The Key to Everything (hardcover)
by Pat Schmatz
This was a one-sitting read for me. I got into the pool, opened it, sat in the pool for a few hours, closed the book, and got out. It is a quick read, but you’ll also want to figure out how everything fits together.
The Key to Everything is a middle grade book about a girl named Tash who is in a transitional period in her life. Her father is in prison and she lives with Kevin, who rescued her from foster care. Next door is Captain Jackie, an elderly spit-fire of a woman who teaches Tash about life, imagination, and strength. A fight causes Tash to throw a special key (holding the power of imagination) at Captain Jackie, right before Kevin heads to New Zealand and Tash goes off to camp for a month. When they return, Captain Jackie’s house is locked up and no one is home. Tash must solve the mystery of Jackie’s disappearance while finding the power to fight her mortal enemy, being alone.
What I liked about this book was that it was a bit of a mystery, and I didn’t know how these people were connected. It was also a realistic portrayal of the modern family, with missing or incarcerated parents, gay family members who were discriminated against, and being stubborn when facing conflict. I like that the people in Tash’s life were all very positive and supportive, showing that it doesn’t matter if anyone is blood-related, family is family.
What I didn’t like about this book was the beginning. It took me awhile to get into it, because I as confused for the first 30 pages, which is a lot, considering the book is only 198 pages long. I am glad things came together, though, and not all of my questions were (or needed to me) answered.
Lions & Liars (ebook)
by Kate Beasley
Lions & Liars comes out in June 2018. It is about a boy named Fredrick Fredrickson (his mom wanted him to have a name people would remember) and his theory of life, which is that your place in life is like the food chain. At the top is a lion, like the popular kid who doesn’t have to try to make friends- everyone gravitates toward him or her. Fredrick, meanwhile, is the flea on the meerkat. After being shamed by one of his friends at a party, Fredrick takes off in a small boat and finds himself downriver at a camp for boys needed reformation. He is starving, and assumes the identity of the kid who didn’t show up, Dash. However, he soon learns Dash has a certain reputation, and Fredrick needs to hold that up by being a lion. Things, of course, turn sour and take a turn for the worst when he becomes stranded in a category 5 hurricane, but he learns some important lessons about life along the way.
What I liked about this book is that it will appeal to my students, and even kids below. I can’t imagine it has a reading level over 4th grade, so it won’t be hard to read and understand. Fredrick tries to be someone he’s not, which I know my kids can relate to, but he learns to accept who he is, good and bad.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it has some very unrealistic parts to it. For example, a bunch of nails made a caravan of evacuated animals crash and the animals escaped. For a young reader, that would be amazing and they wouldn’t even question it. What would you think if you saw a lion attack a deer-like creature in front of you, or if you saw a monkey hanging out in a tree?
Book 57 of 40
(Book 23 of 2018)
by Svetlana Chmakova
Brave is about a seventh grade boy named Jensen who is an easy target for bullies- he’s overweight, he doesn’t have many close friends, he struggles in school, his mom is busy, he daydreams often, etc. He thinks he’s a part of the Art Club, but his “friends” forget to include him in group texts and projects. He is friends with several from the newspaper, but they really just ask him to do little projects FOR them. He is forced to do a group project, and doesn’t have a partner, until a jock volunteers to work with him, and eventually protects him from bullies. There are a few blatantly mean boys who pick on Jensen, and these are the boys the reader wants to squish between the pages. Jensen has to learn about standing up for himself, and what it means to be a real friend.
What I liked about this book is the message. I’m a sucker for a book with a good moral. Jensen has so douchey people in his life, but he also has some that are kind and strong and teach him to stand up for himself. They are willing to be role models and help him make good choices for himself. I think seeing a situation with obvious examples of bullying (like Yanic) and less-obvious examples (like most of the Art Club) is good for students who are unclear.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something I didn’t like, exactly, but something that was upsetting when applied to students. In the beginning, the book was kind of boring. I was getting annoyed that it was just about this wussy kid who let others walk all over him. It bothered me that Jensen didn’t realize he was being bullied. He accepted his treatment as normal, or just the way people are treated. The turning point for me was when his newspaper friends gave him the survey and he started to realize that it was bullying. Exclusion is a subtle example of bullying, but often more painful than being pushed around. Loneliness is why people hurt themselves. I would really like to see this in the hands of my students, bullies and victims alike.
