The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963


The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 (paperback)

by Christopher Paul Curtis


In The Watsons Go to Birmingham, the Weird Watsons are an African-American family living in Flint, Michigan during 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Kenny is the protagonist of the story, and the middle child.  He has an older brother Byron who is called a delinquent, and a younger sister Joetta, who is compared to an angel.  Each chapter tells a new story of how they are wacky, get into tough situations, or make their parents mad.  Most of the story is humorous and highly entertaining, and we get to learn about life in Flint, life during the 1960s, and how many situations Kenny goes through parallel our own lives (as children).  Then they travel to Birmingham to drop Byron off with their grandmother for the summer so she can attempt to straighten him out, and there is a church bombing.  This is when things get a little strange… Kenny, it seems, goes into a depression, because he believed his sister was in the church and he saw the “Wool Pooh” (which might be Death?).

What I liked about this book was that for the most part, it was funny.  Kenny has an interesting outlook on life, and he is a very good storyteller.  It almost reminded me of “A Christmas Story” in the way he narrated from a bold point of view.  I also appreciate that readers learn more about what life was like for an African American family during this time, including down south in Birmingham.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a bit unclear.  I read this book aloud to my class, and most of my class thought Joetta died and we were reading about her ghost.  Several thought Kenny died and his ghost saved her.  I’m still not sure what saved Joetta- his love for her?  That part was confusing.

Book 50 of 40

(Book 16 of 2018)

Wolf Hollow


Wolf Hollow (audiobook)

by Lauren Wolk

AR Level 4.9, 9 points


Wolf Hollow is the second book I’ve read by Lauren Wolk, although I liked Beyond the Bright Sea better.  Both are mysteries, but this one seemed to have less action.  It follows Annabelle, an almost 12 year old girl living in a farming town during World War II.  Annabelle is an average girl, but is full of grit and compassion, except for when it comes to Betty, the school bully.  Betty is relentless when it comes to bullying Annabelle and her brothers, but when she throws a rock that hits Annabelle’s friend in the eye (causing her to lose the eye), Annabelle can’t stay quiet, especially when Betty blames a local strange homeless man, Toby.  Toby soon has to go into hiding when Betty goes missing, but Annabelle is certain Toby didn’t take Betty.  She has to prove Toby’s innocence while protecting him from being found.

What I liked about this book was that it got me emotionally involved.  First of all, I really had a lot of questions that needed to be answered.  I needed to know where Betty was, and I was anxious to find out what would happen with Toby.  I had to see this story through to the end, even if there were slow parts.

What I didn’t like about this book was how many slow parts there were.  Oh my goodness… If I had been reading and not listening to the audiobook, I might have put this book down.  While it is really well-written and a great example of small moments, it is like an Oscar movie, where I can see why it won an award (Newbery Honor), but it didn’t keep me entertained.  It was almost artsy.

Book 18 of summer 2017!

Because of Winn-Dixie


Because of Winn-Dixie (paperback)

by Kate DiCamillo

AR Level 3.9, 3 points


Because of Winn-Dixie is another of Kate DiCamillo’s stories where her voice and style is strong.  It was very similar to Raymie Nightingale in that the main character, India Opal, is a lonely child who is down a parent while the remaining parent (her dad, a preacher) is suffering his own sense of loss and shuts Opal out.  She is new to town and doesn’t have any friends yet, which makes her even more lonely, until she meets a dog who leads her to meet new friends.  Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal reconnects with her father and they realize they need to be supportive of one another.

What I like about this book is the language and thoughtfulness of the writing, and the life lessons that DiCamillo works into the storyline.  For example, Opal dislikes several boys because of what they said about someone else, not her.  She also isn’t sure whether to be afraid of a man because he’d been in jail.  A friend of hers tells her, “you can’t always judge people by the things they done.  You got to judge them by what they are doing now.”  That is a good lesson or reminder not only for children (the intended audience), but for adults, as well.

What I did not like, and I shouldn’t say I didn’t like, because sometimes I do enjoy it, is the whimsical way the story flows.  You are on a journey with Opal, and there isn’t a solid plot line until the end when you realize what the story was about.  There isn’t a solid “problem” of the story and the conflict is internal.  This isn’t always bad, but I’m sometimes not in the mood for it.

