Out of the Dust


Out of the Dust (paperback)

by Karen Hesse


Out of the Dust is a Newbery Award winner that I’ve always heard of, but never picked up until now.  My class is really into novels written in verse, so I thought this would be a great addition to our library.  Billie Joe is a fourteen-year old girl living with her mother and father in the dry, dusty panhandle of Oklahoma during the Great Depression when FDR is offering money to people to get back on their feet.  However, with the lack of rain and intense and destructive dust storms, Billie Joe’s family is left frustrated.  One day, her father accidentally leaves a pail of kerosene on the counter by the stove, and her mother thinks it is water, and creates a rope of fire.  Billie Joe accidentally throws it onto her mother, not knowing she was running back into the house after calling for her father.  Her mother is burned beyond recognition, and both she and Billie Joe’s baby brother die during childbirth a few days later.  After that, Billie Joe and her father begin to drift apart and fall into a deep depression.  Between the dust, lack of piano playing, and her burned hands, Billie Joe is left depressed and hopeless.

What I liked about this book is that it is a good way to teach about a time period and location students might not otherwise know much about.  Most are familiar with World War II, but they don’t know much about the United States before then.  I also appreciated that Billie Joe was in a desperate situation, but also found ways to help and show compassion for others.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it is just so depressing!  She felt guilt for hurting her mother, although it really was an accident, and she carried that with her for years.  She was also lonely with her father since he also wasn’t able to move on after his wife’s death.

Book 79 of 40

(Book 45 of 2018)


The Crossover


The Crossover (hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander

AR Level 4.3, 2 points

John Newbery Award 2015, Coretta Scott King Award


The Crossover is the second of Kwame Alexander’s novels I have read, and it did not disappoint.  Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) and Jordan (JB) are twins in junior high.  Their father is a retired basketball player and their mother is their assistant principal.  Both boys are star basketball players, but JB finds a girlfriend and starts to lose focus on basketball, and this creates a rift in their relationship.  Josh finds himself in trouble when he injures his brother during a game in a fit of rage, but the brothers have to come together to support their family in a time of tragedy.

What I liked about this book was that it was very relatable for athletic boys who enjoy books about boys their own age.  I have several boys in my class who are athletic and need books they can relate to.  There are lots of themes throughout the book outside of sports, though… family, resentment towards siblings, new love, fear, etc.  Although it is boy-centered, it is so well-written that girls will also enjoy this book.  It is written in verse, and that’s a big appeal for those who enjoy the change-up.  The chapters weren’t by number, either, but by quarter, and then finally, Overtime.  That was pretty creative.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was sad.  I was kind of expecting the end, but my prediction changed part way through.  It also hurt me to see these two brothers, who needed to stick together through tough times, estranged from each other.  I felt like it was a little too realistic.  There was one poem where I hurt for Josh and what he was going through.  I think that’s what made it such a great read- it pulls at your emotions, even if you as the reader can’t relate to the character.

Book 7 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)



Booked (hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander

AR Level 3.9, 3 points


Booked didn’t look interesting to me, but I ordered it from Scholastic for one of my athletic, book-hating, reluctant reading boys along with The Crossover, which won the Newbery in 2015 (but I haven’t read yet).  Then, I opened Booked.  I discovered it is written in verse, not paragraph form!  It isn’t a boring sports-related novel as I expected, but an exciting novel written in verse about a boy and his struggles, who happens to be a big soccer fan.

Nicholas is about 12 years old, and he lives with his mom and dad.  He has a good relationship with his mom, but his dad gets on his nerves when he forces Nick to read the dictionary he personally wrote, full of interesting words, which Nick learns, resentfully.  Nick also has a crush on a girl named April, and he has a best friend named Coby.  Nick and Coby are typical pre-teen, soccer-obsessed boys who like girls and hate school.  However, when Nick learns his parents are separating and he gets bullied at school, his life starts to fall apart and he has to rely on soccer and hope to get him through a tough year.

What I liked about this book was a few things.  It was a surprising read for me, because I never expected to like a book about a boy who likes sports.  Sports aren’t my thing, but soccer in this novel is secondary to Nick’s life events and struggles, which is what I enjoyed reading about.  I also liked that his character is intelligent and likable, and I like to think relatable for many of my students.  I also really appreciated that it was written in verse by a very talented poet author.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted to know what was up with the Dragonfly box!  What was inside of it?!

Book 5 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The Graveyard Book


The Graveyard Book (paperback)

by Neil Gaiman

AR Level 5.1, 10 points

Newbery Award Winner 2009


I may have a new favorite author.  I first read Coraline to my class last month, and I loved that it was creepy and I could picture it as a  Tim Burton movie (although the movie was sadly disappointing).  I love that Gaiman’s books are macabre, but not too gory that they couldn’t be considered children’s literature.  I would categorize this book with the Miss Peregrine books or Doll Bones.  They have their moments where you could be frightened or creeped out, but at the same time, you don’t want to put them down.

