Echo’s Sister

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Echo’s Sister (hardcover)

by Paul Mosier

 

Echo’s Sister‘s name is Laughter, or El, for short.  On El’s first day of seventh grade at a new school, she finds out her younger sister Echo has cancer, and this news devastates her.  She goes through all of the emotions- abandonment, fear, grief, resentment, anger, etc. as Echo goes through chemo and her family learns to deal with the news and reality of cancer.  However, El finds herself surrounded by love and support, but it takes her awhile to realize it.

What I liked about this book was the positivity the characters had, despite the cancer.  It really made me want to go and join a group to support cancer patients, or fundraise for someone who needs the support.  I think that if you aren’t directly affected by cancer, it is something you just won’t think about supporting, but there are so many needs that the families have.  Cancer is honestly my biggest fear, and I hope and pray no one in my family ever has to experience it.  This book gives a perspective that makes me really feel for the families of patients.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it gave me a sore throat, because I kept trying not to cry!  I hate crying.  My throat hurts, my nose is running, and my eyes are still watery.  Plus, I used many tissues.  Ugh too many emotions!  😉

Book 2 of 2019

The Science of Breakable Things

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The Science of Breakable Things (audiobook)

by Tae Keller

 

Natalie is an average middle school student.  She has a very excited science teacher who has everyone think of a question and answer it via the scientific method.  Natalie lives with her therapist father and her botanist mother, but she is a bit lost when her mother falls into a depression and Natalie is afraid she stopped caring about her.  Because neither of her parents are communicating with her, Natalie fears she is to blame for her mother’s depression, and she sets out to make her happy again by winning an egg-drop contest to buy the orchid her mother once loved to research.  Natalie uses the scientific method to try and solve the mystery of her mother’s depression.

What I liked about this book was the way it approached a sensitive and relevant topic, depression.  Although it is more commonly spoken about these days, it stigmatizes the depressed person and those around them, and so fewer people are willing to admit when they are depressed, much less seek help.  This book shows that depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about, and it isn’t the fault of the family members.  It is an illness that needs to be dealt with professionally.  I feel like many of my students would be able to relate to that.  I, personally, have many family members who suffer from depression, and this might have helped me when I was younger.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it made me feel very sad for Natalie.  I can’t imagine having a mother and then not.  It made me think twice about whether I abandon my own kids emotionally at times.  It’s not that I’m depressed, but sometimes I have so many other things going on, I am not giving my children the support they need, much like Natalie felt abandoned by both of her parents.

Book 1 of 2019

Where the Watermelons Grow

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Where the Watermelons Grow (paperback)

by Cindy Baldwin

 

 

Where the Watermelons Grow is about a girl named Della and her struggle to find peace with her mom, who is schizophrenic.  Della lives on a North Carolina farm with her dad, mom, and baby sister Mylie.  Della wants more than ever for a normal mom so she can enjoy her reading, her best friend, and her summer.  However, her mother’s symptoms start coming back, and Della is reminded of the bad times before Mylie was born when they had to put her mother into the hospital.  Della thinks that if she allows her mom to get enough rest like she got in the hospital, her mom will recover and be normal.

What I liked about this book is that I could somewhat relate to it.  This is a tough story, because it is reality- mental illness doesn’t have to be schizophrenia.  It can be depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, etc., which are all more common and present in most families.  In my family, my step dad lived with undiagnosed schizophrenia until I’d already moved out, and depression has a strong presence in most of the women.  My biological father is an alcoholic.  I’ve witnessed mental illness, and I thought this book touched on a topic that isn’t talked about very often, but depicts the effects on a kid, like feeling responsible, wanting to keep it a secret, thinking you can fix it, etc.

What I didn’t like about this book– I’m not exactly sure.  It was highly spoken and written about, so maybe I just expected it to be a page turner I couldn’t put down, but it surprisingly took me a week to finish.

