Miles Morales (hard cover and ebook)
by Jason Reynolds
AR level 4.9, 9 points
Miles Morales is based on the Spiderman comics. I was really excited to read this one since it is by one of my favorite authors, and he can write no wrong as far as I’m concerned! It is known at the beginning of the book that Miles is Spiderman. His current battle is fighting the guys who are stealing shoes from the kids in the neighborhood. Miles’s spidey sense is really bothering him around his history teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, and Miles learns that he has been having strange dreams involving his family members, including his uncle who was a criminal. As it turns out, Mr. Chamberlain is part of a larger group of weird men headed by the Warden, an evil villain who is spreading racism and preventing young black men and women from being successful. Miles finds himself in a position to fight for social justice.
What I liked about this book is that it has that message of social justice, and although the Warden was defeated, Mr. Chamberlain was still keeping Miles down. There are many “Mr. Chamberlains” out there, and it is up to us to stand up for the “Mileses” out there. However, I’m not sure that my sixth graders would catch on to that. I feel like it wasn’t direct enough for them to get the point.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it seemed like the reader had to already have a background in Spiderman and Miles Morales. I didn’t realize it was a separate comic until after the story ended. I’m sure someone more familiar with the comics would appreciate the story a lot more.
Book 18 of 40
by Raina Telgemeier
AR Level 2.6, 1 point
I was so excited to finally get my hands on this graphic novel! I follow the author on Twitter, and I’ve been hearing about the hype for months now. I am truly becoming a big graphic novel fan and it was exciting to get to read in her voice again. I’ve gotten my students hooked on graphic novels (especially my reluctant readers), and I know there will be a fight over Ghosts.
Ghosts follows a family who moved from Southern California to Northern California for the sake of their youngest daughter’s health. Maya has cystic fibrosis and receives a breathing treatment and extra nutrition through a GI tube. They believe the foggy weather will help Maya’s symptoms. Cat is her older sister, and together they learn the history of their town, including a strong belief in ghosts and Dia de los Muertos, which is quickly approaching. They make friends with a neighbor named Carlos, and come face to face with some of the spirits they’ve welcomed, despite Cat’s fear of the ghosts and desperate desire to have something of her own (her friends). Cat has to come to terms with the possibility that Maya will someday become one of the ghosts, as well as her emerging feelings for Carlos.
What I liked about this book is what I like about Telgemeier’s other books. There is always some underlying theme or lesson to it, whether it is acceptance or respect for others. In Ghosts, the theme of family and friendship shines through. I also love the way she taught about Dia de los Muertos, something I didn’t previously know much about, but I can now understand a bit better. I think my students with families from Mexico will be able to relate to Cat’s traditions.
What I didn’t like about this book was that we didn’t see more of the blossoming relationship between Cat and Carlos, which I think a lot of my sixth grade girls would like to see. I would also have liked to see more of a connection between what Cat’s mom said about not having a good relationship with abuela due to her desire for Americanization, and the strain on Cat and her mom’s relationship, which I believe was meant to parallel each other. It is a great book!
Book 2 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
by Marjane Satrapi
AR Level 3.3, 2 points
I first saw Persepolis on my sister’s bookshelf. It is her very favorite book in the world. There is a part 2 to this story, and she has the compilation of the 2 books. I only read the first part, called The Story of Childhood. She insists that I read part 2, so I’m sure I will eventually get to it. This is one of my new favorite genres. It is a comic book based on the author’s life. It seems that most comic books (aka graphic novels) I have read have been based on experiences of their authors. I would align this more with Maus that with Drama, though, due to the content of the book and words I wouldn’t want my elementary school child to know.
Marji is a girl growing up during the late 70’s and early 80’s in Iran during the revolution. She sees the change from a more modern society that accepted Western influence to one that was religious with rigid rules and expectations of women. Marji’s parents are also modern and don’t like the change in their country. Their friends and relatives are being jailed and executed, but they do not want Marji to feel that she has to conform. They take her to protest and fight for rights. As the war progresses, they realize it is not safe for her to live in Iran, so they have to make some tough decisions on her behalf.
What I liked about this book is that it is historical fiction (although autobiographical), and it is history that I have next to no knowledge of. I appreciate the way the author explains things as she goes, either through description, subtitles in the comic strips, or through dialogue. She even adds an asterisk or two to make sure I understand what is going on. I enjoy learning, and I appreciate that she anticipated her readers not being informed about the subject.
What I didn’t like about this book is that I can’t share it with my students. Since they are so interested in graphic novels, I thought it would be a great one I could share with them after reading. I’m so glad I read it first, though, because there is discussion of rape and virgins, and the word “shit” is used several times. It isn’t a vulgar or inappropriate story, but it isn’t age-appropriate for my sixth graders. I, however, enjoyed the story myself.