Book 20 of 40
Hello, Universe (ebook)
by Erin Entrada Kelly
AR Level 4.7, 6 points
Hello, Universe is a book that has been on Mock-Newbery lists, so in an effort to read all of the books before the ALA awards, I had to read it. Virgil is a shy, weak, Filipino boy who lives with his parents, 2 outgoing brothers, and his Lola (grandma). He is friends with a Japanese girl named Kaori who believes she has psychic powers and can tell fortunes, so he seeks her help to become friends with Valencia, a deaf girl, while avoiding a bully named Chet. Valencia also seeks Kaori’s help, and together they have to solve a big problem partially caused by Chet. This story is mainly told from Virgil’s point of view, but it is also told from Valencia’s, Kaori’s, and Chet’s. As we see the story progress and friendships unfold, we are shown several situations, and we have to decide if they are a series of coincidences, or fueled by fate.
What I liked about this book was the coincidences that kept popping up. I like when stories are well thought-out. I thought the stories Lola told and the situations with the friends all coincided well. There are probably a lot of little things that I might pick up on if I read the story again.
What I didn’t like about this book was that Chet was not as well-developed of a character (for being one of the main characters). I also lost interest, and had to power through to finish it. I didn’t feel it would be a Newbery winner, but I can certainly see the merit in the writing.
Book 6 of summer 2017!
Real Friends (paperback)
by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
AR Level (no quiz yet)
Real Friends made my heart hurt. It hit way, way, way too close to home for me. Not the home I live in today, but the one from when I was in elementary school. This is the story of Shannon, a girl with a vivid imagination who enjoyed writing. She wasn’t perfect, and didn’t always do everything right in her friendships nor with her siblings, but she was gravely mistreated by the girls in the popular group and misunderstood/ignored by her mother. Shannon had to find out the hard way that being in the popular group isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, especially with mean girls who often dress better and compete for attention. Shannon finally realizes who she is and she stands up for herself, but not before suffering a lot of hurt feelings and anxiety, basically ruining her elementary school experience.
What I liked about this book is that students can either relate to Shannon’s experience (like myself), or they can see how damaging being in the popular group can be for someone on the outskirts. It was really hard to read this, because it was such an emotional story. I think it is really important for girls to read this book, because it seems like someone is either out with the in crowd, or the in crowd itself.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it did hurt to read it. I didn’t want Shannon to be abused by her “friends” at school or her sister at home, but it is her experience (the author’s), and important to read.
Book 5 of summer 2017!
by Svetlana Chmakova
AR Level 2.8, 1 point
Awkward is another really cute graphic novel that I learned about while browsing Amazon books. I added it to my Donors Choose proposal, and was excited when my grant was funded! I am so grateful for the generosity that was bestowed upon my class, and very happy that this book was a part of it, because I really enjoy finding new books for my students to read. I am confident this one won’t stay on the shelf.
Awkward follows a girl named Peppi who is in the Art Club in her middle school. She awkwardly befriends a boy named Jaime, who is a member of the Science Club, and Art and Science are rival clubs. Art and Science fight throughout the story, which makes it difficult for these two awkward tweens to be friends, but they join together to unite the two clubs, and all works out in the end.
What I liked about this book was the well-written (and drawn!) characters. It seems that the author put a lot of thought into character development before she started! There are the typical characters in a middle school setting… nerdy, artsy, bully, strict teacher, flighty teacher, the girl everyone wants to be like, etc. There was also the awkwardness of a boy and girl being friends, while everyone else assumes they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, or one likes the other. I really enjoyed the way the characters were drawn and the dialogue.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it ended! I’d like to see a sequel or more graphic novels by this author. It is a great addition to my library!
Book 37 of 40 (year 2)