Book 89 of 2018

The Best Man

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The Best Man (audiobook)

by Richard Peck

 

I really enjoyed The Best Man!  Richard Peck was one of my favorite authors when I was in fifth and sixth grade.  I can’t say I remember all of the books I read by him, but I do remember being taken by his characters and the predicaments they found themselves in.  One was about some kids who lived in an old house in the city, and there was an elevator that would take them through time and they had to rescue a ghost in the house.  It was called Voices After Midnight.  I’m sure there were others that I loved by him, because I remember picking up his ghost stories because I loved them so much.

This story is about a boy named Archer who is in fifth and sixth grade (it takes place over a little over a year).  He has a best friend named Lynette, who has a bold personality, and they a live in a suburb where everyone seems to be familiar with each other.  Archer and Lynette met at a wedding as small kids, and their friendship continues through a second wedding at the end of the book.  Most of the story is navigating the tricky middle school period where people are changing physically and socially, there are bullies to face and teachers to misunderstand.  Archer is an average kid who loves his family, especially his uncle, who he later finds out is gay.  Archer is particularly unobservant, and is the last to realize it.

What I liked about this book is the humor and wit it teaches young readers.  It is hard to find middle grade literature that is so cleverly written that it will engage adult readers enough to make them giggle, but Richard Peck was an expert in his field, and I definitely found myself laughing out loud as I listened to the story while walking the dog or driving to work.  I also appreciate the way Archer’s uncle was written.  Him being gay is a total nonissue throughout the story, as it should be in life.  It isn’t a plot point- it’s just part of the plot.  There is no homophobia, just disappointment that his partner is gay and not available to his many female fans.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted Hilary to be a fake.  He’s so snooty, I figured he was lying about everything, but I guess Peck wanted him to be a real person.  Looking for something not to like is a real stretch, because it is a really cute story that will keep readers going from beginning to end.

Book 87 of 2018

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (ebook)

by Ashley Herring Blake

 

Ivy Aberdeen is a seventh grader and she’s facing many conflicts, both internally and externally.  First of all, her house was just leveled due to a tornado, and her family is forced to live in a hotel room- Ivy, her sister Layla, her twin brothers, and her parents.  They lost everything.  Second of all, she is upset with Layla over a conversation she overheard between Layla and her best friend Gigi.  Ivy also loses her notebook with all of her intimate and personal drawings, and it is being held for emotional ransom.  To top it all off, Ivy is having feelings for one of her friends, and this really throws off all of her relationships, because she can’t deal with it herself.  Like most stories, everything hits the fan and Ivy is forced to deal with her feelings.

What I liked about this book is that it’s another great coming of age story about a girl who is learning more about her own sexuality.  I am so happy more books are being written about LGBTQ kids around my students’ age that are appropriate.  Not that YA aren’t appropriate, but the content isn’t always age appropriate.  I have not had a sixth grader who was “out” but I have had many that were possibly questioning or coming to terms with their feelings, and books like this will help them, I believe.  Even for those who aren’t LGBTQ, this book will build empathy and understanding.

What I didn’t like about this book was how mad I was at Ivy’s family.  It really upset me- even when I had my last child, I couldn’t just ignore my other children.  They are all important, even if a baby and family crisis take over.

Book 85 of 2018

The Red Pencil

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The Red Pencil (paperback)

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

 

The Red Pencil was chosen for 2019 March Book Madness, which meant I had to read it.  (Side note:  March Book Madness is a really cool concept, so I encourage all educators or lovers of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature to check it out.)  It follows Amira, a girl living in rural Sudan with her family.  She longs for an education, but her parents don’t feel it is necessary since living on a far, she will get married and have her own children.  She has a special stick that she uses to draw in the dirt.  When her village is attacked, she is forced to flee to a refugee camp, and learns there is more in the world that she wants to know.  Amira is given a red pencil, which combined with living in the camp, opens her eyes to what she wants for her future.

