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Morris finalist #3

8 Jan

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This weekend, I read my third Morris Award nominee – Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I can see why it was nominated and it pairs nicely with The Hate You Give, giving a different perspective on the same subject. Interestingly, both books, the main characters go to a predominantly white private school and have significant others of another race.

I felt that it took me a while to get into Dear Martin,  and it was a bit didactic in places, but, by the middle of the book, I was hooked.

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Publisher’s Summary: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

 

 

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A Winter Break Fave

4 Jan

I have to go back to work today. It is a good thing I love my job,

Fortunately, I will have the lingering memory of one of my favorite Winter Break reads to soothe my heart.

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The main character in Jared Reck’s debut, Matt, is just an all around nice guy. He has nice friends, and a nice family. He is nice to his little brother. He isn’t the star player on his basketball team, but he aspires to it, and we know he will be in a few years.

As in many YA novels, something bad happens and he tries to deal with it on his own. What sets this one apart is how his family rallies to help him. It is a lot quieter than other debut novels, but it is wonderful.  Just a lovely, lovely book!

Publisher’s Summary: Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 
 
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
 
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

 

Perfection

29 Nov

We often make things so black and white for girls. You are either a good girl or you are a bad girl.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L Sanchez, is narrated by Julia, the eponymous imperfect daughter. This is a really great read and was a National Book Awards finalist.I think every young woman who reads this will connect with Julia, who never measures up to her family’s expectations because they never really see her for who she is.

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Publisher’s Summary: Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

Change is coming

27 Aug

Teachers in my district go back to work tomorrow. I went to school three days last week in order to get some work done, but also to practice getting up and going to work. It makes the transition easier.

The main character in Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride doesn’t get a chance to practice. Rydr has change thrust upon her.

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In case you can’t see it, the blurb on the front says “She found her family before she found her home.

Publisher’s Summary: A beautifully poignant debut perfect for fans of authors such as Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech and books like Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. When Rydr travels by train from Los Angeles to Chicago, she learns along the way that she can find family wherever she is.

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago, to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a backpack, memories both happy and sad, and a box, containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own story begins to emerge. It’s one of sadness and heartache, and one Rydr would sometimes like to forget. But as much as Rydr may want to run away from her past, on the train she finds that hope and forgiveness are all around her, and most importantly, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

There is so much I love about this book. Rydr is a little hard to like at first, but she blossoms as she meets strangers on the train and starts forming her family. Although Rydr is white, the other characters are a diverse lot. Set over the course of three days on a train, we are able to see Rydr blossom, and I can’t lie, this book made me cry. It also made me want to read Howl,  by Allen Ginsburg.

This book might be a long shot for the Newbery, but it is one my Mock Newbery Club will read.

Speaking of my Mock Newbery club, thanks to everyone who contributed to my Donors Choose project. That is complete and the books will ship to arrive after September 8th. I have a second fundraiser running through our local, district based donors choose type program and I am only $250 away from fulfilling that, but it seems to have stalled.  You can help me complete it by making a tax-deductible donation here. I am thankful for whatever you can do to help.

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First read aloud of 2017-18

27 Jul

I found my first read aloud for the new school year.

It’s an important choice to make because it sets a tone for the entire school year.

That is why Posted by John David Anderson is perfect.

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Anderson knows how to build great characters – and he creates realistic middle school boys. He did so in Mrs. Bixby’s Last day and he does so here.

He gets middle schoolers in general. All the stereotypes are there, but hey, they are in the middles school I teach at. In the characters he fleshes out more fully, he shows that people aren’t just they stereotype you think they are.

He is not afraid to tackle tough topics. In Mrs. Bixby,  he tackled death. In Posted,  he tackles bullying. We became a one-to-one school last year, but before that we let kids use devices for educational purposes. Despite our best efforts, things still happen. I think reading Posted aloud will give us one more way to tackle tough issues and safe examples to use.

He knows how to balance serious topics with humor. There are enough goofy middle schooly bits peppered in the conversations among the main characters that there will be laughs. It is good to have some balance. Although I don’t think it will win the Newbery, I have this one on my Mock Newbery list because I tink it is one kids will really gravitate towards.

Publisher’s Summary:

From John David Anderson, author of the acclaimed Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, comes a humorous, poignant, and original contemporary story about bullying, broken friendships, and the failures of communication between kids.

In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.

When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same.

 

Other people’s lives

13 Jul

When I was in high school, mom volunteered at a shelter for women fleeing domestic abuse. She was shocked that it happened in “good families”.  She is still shocked by stories that she hears in the news about dysfunctional families.  As a teacher, I’ve seen, or heard, a lot of family stories. There is very little that shocks me anymore, but my heart breaks with every sad story I hear.

Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr is the sort of story teachers know. Gem is the sort of kid a teacher encounters and miss because she tries to maintain a facade of normalcy. She doesn’t ask for help, even though she should. He dad has left and her mother

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Publisher’s Summary: Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

This is not a happy book, though it ends with hope. It certainly captures the instability of too many kids’ lives. It also reminds me of a few other books for adults.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Goodreads Summary: At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby’s gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby’s spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

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Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray

Goodreads Summary: Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, when her family finally unraveled, Murray found herself on the streets. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

Eventually, Murray decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. She squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

Revenge, thy name is Hag-seed

7 May

I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Margaret Atwood. But I will admit to not loving everything she has written.

I did, however, love Hag-seed, and have recommended it to several people.

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Publisher’s Summary: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed

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