reading. That is always a plus! They are fun and engaging, entertaining and positive. I bought them at the request of my students, and I got a good deal on them used from Thriftbooks, my go-to for used books. I’m not sure how good a deal they were, but $3.75 for a used $12 book is good enough for me! They won’t stay on my shelf now. My biggest readers? My boys. Maybe they will take the information and it will come in handy when they have crushes on girls next year in seventh grade.
What I didn’t like about this book is I expected it to be more similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but the Wimpy Kid books are awesome and clever and I loved them, and the Dork Diaries were just okay. That kind of bummed me out, but I also had unrealistic expectations. This series is clever and entertaining, but not for me, which is totally fine, because kids are reading!
Book 23 of 40
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway (paperback)
by Jeff Kinney
The Getaway is officially my favorite of the Wimpy Kid series! I made the mistake of just reading “the first few pages” while my class took the writing benchmark, and ended up finishing the entire book at school while giggling and distracting them in my silent testing environment. Luckily, most of my students have read at least one of the books in the series, so they could relate. Several have even read this newest book in the series, and they kept asking what part I was at.
Greg and his family go on vacation to a warm, sunny, tropical, Spanish-speaking resort for Christmas. From the time they left home for the airport, they all got themselves into dilemmas as a family and individually. Greg, as usual, is ignorant to his parents’ wishes and finds himself in awkward situations, but always finds his way out of them. This book was laughs from beginning to end.
What I liked about this book, besides the humor, is that I finally realized it is small moment after small moment, which serves as a great example for my students who are working on narratives based on small moments during Writer’s Workshop. I still can’t believe I was such a snob about this series, because it has turned out to be one of my favorites.
What I didn’t like about this book... I have nothing. There was a big hairy situation with a big hairy spider, but since it was all drawings, it didn’t bother me like I thought it would, although parts were a little cringe-worthy, like when the spider lost a leg.
Book 21 of 40
by Svetlana Chmakova
Brave is about a seventh grade boy named Jensen who is an easy target for bullies- he’s overweight, he doesn’t have many close friends, he struggles in school, his mom is busy, he daydreams often, etc. He thinks he’s a part of the Art Club, but his “friends” forget to include him in group texts and projects. He is friends with several from the newspaper, but they really just ask him to do little projects FOR them. He is forced to do a group project, and doesn’t have a partner, until a jock volunteers to work with him, and eventually protects him from bullies. There are a few blatantly mean boys who pick on Jensen, and these are the boys the reader wants to squish between the pages. Jensen has to learn about standing up for himself, and what it means to be a real friend.
What I liked about this book is the message. I’m a sucker for a book with a good moral. Jensen has so douchey people in his life, but he also has some that are kind and strong and teach him to stand up for himself. They are willing to be role models and help him make good choices for himself. I think seeing a situation with obvious examples of bullying (like Yanic) and less-obvious examples (like most of the Art Club) is good for students who are unclear.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something I didn’t like, exactly, but something that was upsetting when applied to students. In the beginning, the book was kind of boring. I was getting annoyed that it was just about this wussy kid who let others walk all over him. It bothered me that Jensen didn’t realize he was being bullied. He accepted his treatment as normal, or just the way people are treated. The turning point for me was when his newspaper friends gave him the survey and he started to realize that it was bullying. Exclusion is a subtle example of bullying, but often more painful than being pushed around. Loneliness is why people hurt themselves. I would really like to see this in the hands of my students, bullies and victims alike.
Book 20 of 40