Book 13 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Turtle in Paradise


Turtle in Paradise (paperback)

by Jennifer Holm

AR Level 3.7, 4 points


I recently finished Full of Beans at the recommendation of many other readers online since it had just come out.  This is the same author as The 14th Goldfish.  I didn’t realize Turtle in Paradise is a story similar to Full of Beans, but from Beans’ cousin’s point of view.  While it was published first, the story takes place after, so I read the in the right order.  You wouldn’t have to read them in order to enjoy them, though.

Turtle is new to town (Key West) and moves in with her Aunt Minnie and cousins.  They lived in New Jersey as the housekeeper and housekeeper’s daughter, but the new household has no tolerance for children, so Turtle’s mother sends her away since she cannot take care of Turtle.  Turtle, who is a tough and snarky female character, immediately dislikes her equally snarky cousins, and they butt heads until Turtle finds a treasure map, uncovers a secret about her father, and makes friends with her grandmother.  Then their relationship takes a turn, and they maybe even enjoy each other’s company.

What I like about this book is the fact that it is a much deeper story than a 3.7 reading level really gives credit for.  It isn’t complicated, there isn’t complex vocabulary or concepts, but the level of self-realization from the main character is more than a third grader might catch on to.  I’d see this as more of an upper-grade read, especially with the mystery and betrayal involved.

What I don’t really like about this book is that Too Slow got away.  I won’t say much more than that, but I’d have liked to see more of him in the end.

Book 12 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Inside Out & Back Again


Inside Out & Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

AR Level 4.8, 2 points

Newbery Honor and National Book Award Winner


This story caught my eye when I was “window shopping” on Amazon.  It was an “others who purchased” recommendation, and so I added it to my wishlist.  Luckily, I was able to purchase it with my Scholastic points, and I am glad I did.  It follows a girl named Ha who escapes Vietnam with her family (sans her father) towards the end of the war, and starts fresh in Alabama.  Unfortunately, she is mistreated by her classmates since she doesn’t speak English and looks different from her peers.  Her family also has trouble adjusting while mourning their missing father/husband.  It gives an inside look at what it is like being a refugee from a war torn country.

What I liked about this book was that it was written in poetry.  Like Brown Girl Dreaming, Inside Out & Back Again‘s chapters are poems, not paragraphs.  This makes it not only a fast read, but full of figurative language.  The author uses fewer words to make a bigger impact on the emotions and feelings of Ha.  What’s more impactful is that it is based on the author’s experiences as a child.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it didn’t give as much detail about the war.  I feel like the historical novels I read teach me more about a time period or experience than if I were to read a text book, but this didn’t give me quite as much about the war as I would have liked.  I am sure that was intentional, given it is written at a fourth grade level, and this war was pretty brutal.

I would like to read more about Ha’s experience, but I did see that Lai wrote another book, called Listen, Slowly about a Vietnamese girl from California who learns more about her roots when traveling to Vietnam.  I enjoy historical fiction and reading about the perspectives of others I wouldn’t normally know about.

Book 32 of 40 (year 2)

One Crazy Summer


One Crazy Summer (paperback)

by Rita Williams-Garcia

AR Level 4.6, 7 points

Newbery Honor (plus many more awards!)


One Crazy Summer tells a story from multiple perspectives.  Delphine is the oldest of three daughters raised in New York City during the 1960’s by her dad and grandmother.  At the beginning of the book, we learn she and her sisters are flying across the country to Oakland, California to spend the summer with her mother, who abandoned them when the youngest sister was a newborn.  Their mother, Cecile (aka Nzila) is a member of the Black Panthers, whose ideology is very different from that of her dad and grandmother.  Delphine and her sisters have to adapt to living with and accepting the woman who abandoned them, as well as see their place in a very different culture.

What I liked about this book was of course, the perspective.  This is a period of time where America was going through great conflict and change.  Much of it is still relevant today.  Most of my education about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers comes from history class in high school, or movies I’ve seen.  Certainly none of those are from the perspective of a nearly 12 year old African American girl.

What I didn’t like about this book was the hard reality that a mother can abandon her children.  That was really hard for me to read about, and it was hard for Delphine to accept as the abandoned child.  I was supposed to learn about Cecile’s reasoning behind leaving, but I just couldn’t accept it myself, because moms just don’t leave, no matter what.

