The Red Pencil (paperback)
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Red Pencil was chosen for 2019 March Book Madness, which meant I had to read it. (Side note: March Book Madness is a really cool concept, so I encourage all educators or lovers of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature to check it out.) It follows Amira, a girl living in rural Sudan with her family. She longs for an education, but her parents don’t feel it is necessary since living on a far, she will get married and have her own children. She has a special stick that she uses to draw in the dirt. When her village is attacked, she is forced to flee to a refugee camp, and learns there is more in the world that she wants to know. Amira is given a red pencil, which combined with living in the camp, opens her eyes to what she wants for her future.
What I liked about this book was the perspective it gives to student and adult readers (like myself) who might know little to nothing about the Janjaweed militia or refugee camps. What I know about the plight of Sudanese and other war-torn communities, I have learned primarily from books. I love that this broadens the perspectives of my students, who have a very limited perspective and almost no experiences. Also, the language! The poems roll off your tongue. Even if I couldn’t follow the story, I would grow in my ability to translate metaphors and imagery. I really enjoyed the language she used.
What I didn’t like about this book was the end. I really wanted to know that she went on to become an author or reporter or teacher somewhere. I needed more!
Book 82 of 2018
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
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)
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)
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.
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)