Maxi’s Secrets


Maxi’s Secrets (Or What You Can Learn From A Dog) (hardcover)

by Lynn Plourde

AR Level 4.1, 7 points


Maxi’s Secrets is about a dog and her boy, Timminy.  Timminy is an unusually short fifth grader who is new in a small town (moved from Portland, Maine).  He starts at a new school where he is immediately bullied for his height.  He, however, makes it worse by not being able to laugh at himself.  He makes friends with a girl who is blind and several of her friends.  Most importantly, Timminy has a best friend named Maxi, a Great Pyrenees puppy, who is wise beyond her years and teaches Timminy her many “secrets” to life.  Each chapter ends with a lesson that Maxi taught Timminy.

What I liked about this book was that it brought in children with disabilities.  One extremely short, one blind, one with a disorder leaving her with crutches, and one who isn’t disabled, but sad due to his mom leaving.  It is good to have diverse characters so readers can gain understanding, compassion, and acceptance.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t feel it was authentic.  I believe the author really experienced the love and death of her pet dog, but the thinking and interactions of the characters seemed very far removed from the way young people think today.  Not that I know… I’m 38 years old… but I spend my day with 11 and 12 year olds, and I listen to their conversations.  The story was entertaining and I know my dog-loving students will enjoy it, but I’m not positive they’ll be able to relate to it.  I heard a lot about this book on Twitter last year, but I wasn’t as impressed.  I took me 2 weeks to finish, which was a ridiculously long time for the level of difficulty.

Book 9 of 40


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (audiobook)

by Rita Williams-Garcia

AR Level , points


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground follows Clayton, a boy who basically worships his grandfather Cool Papa, a jazz musician and former soldier in the Navy.  Clayton’s mother is not as fond of her father, and reacts coldly and callously when Cool Papa passes.  She has previously unresolved issues with her father, and throws out all of his possessions without considering Clayton’s feelings.  Clayton does not react well, and starts having trouble at school.  The last straw is when his mother takes away his blues harp (harmonica), so Clayton decides to leave home and go underground (ride the subway).  Clayton runs into some boys who are up to no good, and gets caught up in their schemes.  Things do not go well for Clayton, but it is a happy ending for Clayton and his family, so all is well in the end.

What I liked about this book was the way Garcia-Williams approached the subject of death with children.  It is a sensitive topic for children, and there aren’t many books out there to help children through the loss of someone important to them.  This book also showed a child’s perspective of his mother not listening or trying to understand his grief.  I think it would be really helpful for a student who recently lost a grandparent or a close relative to read this book, and perhaps even their parent who might not understand how their child feels.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was infuriating that his mother was so cold and indifferent to Clayton’s feelings.  I hope that as a mother, I am more sensitive to my kids’ emotions.  As a teacher, I will be aware of reading a group novel that not everyone is interested in, because I felt Clayton had valid feelings about the book he was being forced to read.

Book 3 of 40

Tell Me Three Things


Tell Me Three Things (ebook)

by Julie Buxbaum


Imagine your mom (your best friend) dying of cancer.  Then your dad remarries someone you’ve never met.  Then he moves you into her fancy home in California, away from your friends and all that is familiar.  Then you have to adapt to a new climate, a new step brother who seems to hate you, a new school, and culture shock.  When you’re on the verge of a breakdown, you start receiving mysterious, but helpful emails from a person named Somebody Nobody, who gives you advice on how to survive at your new school.  Jessie narrows the identity of Somebody Nobody down to 3 people, and the end may surprise you.

What I liked about this book was that the end didn’t surprise me.  I pretty much guessed who it was, and it was who I was rooting for.  This is a cute, romantic story that won’t leave you feeling depressed or angry.  It won’t make you want to throw the book away, and you’ll likely finish it as quickly as I did!

What I didn’t like about this book was that the end didn’t surprise me.  Ha ha… I like and don’t like books that are predictable, depending on my mood.  I didn’t like the idea of being “peened” and the word “peen” to begin with.  That made me feel old and prudish.

Book 58 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Goodbye Days


Goodbye Days (audiobook)

by Jeff Zentner


Ugh!  Goodbye Days was depressing!  It was, like Zentner’s first novel (The Serpent King), well written, though.  I am behind in my blogging, and I finished this book several weeks ago, so I apologize for another sucky summary.

Carver is a teenager who lives with the guilt of having killed his best friends.  At least, he believes he did, because he sent the text that caused his friend to crash the car as he was texting back.  Carver goes on several “goodbye days” with the 3 families of his best friends, doing what they would’ve wanted to do on their last days, and giving their families the opportunities to find peace.  However, the father of one of his friends is a big attorney and asks for the police to look into the situation as a possible manslaughter, which would send Carver to jail since he knew his friend would text him back while driving.  This is a heart-wrenching, stressful story that will make you want to put your phone in the trunk while driving just so you’re not tempted to look at it.

What I liked about this book was the way the story unfolded and the anticipation I felt, wondering if Carver would be charged with manslaughter.  I felt for him, and wanted to shake him at the same time.  I think emotionally-charged books get me every time.

What I didn’t like about this book was how depressing it was!  Oh my gosh- even the person reading the book made me want to go to sleep for a long time.  However, if teens read this story, I really hope it hits them that they cannot be using their phones, either because they themselves could die, or they could kill someone else.  If nothing else, that is a great message.

