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 Poet X (audiobook)
by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is about a girl named X (Xiomara) who is looking for her voice. Rather, she’s found her voice, but she’s looking for someone to hear it. X lives with her immigrant parents and her twin brother. Her mother is a devout Catholic who wishes X were more like herself and less opinionated and outspoken. She is rigid and unaccepting of who X is. Her father has a shady past and basically ignores her. Her twin, who normally sees and accepts her, has his own secret, so he is not as supportive as he could be. He does, however, give her a nice leather journal, which she uses to write down her poetry. She writes about her doubts about God and confirmation, her teacher, and the boy she’s been hanging out with. She realizes poetry is her best outlet when no one else is listening.
What I liked about this book was that it was written from a perspective I’m unfamiliar with. I will never be in her position, and reading about hers gives me a broader world view. I also really like that it is about something many of my students are also feeling, or will be feeling soon, which is searching for themselves and their own voices. Although I am not able to hand this off to one of my sixth graders due to the content, I would definitely recommend one of my former students read it.
What I didn’t like about this book was X’s mother. I felt the same as when I read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. I was so frustrated with both of their mothers, because they were unable or unwilling to view their daughters for who they were, and both were brilliant, beautiful young women who were searching for more than what they had been dealt in life. I was particularly upset with X’s mother, because oh my gosh… the first period is a huge milestone for a young girl, and her mother turned it into a dirty, shameful, embarrassing moment. That upset me. As a mother of two daughters, I pray to God I learn from these mothers and make sure to see my girls and not expect them to be my clones. Because really, I’m not that great, and they can be greater if I allow them to be.
Book 78 of 40
(Book 44 of 2018)
Garvey’s Choice (paperback)
by Nikki Grimes
Garvey’s Choice is a super fast read. It took me 30 minutes in one sitting (although I was distracted by my students during dance class). It is written in verse and is engaging, beginning to end. Garvey is an overweight middle school boy who cannot connect with his father, because Garvey is not interested in sports. He would much rather read his comics or play chess with his best friend. Garvey is teased and bullied by family and classmates due to his weight, so he is withdrawn and has only one or two close friends. He ends up finding his true passion, singing, when he joins the school chorus, and is determined to be himself and let everyone else see who he really is on the inside.
What I liked about this book was that it was written in verse. Not only that, but it followed a specific pattern, and gave it a rhythm, much like Garvey might be singing in his chorus. I also liked that Garvey was able to be himself despite bullying, but also realized he wanted to change for himself, not others. It didn’t glorify being overweight, but it also showed that what’s inside is important, and you can make changes in your own life if you are unhappy. Very empowering for students reading.
What I didn’t like about this book was that his dad was so mean. That is hurtful, having a parent who won’t embrace his or her own child.
Book 73 of 40
(Book 39 of 2018)
For Everyone (hardcover)
by Jason Reynolds
For Everyone is not a story, but a speech that Jason Reynolds wrote for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. It is not necessarily a motivational speech (written in verse), but a calling to the idea that success isn’t necessarily achieving your dream, but having a dream. He wrote about his own experience with fear and distress when he was struggling to reach his dream.
What I liked about this book is that it is short and I can easily read it in 20 minutes or less if I need a reminder, if I want to motivate my students to reach for their dreams, or if I want to imagine Jason Reynolds reading them himself.
What I didn’t like about this book is… nothing. I have nothing negative to say about my favorite author.
By the way, I actually got to listen to this weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books, AND I got to meet him! So… dream achieved!
Book 69 of 40
(Book 35 of 2018)
by Kwame Alexander
I was so excited for Rebound, the prequel to The Crossover, Alexander’s Newbery-winning book. I was not disappointed, either. Rebound isn’t just prequel to the story. It takes us way back to Josh and JB’s father’s childhood. Chuck “Da Man” Bell is devastated over the loss of his father to a heart attack. After a few poor choices, his mother decides to send him to his grandparents’ for the summer, despite his protests. His grandparents help him to cope with his father’s (their son’s) death, and make peace with his mom. In the meantime, he spends some time with his cousin, who teaches him to play basketball and do something besides mope and read comic books. Chuck is faced with some tough decisions and chooses poorly, but luckily, he rediscovers the importance of family.
What I liked about this book was that I got to spend more time with a family I enjoyed before. Although they’re two completely different books and not even really a sequel/prequel to each other, it was interesting to read the history of the boys’ father, and see how certain characteristics carried on to the next generation.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I wanted more of it. I wanted more of the relationship between Chuck and Crystal. I think I will be truly happy if there’s a book between Rebound and The Crossover. Are you listening, Kwame?
Book 67 of 40
(Book 33 of 2018)
Enchanted Air (paperback)
by Margarita Engle
Enchanted Air is a memoir about a girl named Margarita whose mother is Cuban and father is American/European. She spends her summers in Cuba riding horses, playing with cousins, and being an adventurous, outgoing girl. Back in California, she is quiet, withdrawn, studious, and loves nature. She is torn between two countries, two worlds, and two versions of herself. Set during the Cold War, Margarita fears for her Cuban family when war breaks out, and she isn’t sure if she’ll ever see her relatives again.
What I liked about this book is that it teaches a lot about the time period that I wouldn’t normally know. I got to see what it was like for a Cuban American living during this time- the hostility, the fear, etc. There was mention of the Japanese internment camps during World War II, and she was afraid that would happen to her mother. I didn’t think about having to write letters in code. I think this would be interesting to teach students about since they don’t generally know much about wars other than World War II.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t as memorable for me. It was very well-written and it had it’s merits, but I think memoirs aren’t my genre. That isn’t a drawback of the book… it’s personal taste.
Book 28 of 40
Love That Dog (paperback)
by Sharon Creech
Love That Dog is a quick but meaningful read. I bought it, because it is by a reputable author and I wanted another (free form) poetry book for my library. I didn’t realize the value I’d find in it! This is written from the perspective of a young poet who doesn’t realize he’s a poet, but learns about poetry from a teacher who sees value in his writing. He is resistant to writing poetry, but learns that a poem doesn’t have to follow a format and can be fun and meaningful. His teacher shares his poetry, and he gets the opportunity to meet with his favorite poet, Walter Dean Myers, who visits his school.
What I liked about this book is it reminded me that what I am excited about (as a teacher) can positively influence my students. If I am excited about poetry and I encourage them to read and write and discuss poetry, they will eventually become less resistant. I do that daily with reading with my reluctant readers.
What I didn’t like about this book is that is was very short. I really enjoyed it, and I didn’t want it to end. However, it is also good for my kids who don’t want to read.
Book 25 of 40