The Science of Breakable Things (audiobook)
by Tae Keller
Natalie is an average middle school student. She has a very excited science teacher who has everyone think of a question and answer it via the scientific method. Natalie lives with her therapist father and her botanist mother, but she is a bit lost when her mother falls into a depression and Natalie is afraid she stopped caring about her. Because neither of her parents are communicating with her, Natalie fears she is to blame for her mother’s depression, and she sets out to make her happy again by winning an egg-drop contest to buy the orchid her mother once loved to research. Natalie uses the scientific method to try and solve the mystery of her mother’s depression.
What I liked about this book was the way it approached a sensitive and relevant topic, depression. Although it is more commonly spoken about these days, it stigmatizes the depressed person and those around them, and so fewer people are willing to admit when they are depressed, much less seek help. This book shows that depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about, and it isn’t the fault of the family members. It is an illness that needs to be dealt with professionally. I feel like many of my students would be able to relate to that. I, personally, have many family members who suffer from depression, and this might have helped me when I was younger.
What I didn’t like about this book was the way it made me feel very sad for Natalie. I can’t imagine having a mother and then not. It made me think twice about whether I abandon my own kids emotionally at times. It’s not that I’m depressed, but sometimes I have so many other things going on, I am not giving my children the support they need, much like Natalie felt abandoned by both of her parents.
Book 1 of 2019
by Tom Rogers
I read Eleven aloud to my class of sixth graders. My hope was to finish it well before September 11th, but alas, I failed at staying on schedule (surprise, surprise). On the morning of September 11th, Alex is excited about his birthday. Although he acted like a brat the day before, he knows his mom made him a cake, and his parents will celebrate when they get home from work. The only thing he wants is a dog for his birthday, and he expects that his parents will change their minds about shooting down that idea. Then, he is sent home from school early, and he doesn’t know why. His mom tells him to take his sister home and NOT to watch tv. After he ignores her instructions, he learns what happened to the Twin Towers, and he spends his day in fear of his dad’s fate, since he knows he works near where they came down. Alex takes care of his sister, and meets a friendly dog along the way.
What I liked about this book was the additional perspective it gives to kid readers who were born after the event. If “we will never forget” then we need to have more literature like this that will put images and perspectives into our future readers’ heads. I also liked the bit of mystery and reality it provided by making “the man in the white shirt” a character and not outright naming him. It created suspense for the kids, and then they were sad when they realized who he wasn’t.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it took me so long to read. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I felt like if it was more “edge of my seat” reading, I would have been forced by my class to read more each read aloud session, and not skip any.
Book 79 of 2018
Guys Read Terrifying Tales (audiobook)
edited by Jon Scieszka (written by many authors)
I heard of Guys Read, and bought several of the series for one of my students to read, because I had a hard time finding books he’d enjoy. This one caught my eye, because it’s scary, and I like kids stories that are scary. I was also curious about the title, because I wanted to see if I could recommend it to girls, despite the title of the series. What I discovered was a very engaging book filled with short stories by notable authors, including Dav Pilkey, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Daniel Jose Older. I chose to listen to the audiobook, because I find audiobooks of short stories handy when I’m walking the dog or driving- if I don’t like a story, it will be over soon, and it was a good way to get a book in that I could then hand to a student, instead of taking forever to read it.
What I liked about this book was the fact that it is so engaging. I should have no problem getting this into a student’s hands. I was first drawn in by a story about a boy whose imaginary friend turned out not to be so imaginary. There are also stories about a boy who longed for a brother and ended up with a demon, one who read spells for a secret witch, and tattoos that appeared on a boy sailor. If all stories in Guys Read are this good, I will be picking up a few more from the series.
What I didn’t like about this book… I have no complaints. I think listening to the audiobook would be a totally different experience for some of my students, though, because the voice actors really made some of the stories!