Book 33 of 40 (year 2)
Roller Girl (paperback)
by Victoria Jamieson
AR Level 3.2, 2 points
Roller Girl is a cute and very relatable story about a girl name Astrid and her new passion for roller derby. She watches the girls skate around the track and decides to join their summer camp, assuming her best friend Nicole will join her, but Nicole decides to go to ballet camp instead. Astrid learns a lot about herself as a friend and we as the reader remember what it was like to be 12.
What I liked about this book was how relatable it was. I remember struggling to figure out who my friends were at that age, as well as who I was and what I really liked. I wanted to think I was the best, being competitive, and was often disappointed when others were better than I was. One particular part really hit home with me, when Astrid was told she didn’t earn the spot she wanted because of her team spirit. She was her own worst enemy. I think this book is really going to appeal to the kids in my class, especially the girls. I am certain it won’t see my shelves!
What I didn’t like about this book was that it ended too soon. I am hoping she follows in Telgemaier’s steps and continues to write about her experiences. Luckily, on the author’s website (http://www.victoriajamieson.com/), she posts webcomics so I can get my fix!
If you haven’t read Smile, Drama, Sisters, Sunny Side Up, or El Deafo, you must. Graphic novels have become really popular (especially with my girls), and I look forward to new discoveries. Recommendations welcome!
Book 28 of 40 (year 2)
Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (brother/sister team!)
AR Level 2.4, 0.5 point
I have been hearing about Sunny Side Up on Twitter and I’ve seen it in the bookstore on my recent trips (where I photograph books I want to read). I had to see what the fuss was about, and I can see why it’s been tweeted and raved about now! Jennifer Holm’s novel The Fourteenth Goldfish is a popular one in my class, and is never on my bookshelf for more than a few minutes.
The story flips between “present” time (mid 1970’s) and the previous year. Sunny lives with her parents, younger brother, and older brother. She is sent to stay with her grandfather in his retirement community in Florida instead of going on a family vacation to the beach with her friend, and she doesn’t think it’s fair. We see her struggles with her grandpa, as well as her friendship with a boy who introduces her to comic books. In the end, we see that part of the reason Sunny has been so miserable is she’s been holding onto a deep sense of guilt, and she has to let that go.
What I liked about this story was that it touched on a very relatable topic that I know for a fact several of my current and past students face (or have had to in the past), and that’s feeling guilty for someone else’s actions when it has nothing to do with them. Sunny also has a brother involved in something very dark and dangerous, and she worries about him. I know my students also deal with siblings involved in gangs, drugs, or other bad situations. I like that Sunny was able to get through a bad situation and still come out on top. She needed to change her attitude and outlook for things to improve.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted to see more of what happened with her brother. It has a wonderful theme, but for my students, I think seeing the process of what happens to make things better for her brother would help. I felt like her parents’ explanation or reaction could have helped. As a story, it wasn’t necessary. For the sake of my students and others who CAN relate, I think more information may have been helpful.
I’ve enjoyed Raina Telgemaier’s graphic novels, and this fell into the same range of enjoyment.
Book 21 of 40 (year 2)
El Deafo (paperback)
by Cece Bell
AR Level 2.97, 2 points
El Deafo is another story about tolerance and acceptance, but it wasn’t so much about other people accepting a person’s disability, but about the person accepting herself. This is the graphic novelization of the author’s childhood. She lost her hearing when she was 4 years old and relied on reading lips and the use of her hearing aids (and the Phonic Ear) to understand others. Cece also had a lot of trouble making friends. She didn’t give other people a chance to understand her, but others also had a misunderstanding about her disability. El Deafo is the name of the superhero she saw herself as, turning her equipment into an ability instead of a hinderance.
What I liked about this story was that it was based on a true story, the author’s. It give perspective and an education to people who might not understand what it is like for a person who is deaf, or the disability itself. I am always a fan of books that educate and promote understanding, tolerance, and acceptance.
What I didn’t like about this story was that they didn’t get caught deceiving their teacher! Grr… !
Book 2 of 40 (year 2)
by Raina Telgemeier
AR level 2.4, 1 point
Of the 3 comics (Smile, Drama, and Sisters) by Reina Telgemeier, I think Sisters is my favorite. it continues to follow the story of Raina, now 14. She takes a road trip with her mom, sister, and little brother. Her father meets them in Colorado for a family reunion. Along their journey, Raina thinks back to when she begged her parents for a sister, and then regretted that. Being a frustrated older sister, she isn’t able to see the value of a little sister. Luckily, this story has a happy ending, and despite their differences, the bond of sisterhood prevails.
What at I liked about this book was the theme of sisterhood. My sister is 12 years younger than me, and we are not as close as I would hope to be. I have 2 little girls who are 2 years apart, and they are as close as can be. I tend to get emotional over anything sister-related (Frozen was a tear-jerker for me). I hope my daughters love and fight like sisters, and that they love each other enough to keep that strong bond.
What at I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t get to learn more about their parents’ relationship, which was left on the rocks. I hope Telgemeier has another graphic novel in the works!
Book 48 of 52 (4 more to go!)