The Graveyard Book is about a boy named Nobody (Bod for short) whose family is murdered by a man Jack, but he escapes.  He crawls into a graveyard, and is raised by a community of ghosts from different centuries somewhere in a small town in England.  The Owenses adopt and raise him, and Silas (who is not part of the living nor the dead world) becomes his caretaker, providing food, clothing, and guidance.  Bod has little contact with the living, and doesn’t really understand his place in the world.

What I liked about this book is the strong underlying theme of living life while you can.  Bod befriends and is raised by the non-living in this graveyard, and they advise him to LIVE his life, while he is happy where he is.  I also appreciate Gaiman’s ability to write about the macabre tastefully while appealing to both children and adults.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I got confused in certain parts.  There was a lot to take in.  The difference between the sleer and ghoul gate and Indigo Man mixed me up a bit, because I just didn’t understand where he was going with them (although it made sense in the end).  Gaiman creates this other-worldly experience that is a lot to take in!  I was also really frustrated with not understanding why a baby’s family would be slaughtered without answers.

I really enjoyed this book, and I welcome recommendations on where to go from here.

Book 27 of 40 (year 2)

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!


Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!  Voices from a Medieval Village (paperback)

by Laura Amy Schlitz

AR Level 5.6, 2 points

This is another Engage New York exemplar text that I promised (myself) I’d read.  I ordered all 3 of the poetry books from one of the modules, and this is the main one.  I have officially decided I want to teach that poetry unit, which means I need a class set of these books.  I really enjoyed this book, even though it was, at times, tough to get through.

This book is was written by a school librarian, so it was written with a specific audience in mind.  She tells the stories of several tweens in a medieval English village from first person point of view, and it is all in the form of a poem.  Each account can, and perhaps is meant to be, read aloud.  I can see a performance of this book happening on an elementary or junior high campus somewhere.  The characters are all residents of a particular (but generic) village.  We hear from the sons and daughters of a blacksmith, doctor, tanner, sniggler, merchant, etc.  We also hear about a lord’s daughter getting her dress ruined by having mud thrown at her, and then the mud slinger’s account.  I would teach perspective (and multiple perspectives) while reading this book.

What I liked about this book… well, first of all, I love the 1-2 page background pages so we as readers understand the context better.  Some examples of the background needed to understand the book would be the crusades, role of Jews in medieval society, and the significance of falconry.  I, personally, haven’t read much from a medieval village, so these background pages really helped me.  In addition, there are footnotes.  For each account, there are words the reader needs to know in order to understand the poem and role of the character.  This book is very user-friendly!

What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little dry at times.  There were some sections I had to read multiple times.  It’s not written in Old English, but it also isn’t written in a way we are generally used to reading.  However, I cannot think of any other complaints.  It was a very honest account of life in a medieval village.

Book 46 of 52

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures


Flora & Ulysses (hardcover)

by Kate DiCamillo

AR Level 4.3, 5 points


This is a cute story about a cynical girl and her super hero squirrel.  Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic who lives with her mother (the arch-nemesis) and visits with her father.  She and her father share a love of a particular comic, called The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incadesto, with a segment called “Terrible Things Can Happen To You.”  Both of these are referenced throughout the story, and there are many comparisons in the story lines.

So Flora comes upon a squirrel named Ulysses, whom she rescues from her neighbor’s vacuum cleaner.  Upon rescuing him, she discovers he has super powers, including the ability to fly, type poetry, and communicate with humans.  Flora and Ulysses make an instant connection, but Flora’s mother disapproves of a squirrel living in her household, and tries to get Flora’s father to murder him with a bag and shovel.  Yikes!  Flora and Ulysses have to work together to battle several intrinsic and extrinsic conflicts, including Flora’s mother’s hurtful words, evil cats, and the ability to change one’s outlook.

What I liked about this book… well, there were several things.  First of all, DiCamillo continues to write beautifully complicated characters.  Flora is a child I’d enjoy having as a student in my class.  She is thoughtful, self-aware, and cynical.  She’s a thinker.  She and Ulysses have several interesting “friends” in the story, who each have backstories and contribute to the plot in a meaningful way.  While those stories are difficult to read, we feel their pain and their strength and the love they feel for our hero and heroine of the story.

Another thing I liked was the wonderful illustrations (it is The ILLUMINATED Adventures, after all).  Several chapters are in the form of comic strips, which go nicely with the idea of Flora’s favorite comic book.  Ulysses is, himself, a super hero, so naturally, it would make sense to put him in a comic.

What I didn’t like about this book was… I’m not really sure how to explain… while it has all of the qualities of a great novel, I lost focus half way through and picked up another book.  Maybe that was my fault, because it really is a good book and an easy read.  I have found that DiCamillo writes these sagas that have an end goal, but move from place to place to place, and it kind of gets fuzzy in the middle.  Or maybe I’m just ADD, which is a completely reasonable and likely explanation.

This is definitely a good read.  It is funny, sad, heart-warming, and suspenseful all at the same time.  I can see why it won the John Newbery Medal for 2014.

Book 14 of 52

Update/Side Note: I’ve read 14 books in 10 weeks.  I should be a lot farther along, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks!

Thank you Megan for your recommendation, and for letting me borrow your book!