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
Harbor Me (hardcover)
by Jacqueline Woodson
Imagine putting 6 fifth/sixth graders into a room without any adults. Wouldn’t you wonder what their conversations would be about? I’d think it would be video games and nonsense, but in Harbor Me, these kids come from very different backgrounds. The narrator is being raised by her uncle after her mom died and her dad is in prison, and her best friend is “rich” but resentful towards the kids who call her that. One kid is African American and learning the “rules” for being black (like interacting with police and playing with toy guns). One is devastated over his father being taken by immigration and not having contact with him. A final kid is Puerto Rican and his culture isn’t respected for being “American” even though it’s part of America. These kids begin to realize that although they are very different, they can still feel compassion for one another, and build bridges. They are basically the hope for our future, because they take the time to listen and understand each other.
What I liked about this book is the way it tells very realistic, yet compelling, stories of kids that truly could exist today. There are stories that will tell JUST an African American kid’s point of view, or an undocumented (or documented) kid’s point of view, or even of of a child with mixed race or a parent in prison, but this book tells them all. Not only that, but it shows that none of that matters when it comes to being friends and showing compassion and empathy for one another. We as adults push our own beliefs upon our children. Let’s make sure we’re moving our society forward and not backward, or letting it remain stagnant by not being more open-minded and willing to change.
What I didn’t like about this book is only that I would have liked more background on each student. I think each of them could have had their own book, and I would have liked to see how their new perspectives from the ARTT room affected their futures. It’s really not something I disliked, but something I would hope for in the future, maybe.
Book 66 of 2018
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (ebook)
by Stacy McAnulty
I didn’t know anything aboutThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl other than people were talking about it all over Twitter, so I decided to read it, in case it’s a Newbery contender. Lightning Girl is Lucy, a seventh grader who was struck by lightning when she was 8. The strike damaged her brain, making her a savant when it comes to numbers and calculations, as well as giving her a form of OCD that causes her to do “odd” things like sit stand sit stand sit each time she tries to sit down in class or the car and recite the numbers of pi when she’d stressed. Lucy is sent to public school, despite already completing high school online, and she becomes unlikely friends with a go-getter named Windy and an outcast named Levi. They join together on a community service project and learn the meaning of friendship and trust.
What I liked about this book was the voice that the author gave Lucy. I feel like Lucy was coming from somewhere the author has experience, whether it is OCD or math. Even if the reader cannot relate to either issue, he or she can certainly relate to the characters’ struggles with middle school relationships and finding your place. I don’t know anyone who didn’t get picked on by a bully or popular kid, feel uncomfortable in social situations at least once, or struggle with wanting to be normal or average. My students will certainly be able to relate to an aspect of this story.
What I didn’t like about this story was that we didn’t find out what Lucy’s choice was in the end, school-wise. I’m okay with that, and I think the reader can make his or her decision.
Book 14 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 60 of 2018)
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (ebook)
by Karina Yan Glaser
I was so happy to read this second book about the Vanderbeeker family, and it was as sweet and wholesome as the first. In The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, the kids are suffering from summer boredom when Miss Josie suggests they plant a community garden in an empty lot next to the church. When Mr. Jeet suffers a stroke, the love and respect the Vanderbeekers have for their friends and neighbors makes the garden an act of love. At first, the kids go through the right steps to get permission, but when they don’t get a clear answer, they go ahead with their plan, and face consequences later. They recruit help from their friends and an unlikely helper. They keep the garden a secret from most adults until they need help in the end. The strong relationships this smart group of kids have with their community helps them with their garden.
What I liked about this book was the kindness and creativity of the children. Their parents brought them up to be respectful and solve their own problems, and although they faced a few issues, they faced consequences and worked together. I really hope there are non-fictional kids like the Vanderbeekers out there. They are generous and willing to spend their own money to help their community, and one went above and beyond to make sure another was able to make it to camp. They truly care for and respect one another.
What I didn’t like about this book was that Isa was absent for most of it! She was my favorite character in the first book, and she was away at camp for most of the story. I also loved the food mentions and crafts in the first book (to the point of creating a Pinterest page with links to their suggestions), and there weren’t as many summer foods mentioned in this one. Although, I desperately need some cheese croissants and someone to teach me to knit. Overall, I enjoyed this story and I hope to read more from this family.
Book 8 of 20 (summer goal)
(Book 54 of 2018)