The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden


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)


One True Way


One True Way (paperback)

by Shannon Hitchcock


One True Way is an important book for middle grade kids who are either questioning or discovering their sexuality, or growing compassion for people who are gay.  Allie and her mother recently moved to a small town after the death of her brother Eric and the subsequent divorce of her parents.  She meets a girl named Sam who is friendly, charismatic, and a great basketball player, but needs tutoring in English.  Allie soon realizes she likes Sam as more than a friend, and that begins her search for acceptance and her own identity in a small town where being gay isn’t acceptable.  Luckily, she has a great reverend, counselor, and good friends to help her along her journey.

What I liked about this book was the way it didn’t shy away from the tough topics of bigotry, homosexuality in the Bible, and acceptance from family members and the community.  Sam’s parents belonged to a church that called Sam an abomination and believed she’d outgrow being gay.  However, Allie’s church believed in loving and accepting everyone, regardless of orientation.  This is something our kids will grapple with, but the book is very positive and hopeful without being unrealistic.  I think it will provide a peace of mind for students struggling with these new feelings.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was written for a middle grade audience, but the writing was simplified as though a third or fourth grader were reading it.  The content is high middle grade, but the vocabulary and complexity of the text is on the much lower end. At times, it felt like George (by Alex Gino), where it was almost too simplified for the target audience.

Book 5 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 51 of 2018)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


In Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts after a lonely summer.  As it turns out, someone was intercepting mail, and Harry thought his friends had deserted him, but that changes when he’s rescued from the Dursley’s by an enchanted car (see cover).  Harry and Ron find themselves in a ton of trouble, and one more rule broken will result in their expulsion from Howarts.  We meet Ginny, Ron’s sister, as well as a dopey new professor of the Dark Arts.  In the end, Voldemort makes his return through a different manifestation, and Harry once again defeats him.  However, we learn a lot about both of them in this story, including Voldemort’s past, Harry’s second language, and how the two enemies’ lives are intertwined.

What I liked about this book was the continued character development.  After spending time with Harry and his friends for two books, we learn more about the history of Voldemort, Hermione’s fall from girl power, and Ron’s hatred of spiders (I’m with Ron).  You also see their loyalty.  Even when Hermione didn’t agree with Harry or Ron, she continued to risk getting into trouble to help solve the problem.  Harry also risked his life to save Ron’s sister, and Ron went into the forest with massive spiders, and stuck by Harry’s side.  The themes of friendship and loyalty are well-developed.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it never stood out in my mind as being my favorite.  I think that often happens with second books- the first was so good, the second pales in comparison.  I thought the end was complicated and confusing, and students will miss important details.  That’s not to say it wasn’t well thought-out and detailed.  I understood everything, but I think it might take someone setting the book down and thinking about the details to get them straight.  The third book was my favorite, so let’s see if that is still true!

Book 3 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 49 of 2018)

Be Prepared


Be Prepared (paperback)

by Vera Brosgol


Be Prepared is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Vera Brosgol (the first was Anya’s Ghost), and this is more autobiographical.  The main character, Vera, is a Russian immigrant, and her main goal is to fit in with the more popular, American girls, but she is poor and Russian, and doesn’t look the same or have the nice dolls they have.  She is discouraged, but learns there is a summer camp she can attend while the others girls attend their own summer camps.  It is a camp for Russian American kids, and her mother finds a way to send her there.  However, Vera finds herself in the same problem, trying to fit in with the popular girls, but she’s the youngest, smallest, and least cool.  She declines help from the leader, and tries to make it on her own.  Vera learns she can’t isolate herself, and has to get herself out of her predicament.

What I liked about this book is I think students will be able to relate to Vera’s problems while learning about summer camp and enjoying a graphic novel.  Vera struggles to fit in, deals with the popular girls, and doesn’t understand what true friendship is, allowing herself to be used. She didn’t really put herself out there, and tried to be like the others.  I could relate to that.  Hopefully, this book will speak to some of my students who struggle with the same thing.

What I didn’t like about this book was the page with giant spider illustrations!

Book 2 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 48 of 2018)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (paperback)

by J.K. Rowling


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first in a life-changing series.  Life-changing?  Yes.  Once you meet Harry and his friends, you will become a HP fan for life.  In the first few chapters, we learn about Harry’s dismal life pre-Hogwarts, living as an orphan with his abusive aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Strange things happen to him, but he doesn’t learn about being a wizard until Hagrid rescues him from his family and tells him about his loving parents and the world of magic.  Harry attends Hogwarts and makes friends with Ron, and later Hermione, who become loyal companions.  They learn about Voldemort, an evil sorcerer who killed Harry’s parents, and has come back to kill Harry.  With the help of Hagrid, Dumbledore, and his professors, Harry adapts to being a wizard and learns to trust his magical family.

What I liked about this book was my lens.  This summer, I decided to reread the Harry Potter series.  I read the first few books in 1999, and then read them in real time as they were published.  While I have read this book a few times with my class, I haven’t actually read the rest of the series.  Reading this on my own (without reading as a teacher) has brought back my love for Harry and his friends, and I am very excited to reintroduce this to my class with a new vigor.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was hard for me to get into it without thinking of my students’ comments, knowing that some of them hated it, and learning several of them skipped through chapters without appreciating it!  It made me wonder if I should read this with my class, because I don’t want them to think of the movies and then be disappointed by the book.  However, knowing how many I did turn on to the series, it is worth it.

Book 1 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 47 of 2018)

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street


The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (hardcover)

by Karina Yan Glaser


I put off reading The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, because I generally read books with real world problems, relevant to current events, or about misrepresented youth.  This book seemed too happy.  Well, I wasn’t wrong.  It is about a family of 7 (mom and dad, twin daughters, a son, and then 2 more younger daughters).  They are being evicted from their brownstone in Harlem, New York, but they don’t know why.  The kids are deeply troubled by this, because they love their home and don’t want to leave all they’re familiar with, including the friendly neighbors.  They decide to win over their grouchy landlord, who lives upstairs, but each attempt ends in failure.

What I liked about this book was that it was a pleasant surprise for me.  I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did.  While it wasn’t my favorite of the year, I really liked that the kids were raised in a family where they were taught tolerance, respect, and individuality.  The kids were cared about, were given responsibilities (like cleaning and cooking), and their parents clearly cared about their mental well-being.  It seems like most books these days DO focus on tougher problems.  While my genre happens to be underrepresented youth, it was refreshing to read something so wholesome, but still engaging.  I think my own daughters will enjoy this when they’re a bit older.  I also really enjoyed reading about all of their cooking, baking, and crafting, and I was forced to create a Pinterest board of recipes and crafting activities.  Forced by myself, because I want to remember these things.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a little predictable.  While I hadn’t worked out ALL of the details, I basically figured out in the first few chapters what the deal was with the landlord, and what would happen in the end.  Maybe it’s because I’m such an experienced, worldly reader.  I don’t think this really takes away from the story, though, because it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

Book 80 of 40 (I doubled my school year goal!)

(Book 46 of 2018)

Garvey’s Choice


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)