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)
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 (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)