Swing (ebook via NetGalley and the Launch Team)

by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess


I am lucky enough to be on the Swing launch team, so I got to read it before anyone else.  It makes me feel like a hipster.  There’s nothing better than reading a book by one of my favorite authors before it comes out, because I normally don’t have the patience to wait once I’m excited!

The story starts out with Noah (the narrator) and his best friend Swing, who recently renamed himself due to his destined greatness in baseball, as well as his passion for jazz music.  In their town, flags are mysteriously popping up, and we aren’t sure why.  Taking a knee for the National Anthem comes up, and an African American boy is accused of placing the flags, and the police interaction frightens the characters in the book, making the reader think maybe it is related to current events.  That is one motif in the story.  Another is the romantic relationships and heartache.  Noah and Swing have a best friend named Sam, and Noah begins sending her pieces of art anonymously.  She begins to realize her boyfriend isn’t all that great, which is good news for Noah.  Much like Alexander’s Solo, there are many stories within this story, and our protagonist goes on a journey with heartache and self-discovery, he faces a major life-changing incident, and then his life is changed because of it.  However, despite the many clues, the life-changing incident isn’t as predictable as I thought.

What I liked about this book is that it has strong characters with real emotions.  Swing is almost older than he actually is, though.  His faults almost aren’t real faults at all.  I think that’s on purpose.  Noah, obviously, would be more relatable, being the main character, and we feel his heartache and depression.  Unfortunately, his pain goes way deeper than I hope I’ll ever be able to relate to. I also appreciated that this book is relevant to today.  Alexander is calling for change, gently opening our eyes to a reality in a less obvious way than Dear Martin or The Hate U Give (two awesome books that I highly recommend for older students) or Ghost Boys (great for middle grade).

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t know where Alexander was going at times.  For awhile, I thought Noah was going to hurt himself due to depression, and then the story took a change.  I also had to start the story over again and read from the beginning, because I was lost if I didn’t read it straight through.  However, as usual, these two authors have joined up to create another must-read, one that is relevant to today, and will be a popular read with my middle graders.  (Sidenote: there is some very minor drinking and talk of “closing the deal” with a girl, but no obvious sex or cussing, which often make it hard for me to put on the shelf for sixth grade- I’d probably give potential readers the “there are some more grown up topics in this book; will your parents be okay with it?” talk.)

Book 65 of 2018


House Arrest


House Arrest (paperback)

by K.A. Holt


House Arrest, written in verse, is a healthy mix of sad and hopeful.  Timothy is a 13 year old boy with a gravely ill baby brother.  Levi has a tubes to help him breath, because his trachea is too small, and he is at risk for suffocating and getting sick from bacteria.  Timothy is under house arrest, because he stole a man’s credit card to help pay for a month of medical supplies for Levi.  He was caught, arrested, and put on probation, requiring him to write in a court-mandated journal and see a psychiatrist and juvenile probation officer.  To top it off, he is angry at his father who abandoned the family, his mom cannot afford their bills, and he is suffering from a crush on his best friend’s sister.  Timothy is an intelligent, well-meaning boy who is determined to do what is right, no matter  how it looks to the courts.

What I liked about this story is that it gives us hope in the darkest, most hopeless situation.  Timothy, despite everything, still believes he can make a bad situation better.  Many of my students come from situations that are similar.  They might not have a sick brother, but they live in poverty, many have had a parent or family member abandon them, and some live in fear.  It can always get better, though.  I love that there is a message of hope, and that there is support when you ask for it.

What I didn’t like about this story was the end… I feel kind of stupid, like there is a deeper meaning behind the last page, and I cannot figure it out.  I should know its significance, and it’s not coming to me.  Maybe someday.

Book 64 of 2018

The Crossover (reread)

The Crossover (hardcover)

by Kwame Alexander

Yes, I read it again (see the original post here), because I am at a conference and this was my assigned book.  However, I picked up more this time than I did the first time I read it.  Before I tell you what I gained from it after my second read, I have to show you what blew my mind (because I just never noticed before):

If you take the cover off, it’s the color and texture of a basketball!!!  I discovered it after 4 hours of sleep and I was ecstatic (aka delirious).  I just had to share.  I love stuff like that.

What I loved about this book after reading it again… there are a few things.  First of all, I appreciated the language.  Alexander has such a way with words.  The part where they are playing basketball and he is describing his moves- it’s like a dance.  He is grooving.  The description shows how much skill he has.  It’s not just a game, it’s not just dribbling, it’s like a choreographed waltz across the court.

Another thing I didn’t catch the first time is how frequently “the crossover” came up in the story.  There was one that was especially meaningful, at a funeral.  I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t read it (although seriously, what are you waiting for?!).  The use of this basketball move as a metaphor is something that might need to be studied when speaking with students, and then they may catch on to how powerful it is!

I LOVE Kwame Alexander, and if you enjoyed The Crossover, definitely read Rebound, which is a prequel to this story.

Book 15 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 61 of 2018)

Every Shiny Thing


Every Shiny Thing (paperback)

by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison


Every Shiny Thing is told from dual points of view.  Lauren, a well-off seventh grader, lives with her parents and is devastated when her older brother is sent to a special school for students with autism.  Sierra is also in seventh grade, but she was just placed in foster care when her mom gets drunk and lands herself in jail and rehab (her dad was already in jail from the beginning of the story).  Lauren decides to raise money for kids with autism to receive therapy from her brother’s therapist by stealing things from people who already have more than they need and selling it online.  She asks Sierra to hide the items in her foster family’s house, and Sierra agrees, because Lauren has been so kind to her.  When the stealing becomes a bigger issue, Sierra starts to feel uncomfortable and their beliefs are put to the test.

What I liked about this book is that it is told from two characters’ points of view, and in two forms.  Lauren is written in narrative with paragraphs.  Sierra is written in verse.  I like for my students to be exposed to more poetry so they see it isn’t all Shakespeare and love poems, but another way of communicating through writing.  It is similar to Forget Me Not, but verse and narrative are equally represented.  I think it is a good book for kids to read so they can question their own actions.  It was pretty obvious that Lauren was in the wrong, and I hope my students will see that and recognize the ethical dilemma she put herself in.  I think this story would also be refreshing after reading One for the Murphys, because we didn’t like the ending to that one (or at least, it didn’t end the way most of my students hoped it would, but it ended the way it should have).

What I didn’t like about this book was the anxiety I had over Lauren’s cleptomania.  I understood that she thought it was helpful, but I really wanted her to get caught earlier so she’d stop.  I didn’t like the way she felt Sierra owed her.

Book 13 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 59 of 2018)

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 Poet X


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


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)