Saturday, March 24, 2018

I Was Too Busy Reading

I apologize, folks. I did not write a blog about Black authors like I said I would, and I feel terrible about that. Sometimes, I forget about this blog because I am too busy reading, and I feel like reading middle grade and YA books is a requirement for my position as 8th grade English teacher because I need to keep up with amazing authors for my students. It's not a bad gig!

Because I failed in my attempt to celebrate Black authors, this blog will focus on a bunch of authors who are authors of color and write with young people of color as their main characters. It's such a great time to be a reader of middle grade and YA literature! Support your authors of color!



Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I finished this book a few minutes ago, and that's what prompted me to write a new blog post. This book is a must for all to read! Author Samira Ahmed creates a strong story with Maya Aziz as the protagonist. Maya is torn between two worlds: her parents world and what she wants for herself.

Goodreads blurb:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape--perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir 


Okay, I finished this book in about a day once I had time to read it. I am not a fantasy fan, but . . . OMG! This book is amazing!! Romance (in all different directions), action, corruption, morality, magic - this book has it all! I am waiting anxiously for the second book, A Torch Against the Night, to be delivered to our local indie book store - Buffalo Books and Coffee. (FYI - Support your local book stores!) One of my 8th grade students and I are fighting over who gets to read the second book first since she is waiting for me to pick up the book when it comes in. (I might be selfish with this one and read it before her.)

Goodreads blurb:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
 
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.



American Panda by Gloria Chao

I was laughing out loud on the first page, so that was a good sign! Author Gloria Chao weaves parts of her life story and other's stories into one fictional story about Mei, who like Maya from Love Hate & Other Filters, has to determine if she wants to lead the life she wants or the life her parents want for her. 

Goodreads blurb:

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?


Watched by Marina Budhos 


I didn't rate this book as high as the other three books in this post, but it is a decent book. It simplified things a bit too much for me, but I think that simplification would actually work for the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders who read it. It's a deep topic, so the simplification might help kids understand better. 

Goodreads blurb:

Marina Budhos’s extraordinary and timely novel examines what it’s like to grow up under surveillance, something many Americans experience and most Muslim Americans know
 
Naeem is far from the “model teen.” Moving fast in his immigrant neighborhood in Queens is the only way he can outrun the eyes of his hardworking Bangladeshi parents and their gossipy neighbors. Even worse, they’re not the only ones watching. Cameras on poles. Mosques infiltrated. Everyone knows: Be careful what you say and who you say it to. Anyone might be a watcher.
 
Naeem thinks he can charm his way through anything, until his mistakes catch up with him and the cops offer a dark deal. Naeem sees a way to be a hero—a protector—like the guys in his brother’s comic books. Yet what is a hero? What is a traitor? And where does Naeem belong? 
 
Acclaimed author Marina Budhos delivers a riveting story that’s as vivid and involving as today’s headlines.


On a side note . . . I read a few other books along with these since my last post, but they were just okay and I didn't find much value to them as an adult reader reading with kids in mind. Not gonna share those. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Put the Damn Guns Down #2

Another school shooting. More lives lost. I've been torn between utter despair, absolute anger, and complete sadness. For some reason, our country can't figure out how to stop this unfettered disease. Why? Why? Why?

I'm getting political here . . . if getting political means saying no to guns and yes to saving lives. We are the only country to have mass shooting after mass shooting. Please don't tell me, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." In other countries, especially the countries that have more restrictive rules on guns, this doesn't happen. The facts don't lie. I don't know how we can put guns ahead of human lives. I just don't.

Even though school shootings garner the most news and social media attention, and understandably so, there have been 1, 946 total deaths by guns in the United States as of today for this year so far. There have been 379 teens killed by guns. There have been 71 children, ages 0-11, killed by guns. We are 49 days into the year. This is not right. We have an epidemic on our hands, and we continue to allow it. (Statistics from Gun Violence Archive. Please visit the site.)

In an effort to get folks thinking about guns and the deadly harm they inflict, I am recommending some books that focus on gun violence. Some of these books I have read and some my students have read. I recommend that teens and adults read these books. We owe it to the younger generation.

Please feel free to leave a comment or suggest a book. Thank you.

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp 



Goodreads Blurb: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds 

Goodreads Blurb: 

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
 

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick 

Goodreads Blurb: Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting look at a day in the life of a disturbed teenage boy, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.
 


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult 


Goodreads Blurb: In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five....In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge. 

Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens -- until the day its complacency is shattered by a shocking act of violence. In the aftermath, the town's residents must not only seek justice in order to begin healing but also come to terms with the role they played in the tragedy. For them, the lines between truth and fiction, right and wrong, insider and outsider have been obscured forever. Josie Cormier, the teenage daughter of the judge sitting on the case, could be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened in front of her own eyes. And as the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show, destroying the closest of friendships and families. 

Nineteen Minutes is New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult's most raw, honest, and important novel yet. Told with the straightforward style for which she has become known, it asks simple questions that have no easy answers: Can your own child become a mystery to you? What does it mean to be different in our society? Is it ever okay for a victim to strike back? And who -- if anyone -- has the right to judge someone else?