What I liked about this book was the perspective it gives to student and adult readers (like myself) who might know little to nothing about the Janjaweed militia or refugee camps.  What I know about the plight of Sudanese and other war-torn communities, I have learned primarily from books.  I love that this broadens the perspectives of my students, who have a very limited perspective and almost no experiences.  Also, the language!  The poems roll off your tongue.  Even if I couldn’t follow the story, I would grow in my ability to translate metaphors and imagery.  I really enjoyed the language she used.

What I didn’t like about this book was the end.  I really wanted to know that she went on to become an author or reporter or teacher somewhere.  I needed more!

Book 82 of 2018

One True Way

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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)

The Wild Robot Escapes

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The Wild Robot Escapes (hardcover)

by Peter Brown

 

When I first read The Wild Robot, I had high expectations for it.  I’d heard a lot about it, and there was a lot of talk on Twitter and the reading communities I follow.  I was disappointed.  That’s why it took me awhile to buy it for my classroom, and I almost didn’t buy the sequel, except that a few of my students read it and enjoyed it, so I figured I’d buy it and read it, anyway.  I loved the sequel!

In The Wild Robot Escapes, Roz finds herself refurbished on a farm.  She is the new helper to a widower and his children.  They’re mourning the loss of a wife and mother, and Roz is mourning the loss (or separation) of her son, Brightbill, who is now the leader of his flock of geese.  Roz builds a relationship with the animals on the farm and the two children, and they help her escape by removing her tracking device.  Roz is then free to escape and try to return home to their island, but not before facing danger and an important mystery person in her life.

What I liked about this book was that Roz gained a bigger sense of the world in her role as a mother.  She also learned her purpose, which is to help.  She stands firm in not causing harm to others, while still protecting those she loves.  I think this is a great message for our children, that you can make change and stand up and protect others without resorting to violence or hurting others.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it had me hooked!  It’s usually the first book that is awesome and the second one that is harder to enjoy, but this was engaging and filled with emotion from beginning to end.  If you’re like me and you didn’t care for the first book so much, definitely give the second one a try.  I even missed lunch with friends, because I had to read in my classroom alone.

Book 65 of 40

(Book 31 of 2018)

Before We Were Free

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Before We Were Free (ebook)

by Julia Alvarez

 

Before We Were Free follows a girl named Anita and her family.  They are in the Dominican Republic during 1960-1961 and they have a terrible dictator (El Jefe) who becomes important in Anita’s life when she discovers her dad and uncle are part of an underground group who plan to kill the dictator to free the people and start a revolution.  While this is going on, Anita is growing into a young woman.  She begins to worry about her hair and her looks, she gets her period, and discovers boys, particularly her best friend Sam and her maybe-cousin, Oscar.  When El Jefe is killed, her dad and uncle are captured and she and her mom have to go into hiding.  This story is about before Anita and those in the Dominican Republic were free.

What I liked about this book was that it was a snapshot of what life was like not only for people living in the Dominican Republic during a dictatorship, but also what it was like for a girl, becoming a woman, during 1960s.  I appreciate historical fiction that teaches me about history, but also shows that the struggles girls go through today are similar (if not the same) as girls back then.  Anita got her period, worried about what a boy would think about her hair, wondered if they liked her back, and fought with her older sister much the way girls do today.  It is comforting knowing that that aspect of childhood hasn’t changed!

What I didn’t like about this book was that while it is historically accurate, I’m sure, it didn’t seem to be a horrific as I know it was.  I think the author focused on a coming of age story rather than a war story, and so many of the brutal details were left out.  It could also have been that it is told from Anita’s point of view, and she doesn’t know the graphic details of what went on.  She has a naivety about her, being 12, and that is what we as the readers are limited to.  That doesn’t make it bad, though.  The was a great book to read, considering I had never even heard of it before.

Book 36 of 40

(Book 2 of 2018)