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When good kids make bad decisions

17 Apr

We often tell 6th graders who have done something really stupid, that this is the time in their life when they can make mistakes and truly learn from them, never repeat them. We let them know that, when they are older, the consequences of their actions will be more severe. We say this when they turn in a friends work as their own and mess around in the bathrooms. We have really good kids.

But sometimes, really good kids make tragic mistakes, and it adults don’t tell them this is their chance to learn, they want them punished.

That is the premise of Jeff Zentner’s second novel, Goodbye Days.

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Publisher’s Summary:What if you did something so terrible that it literally steals your breath away?

Something you wish you could take back every waking minute of your life. Something everyone is guilty of doing at one time or another—but this time, it destroyed life as you knew it forever.

“I would tell you that I definitely killed my three best friends. Here’s the cruel irony for the writer I am: I wrote them out of existence.

Where are you guys? Text me back.”

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Although intended for a slightly older audience, this is a YA novel that I can easily put on my 6th grade shelf. There is a little romance, but the book is intelligent and heart-breaking.

First Book of 2017

2 Jan

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Janet McNally’s debut novel  Girls in the Moon is an understated, nicely written novel. Phoebe, the main character isn’t faced with a big crisis; she’s just trying to figure out family history and her place in it. Her story is contrasted with vignettes narrated by her mother, Meg, that sheds light on things Phoebe wants to know.

Publisher’s Summary: Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth.

Her mother, Meg, ex-rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story—the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister Luna, indie rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the co-founder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and maybe even to continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months.

This soul-searching, authentic debut weaves together Phoebe’s story with scenes from the romance between Meg and Kieran that started it all—leaving behind a heartfelt reflection on family, fame, and finding your own way.

On the Run

7 Nov

Jason Reynold’s Ghost isn’t about anything scary. At least not in the haunted house sense.

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Publisher’s Summary:Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

Ghost makes some bad decisions and at first, I found him a little hard to like. But, just as Coach took the time to get to know him in the book, I took the time to get to know him and was glad I did. He has a lot of anger bottled up inside and it doesn’t always come out in a good way. Fortunately, he stumbles into track and it might just be the making of him.

At 181 pages it is a quick read. I don’t know when the rest of the books about the team come out, but I will be looking for them.

Throwback Thursday

6 Oct

I’ve spent the last week teaching the Notice and Note strategies by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. In teaching the “Aha Moment”, we used excerpts fro Jerry Spinelli’s Crash and I ended up doing an impromptu book talk because I remembered how much I loved this book.

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My school library’s catalogue summarizes the book this way

Crash Coogan, rising football sensation, and his friend, Mike make a regular practice of tormenting the school nerd, Penn Webb, but when Mike takes a prank too far, Crash finds himself locked in a moral dilemma.

It doesn’t do the book justice. There is a lot about friendship and families. Crash’s grandfather plays an important role, as does Penn Webb’s great-grandfather. The kids in the book are realistic and the way Crash treats Webb, and how it escalates, is as well. I think it is because both boys are so ordinary.  It is the sort of book that you pick up and read until it is finished because you can’t put it down.

Then & Now: 9/11

4 Sep

In a week, we will mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attack. The students I teach are 11 and have no memory of that day. They can only understand it secondhand.  In his oft quoted 2013 speech, Neil Gaiman states “that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.” And here is a case to prove his point. My West Coast students will probably understand  9/11 more by reading fiction than any other way. So, this week, starting today, I will share some new, and some not so new, books about 9/11.

YA readers will find All We Have Left by Wendy Mills, insightful.

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Publisher’s Summary:

Now:
Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died.

Then:
In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim… it’s being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia is determined to show her parents that they must respect her choices. She’ll start by confronting her father at his office in downtown Manhattan, putting Alia in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . .

Interweaving stories past and present, full of heartbreak and hope, two girls come of age in an instant, learning that both hate and love have the power to reverberate into the future and beyond.

What I really like about this book is the way it shows the impact on the people left behind. In an election year where hateful words are being spoken about Muslims, this book is a powerful resource for adolescents.The beautiful, poignant prose will also appeal to adults. I couldn’t put this book down.

The thrill of victory…

7 Aug

…the agony of defeat.

Growing up, many a Saturday was spent watching Wide World of Sports. Its opening became  an iconic sports meme for me long before the Internet was flooded with them.

I’ve been thinking about this intro as the Olympics begin.

There are lots of ways spectators can participate without flying to Rio. Knitters can join the Ravellinic Games on Ravelry, where there is only one rule:

The One Rule To Rule Them All: Challenge yourself by starting and finishing one or more projects during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

There are actual events such as the Mitten Medley, WIPs Wrestling, Sock Put and Synchronized Spinning. Although I am madly working on a WIP (Work in Progress) I am not participating in the Ravellinics. Too much pressure to perform.

I am however, reading a sports themed book!

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Publisher’s Summary:

I am Lou Brown:

Social outcast, precocious failure, 5’10” and still growing.

I was on the fast track to the Olympic superstardom.

Now, I’m training boys too cool to talk to me. In a sport I just made up. In a fish tank.

My life has quickly become very weird.

Nat Luurtsema’s YA debut is side-splittingly funny and painfully true to anyone who’s just trying to figure out how they fit into the world.

Goodreads gives a little more detail.

Goodreads Sumary: Lou Brown is one of the fastest swimmers in the county. She’s not boasting, she really is. So things are looking pretty rosy the day of the Olympic time-trials. With her best mate Hannah by her side, Lou lines up by the edge of the pool, snaps her goggles on and bends into her dive…

Everything rests on this race. It’s Lou’s thing.

… or it was. She comes dead last and to top it all off Hannah sails through leaving a totally broken Lou behind.

Starting again is never easy, particularly when you’re the odd-one out in a family of insanely beautiful people and a school full of social groups way too intimidating to join. Where do you go from here? Finding a new thing turns out to be the biggest challenge Lou’s ever faced and opens up a whole new world of underwater somersaults, crazy talent shows, bitchy girls and a great big load of awkward boy chat.

Lou Brown guides us through the utter humiliation of failure with honesty, sass and a keen sense of the ridiculous. This girl will not be beaten.

This book was first published in the UK as Girl out of Water.

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In France, it is Moi et les Aquaboys.

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No matter what language you read it in, this is a funny and poignant novel about what happens after the agony of defeat.

texts, chats, and blog posts

1 Aug

I love epistolary fiction.

I love letter writing and bemoan its extinction. I still have all the letters I sent to my parents when I was an exchange student in Denmark, They were wise enough to save them.

Epistolary fiction has evolved into  novels told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, like the book I just read:  Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson.

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Goodreads Summary: Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.

The format allows for a quick read and there is a twist I wasn’t expecting. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.

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