Book 52 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Maybe A Fox


Maybe A Fox (paperback)

by Kathi Appelt

AR Level 4.9, 5 points


Maybe A Fox is one I’d read about on Twitter, but hadn’t put much thought  into buying it, because I didn’t really know what it was about, so it sat on my Amazon shopping list.  Then I saw it was in Scholastic, bought it, and waited until a student read it.  FYI: When a sixth grade boy brings it to you with tears in his eyes and tells you you should read it, you stop what you’re doing and pick it up.  That’s what I did, and I’m glad!  Also a warning, though- it is not a “feel good” book.  It is sad.  You will likely cry, or at least get teary or a little depressed after.

I’m partially torn, because it was too real for me.  Two sisters, very close in age (like my two daughters) lost their mother and are connected at the hip.  They fight with each other, share friends, and love each other more than anyone.  Like my two daughters.  Then one of the sisters goes missing at the exact moment a litter of foxes is born, and that’s where the fantasy comes in… that’s not like my two daughters, but the thought of one of them dying while the other one has to go on… too much!  I was ready to stop right there!  So the little fox feels drawn to the remaining sister, and helps her to find closure, since  no body was ever found.  At the same time, a young man is dealing with the death of his best friend in Afghanistan, and a wild cat is spotted.  It sounds like a lot to take in, and it is, but this story was written beautifully and all of the coincidences make sense in the end.  When you’re done, you will close the book, and sit in contemplation, soaking it all in.

What I liked about the book was the beauty of the relationships.  Maybe it was the sister-sister connection, the best friends, the fox kits, the mother to her daughter or the father to his daughters- they were all lovely and well-developed, I felt.  I felt the pain of the loss, and I didn’t lose any of them myself.

What I didn’t like about this book was the end.  I won’t spoil it, but there was one last jab in my heart that some felt was unnecessary.  I didn’t see it as unnecessary, but it hurt just the same.  I won’t give spoilers, but when you think it’s over, just wait for one more thing to happen.  This isn’t a funny book, and it isn’t heartwarming, but it will leave you feeling like it came full circle.

Book 46 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The Serpent King


The Serpent King (ebook)

by Jeff Zentner

AR Level 4.4, 11 points


The Serpent King is a book I’d wanted to read based on the talk that went on and on about it.  If you hadn’t noticed, I now get help choosing my books based on Twitter recommendations from some of my favorite readers.  This one was sitting in my Amazon shopping cart until I found it as an ebook at the library.  Once I heard it was nominated for awards, I decided it was time to read it.  It is in the Young Adult category, so I don’t recommend it for my sixth graders, due to the violence.  It was sad for me.

Dillard Early is a senior in high school in a very small, narrow-minded (borderline racist/bigoted) Tennessee town, and he has two best friends, Travis and Lydia.  As a side note, he is secretly in love with Lydia.  Dill’s dad is in prison for child pornography (which we hear very little about), and his dad was the preacher of a local church that believed in signs and the use of snakes to prove one’s faith.  His mother is also a fanatic, and both of Dill’s parents blame Dill for putting his dad in prison, saying he could/should have lied and said the porn was his.  Dill and his mother are very poor.  Travis lives with his parents, but his dad is an abusive alcoholic, especially after Travis’s brother died.  Travis loves fantasy fiction and meets a girl on a fan forum for their favorite series (similar to Game of Thrones).  They are also fairly poor.  Lydia is an only child with professional parents, and they have a very close relationship.  She runs a fashion blog and is applying to NYU.  These three friends only have each other, but let each other in on very little in their lives.  They have a strong bond through tough times, and these friends experience some very tough times, indeed.

What I liked about this book was that it was unusual.  Dill learned about his family name, and vowed not to live up to that name, but found himself slipping into very dark times, with his mother being against college and his father blaming him for putting him in prison.  I also enjoyed the character development, especially Travis.  He seemed to have a genuine, kind disposition, and his storyline was especially heartbreaking, but at the same time, I was really happy for him.  I didn’t find Lydia as convincing, and I wanted to smack Dill a few times.

What I didn’t like about this book… I can’t decided if I even liked it or not.  There were parts that made me want to keep reading (I read 3/4 of it in one day), but it also took me over a week to get into it.  It was slow at times.  I was tempted to stop when something particularly tragic occurred, which I saw coming, but it was heartbreaking.  I think I need someone else to read it to discuss it with me.

Book 40 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The Thing About Jellyfish


The Thing About Jellyfish (ebook)

by Ali Benjamin

AR Level 5.0, 7 points


The Thing About Jellyfish is a story of heartache, mourning, science, and growth.  Suzy’s best friend drowns before the story begins, and Suzy has flashbacks to their happy times.  She also shows us when they started to drift apart, and finally when they were no longer friends.  Suzy has also decided to stop talking, despite her family’s efforts and support of her.  She has the idea that her friend was actually stung by a deadly jellyfish instead of drowning, and Suzy begins researching jellyfish and decides to travel to Australia to meet the scientist she believes can help her prove her theory.

What I liked about this book is that it includes so much scientific background, and the chapters are based around the scientific method.  Any science enthusiast will appreciate this aspect.  I personally learned a lot about jellyfish.  The author did a lot of research and based the scientists and several events and locations on real people.  It isn’t just a compelling story, but it will also teach its readers a thing or two about science.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it was frustrating that the other girls at Suzy’s school were so mean.  I wanted to stop reading at certain parts, because some of the kids were inhumane (murdering a frog?).  It was also really sad, and I’m sure if someone has lost a friend or family member suddently, it would be even more upsetting.

Book 32 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)