Solo (ebook and hardcover)
by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
I am a big fan of Kwame Alexander, and I was so excited to get this (preordered) book in the mail, but never picked it up, because it’s just so thick! I kept pushing it aside for shorter books, some of which I spent way too long reading. I started this as a hardcover, but discovered the ebook helped me to get through it faster. It’s easier to sneak an ebook at a party and in the car. A book thicker than my forearm, not so much.
In Solo, Blade Morrison is on the verge of adulthood. He is graduating from high school as a salutatorian, he has a hot girlfriend, and plans for college with a bright future in music. However, his rock star father shakes things up when he crashes his graduation and lands himself back into rehab. Blade relies on the love of his life, his girlfriend Chapel, but finds that their relationship is on the rocks. When he finds out a family secret, Blade sets out for Ghana to find some answers, and learns more about himself than he first set out to find.
What I liked about this book is that it was written in verse, and I love Alexander’s lyrical style. I felt it was especially paired well with the musical theme. Saying I loved his writing style is old news, though. Really, I got sucked into Blade’s story. I wanted the best for him, and while I wasn’t raised in a mansion in Hollywood Hills, I can relate to it seeming like I have everything when people don’t really know what’s going on underneath.
What I didn’t like about this book was that his relationship at the end was left without closure. I spent the second half of the book wondering how they’d make it work from across the globe, and whether she’d give up her simple lifestyle for a Hollywood one.
Book 13 of 40
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (hardcover)
by Nikki Grimes
I’m getting off to an awfully slow start this school year. I think it’s because I moved the week before I had to be back, so I’ve been unpacking and settling in. I also have 2 kids in school now, and my almost 10 month old is a mama’s boy and has to be near me all the time. Today I decided it was time to finish this book I’d been nursing since last Monday, so I took it into the pool and sat in a big round donut until I’d read the last word (ironically, part of the title).
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance is both a collection of poems written by African American poets about the Harlem Renaissance, and a play on those poems by Nikki Grimes. Grimes takes a line (or many lines) from poems by other poets and makes each word the last word in her original poems. It’s a style of poetry I’ve never heard of, called Golden Shovel. I really enjoyed learning about this form, because I enjoy structure, and it’s new to me. Grimes’ poetry touched on several relevant subjects African American youth face, such as police brutality, interracial couples, and self-image. She writes to her own children, which was what I found the most touching.
What I liked about this book was the carefully selected poems. Although the Renaissance was nearly 100 years ago, many of the conflicts faced then are still very relevant today, unfortunately, although different. I think it would be a meaningful book for our youth looking for poetry they could relate to. I can only appreciate it.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t my favorite genre, but that isn’t a fault of the book. While I enjoy novels written in verse, poetry in general is something I have always had to work hard to understand and enjoy. I know this is a high quality novel, but it isn’t something I’d say I read for fun. Although, readers sometimes read out of their comfort zones, right? A lesson for my students. 🙂
Book 2 of 40
Forget Me Not (hardcover)
by Ellie Terry
AR Level 4.1, 3 points
In Forget Me Not, Calliope is an eighth grade girl with Tourettes syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes her to make sounds and movements that she doesn’t do willingly, and this causes her to be embarrassed and pull out her hair. She also has low self esteem and not many friends. Compounding this is the fact that her mom can’t go without a boyfriend, but every time she breaks up with one, she packs Calliope into their Bug and they move to another city. Calliope has been to 10 schools, but this time is different, because she meets Jinsong, a boy in her building who secretly likes her, despite the fact that he’s popular and his friends make fun of Calli. Jinsong has to find the courage to come forward with his feelings. Unfortunately, he wrestles with his own disappointment in himself when he fails to defend her. The unlikely couple then has to face the possibility of never seeing each other again when Calli’s mom runs off and gets married.
What I liked about this book was that it highlighted a disorder that people have heard of, but aren’t really familiar with. The reputation of people with Tourettes is that they will say bad words or get violent, but that isn’t everyone. Calliope made sounds and hurt herself, and had to eat in a certain way, but the book showed that they were impulses she couldn’t control. Hopefully this book will serve to educate others, who will then be more understanding and tolerant.
What I didn’t like about this book was Jinsong. I understand as an eighth grade boy, having a friend like Calliope would be embarrassing, and could damage his reputation. As an adult, I wanted to yell at him and tell him he was a horrible person.