Thank you, Jazmin, for lending me your book!

Book 31 of 40 (year 2)

The War that Saved My Life


The War that Saved My Life (hardcover)

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

AR Level 4.1, 9 points

Newbery Honor 2016

I love historical fiction, especially when it’s broken down so I can understand it from a relatable point of view, and it tells an aspect of the event that I am unfamiliar with… those are my favorite.  When it comes to World War II, I’ve read lots of historical fiction about the holocaust, and not a whole lot more.

This book is from the perspective of a London native who was evacuated with her little brother to the countryside of Kent.  I didn’t know that children were evacuated and put with families in the country, though it certainly makes sense.  Ada isn’t like all of the other evacuees, though.  She has clubfoot, and has spent her entire life locked away by her abusive mother and told she’s ugly, simple, and unloved.  Ada’s little brother Jamie is her entire life, and she has to protect him from their mother and the world, but she is the one who really needs protecting.

Ada and Jamie escape to Kent and are placed with a woman named Susan.  We learn she has recently lost her “best friend” (but astute readers can infer it was her life partner since she was also disowned by her father for their relationship, and she feels such a deep loss).  Susan shows Ada and Jamie love, attention, affection, and care of their basic needs, which the children had never felt, and Ada has a hard time accepting.  This is not only a story about World War II evacuees, but of an abused girl who learns to care, and realize she herself is lovable.

What I liked about this book was that it was sent in a time that I have little experience with.  I think any reader will be able to learn more about the war from a child’s perspective, and to me, that is fascinating.  I liked that Ada went through such a great change, and that things worked out for the best for her (I love happy endings), and that it left me guessing.  I wanted a flash forward to see her progress in a year.

What I didn’t like was there were some parts that were hard to believe.  I found it hard to take in that a mother could be so harsh and show little remorse, even in the end.  I also didn’t like that there was unfinished plot lines.  I thought there was more that could have been explained.  People disappeared and building relationships weren’t seen through.

I would recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Book 29 of 40 (year 2)

Roller Girl


Roller Girl (paperback)

by Victoria Jamieson

AR Level 3.2, 2 points

Newbery Honor


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 (, 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)

El Deafo


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)

Three Times Lucky


Three Times Lucky (paperback)

by Sheila Turnage

AR Level 3.9, 9 points

Have you ever read a book and though, “This would be a great movie!”?  Well that’s Three Times Lucky.  I could see the scenes in my head, and I started casting the movie as I read.  It opens up showing the workings of a small Southern town: kids riding bikes to the local creek (or crick), old pick up trucks being worked on, women in big hats drinking iced tea… and after the credits, you hear the dinging of the door chime in the small local cafe.  It may catch you off guard that a smart-mouthed, quick-witted child is running this cafe.

Mo is the protagonist of the story.  She is the smart-mouthed, quick-witted incoming sixth grader, and her “adoptive” parents, Miss Lana and The Colonel, run the local small-town cafe.  She was found as a newborn afloat in a creek after a hurricane, apparently wrapped and placed on a board during the storm by her “Up Stream Mother.”  Hence her name, Moses.  Mo writes letters to her mother in a series of books, her autobiography.  She has a best friend named Dale (after the race car driver), and he is also a detective in their agency.  There is a murder in their community, and a detective from a bigger neighboring town comes in to solve the case.  Mo and Dale do their part, but things start to go sour for Mo, and she needs to use her intelligence and cleverness to save her family and friends.

What I liked about this book was the quirkiness and humor that Mo brought to the story.  I would classify her as GATE just based on her creative thinking and use of vocabulary.  In fact, most of the characters in this story are quirky in some way, some more than others.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters and their antics, as well as the sense of community in their town of Tupelo Landing.  I look forward to reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the companion novel.

What I didn’t like about this book was that for me, it got off to a slow start.  It took me a few days to get into the book.  It shouldn’t have taken me two weeks to read, but it did, partly because I was so busy, and partly because I couldn’t get into it right away.  I read more than half the book last night and today, and was able to finish.  My advice is to keep going, and don’t get sidetracked by the first few chapters, which are full of character development, but still kind of slow.

Book 1 of 40 (Year 2)