Book 1 of 40
*Would have been book 20 of 20 for my summer reading goal had I finished it on time! Unfortunately, this first week of school (and the weekend before) is crazy busy, so I kept falling asleep when I tried to read before bed.
by Sharon Creech
AR Level 4.4, 3 points
Moo is about a brother and sister who move from a big city to rural Maine with their parents, who are looking for a change. Their mother offers them to a woman named Mrs. Falala, who needs help taking care of her cow, a feisty former prize winner. The siblings are at first afraid of Mrs. Falala and her animals, but quickly fall in love with the farm, and learn that things aren’t always what they appear.
What I liked about this book was the fact that it was partially written in concrete poetry and prose, and partially in standard paragraph, narrative form. I liked the mixture, and while I’ve read many books written in prose, it was a nice contrast to see both forms in the same novel.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I got a little bored at times. I do not blame the book, though. I blame the fact that I’ve only read young adult books lately, and this did not have romance or anything depressing in it, so it didn’t move as quickly for me. I need to diversify my to read list!
Book 60 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Home of the Brave (paperback)
by Katherine Applegate
AR Level 3.5, 3 points
Kek is a refugee from Africa (Sudan, I believe). He has lost his mother, brother, father, and his whole life as he knew it. The story begins with him arriving in Montana, a white state (due to the snow), and we realize Kek has a lot to learn about life in America and the English language. He takes everything literally, and relies on his friend, cousin, and sponsor to teach him about his new culture. Kek makes friends with a cow, which leads him to a job. Throughout the story, we are hoping for word on Kek’s mom, who was lost during the war, and assumed dead. There are sad parts, happy parts, funny parts, and parts that need to be shared with people who want to ban refugees.
What I liked about this book was that Applegate wrote the whole thing in prose! I’ve never read aloud a book written in prose before, so it was a fun read aloud. My sixth graders appreciated his mistakes and misunderstandings due to the language barrier. There are parts that made us laugh out loud, and parts that made us want to cry. It is very emotional.
What I didn’t like about this book was that there could have been more to it. I felt like Kek was believable as a character, but there could have been more to his story. The end is feel-good, but I’m not sure how realistic it was.
Book 55 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Paper Hearts (paperback)
by Meg Wiviott
AR Level 4.3, 3 points
Paper Hearts is told from multiple perspectives, but both girls are similar, being Jewish, multi-lingual, and alone in a concentration camp. Both came from good families and lost their families to the Germans. They become friends and help each other through their time in Auschwitz.
What I liked about this book is it is another perspective of the Holocaust. If this is a time period we don’t want to be forgotten (lest we repeat history), books such as Paper Hearts will teach our children the horrors and hopelessness (or hopefulness) of the Holocaust. I also liked that it was written in prose.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was kind of slow. I also felt like the 2 main characters whose perspectives the story was told from weren’t different enough to sound like individuals. In fact, the girls blended together, and I often didn’t know which girl I was reading about. Most of the time, in fact.
Book 37 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)
Somewhere Among (paperback)
by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
No AR Quiz Yet
Somewhere Among is the story of Ema and her family living in Japan during 2001, the year the twin towers fell. Ema’s mother is American, and her parents live in California. Ema’s father is Japanese, and his parents live near Tokyo, Japan, which is where Ema and her mother are forced to stay since Ema’s mother is in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy and is put on bed rest. It is a difficult summer for the family, because Papa has to stay in Tokyo and commute on weekends to visit his family, and Ema’s grandmother is a strict woman with high standards for behavior, being a traditional Japanese woman. Ema has to learn to adapt to her new environment and school for the sake of her new baby brother or sister’s survival. And then, September 11th comes around, and her American family is depressed and afraid. Ema has a lot of growing up to do in a short period of time, something no fifth grader should have to endure, but it is an interesting slice of life piece, and we learn more about that period in history from the perspective of a different country.
What I like about this book is that is is written in verse. This has been my new genre lately, it seems. I cannot get enough of novels written in poetry form, and I am always looking for new ones. I will read nearly anything written in verse or as a graphic novel. I also appreciate that the book was written from the perspective of a Japanese-American (or American-Japanese) girl around the age of my students. I was able to see what it was like for people in other countries, as well as from a child’s perspective.
What I did not enjoy about this book was that there were relationships that were left unresolved. Masa was not taken care of. I felt that Ema’s relationship with her grandparents could have been better described or defined. Her father was not in the picture very often. I felt really sad for Ema, because it reminded me a little of my own daughter, who needs a lot of attention and is often pushed aside, because I have other concerns, health issues, etc. It isn’t that we don’t take care of her and give her attention, but she often needs more attention and will act out if she doesn’t get it.
Book 10 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)