Shooter by Walter Dean Myers 

Goodreads Blurb: The groundbreaking and widely praised novel about a school shooting, from the acclaimed author of Monster. Multiple narratives, a personal journal, and newspaper and police reports add perspective and pull readers into the story.

"Questions of guilt and innocence drive the plot and stay with the reader," said Hazel Rochman in a starred Booklist review. "Highly readable."

"A haunting story that uncovers the pain of several high school students," according to Teenreads.com. "It explores the tragedies of school violence and how the result of bullying can go to the most dramatic extreme. Myers has a gift for expressing the voices of his characters. Shooter is not a light read, but it will leave you reeling."

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon 

Goodreads Blurb: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer 

Goodreads Blurb: When Teddy Anderson's little sister Tina is gunned down randomly in a drive-by shooting, the gangstas who rule the streets in the Anderson family's rapidly deteriorating neighborhood dismiss the incident as just another case of RP, RT-wrong place, wrong time. According to gangsta logic, Tina doesn't even count as a statistic.

Teddy's family is devastated. Mrs. Anderson sinks into deep depression while Pops struggles to run both the household and his declining laundry business. The Andersons are shocked still further when Teddy is arrested and thrown in prison for attempted homicide after his elaborately laid plans for revenge against his sister's killer are foiled by the cops.

Teddy soon finds himself out of prison on house arrest, and in the capable hands of Officer Mariana Diaz, the smart, tough probation officer assigned to oversee his endless hours of community service. As part of the innovative rehabilitation program Diaz runs, Teddy is assigned to tutor Micah, a twelve-year-old orphan and would-be gansta.

As Teddy goes through the motions of complying with the terms of his probation, Diaz has no idea that he is using his genius-level computer hacker skills to plot his final vengeance and to defraud the state education system of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But even though Teddy thinks he knows it all, he fails to see how Micah's desperate need for love and trust just might have the power not only to pierce all Teddy's defenses, but to save his family.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Thank Goodness for School Libraries!

I've been reading social media posts lately about schools that don't have libraries. WHAT?? No libraries at some schools? Have we lost our minds as a society? My heart breaks when I hear this. Why aren't parents, teachers, kids, community members, community leaders shouting from the rooftops about the importance of school libraries and the importance of school librarians? School libraries should be the community center of a school.  Take a look at the importance of school libraries from the American Library Association: Strong School Libraries Build Strong Students.

With that being said, I've been checking out books from our library at North View Middle School. Our Media Center Specialist does an amazing job at keeping our school library up-to-date and relevant for our sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. Our students and staff are incredibly lucky to have so many amazing middle grade and YA books to choose from.

Here are some of the books I've read over the past month, and many of them are in our school library. Enjoy! Happy I Love to Read Month!

(Next blog will focus on Black History Month and great reads from black authors!)

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

My review on Goodreads: Young and old should read this book. If trees could talk, they would teach us a lot about ourselves.

Goodreads Blurb: 

Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood "wishtree"—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this "wishtree" watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.



The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui 


My review on Goodreads: What a beautiful and amazing book! I can't wait to share Thi Bui's memoir with my students!

Goodreads Blurb: 

An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam from debut author Thi Bui.

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

 
At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.

In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.




More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

My review on Goodreads: This book tore my heart apart and kind of put it back - just kind of.

Goodreads Blurb: 

Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut confronts race, class, and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx. 

Sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto is struggling to find happiness after a family tragedy leaves him reeling. He's slowly remembering what happiness might feel like this summer with the support of his girlfriend Genevieve, but it's his new best friend, Thomas, who really gets Aaron to open up about his past and confront his future.

As Thomas and Aaron get closer, Aaron discovers things about himself that threaten to shatter his newfound contentment. A revolutionary memory-alteration procedure, courtesy of the Leteo Institute, might be the way to straighten himself out. But what if it means forgetting who he truly is?
 


Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman 

My review on Goodreads: Loved. This. Book. Don’t want it to be over.

Goodreads Blurb: 

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.
 


North of Happy by Adi Alsaid

My review on Goodreads: Don’t know how this book has a rating of under 4 on Goodreads. I was skeptical at first. How good could a book about cooking be? Well, it could be amazing!! I am a sucker for realistic fiction and realistic fiction by all of these terrific new authors, so I’m not surprised I loved this book. There are so many fabulous authors out there - diverse authors - who give readers a chance to experience a different world. Adi Alsaid’s books. Read them. At least this one. I’ve only read this one, but I will be reading more of his books.

Goodreads Blurb: 

His whole life has been mapped out for him…

Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the
US, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family, where he attends an elite international school. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.


When his older brother, Felix—who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel—is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health, but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the United States and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter—a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.


Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas 

My review on Goodreads: Ollie is a born storyteller, and Mo is a super hero in disguise. Two boys who can never meet captured my heart from the first page. This book will not disappoint although it will break your heart at times - humans can be so cruel.

Goodreads: 

Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.

A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.

La Línea by Ann Jaramillo 

My review on Goodreads: Quick read but a read that is worthwhile. I hope people will take the time to read this book, especially those who believe “illegal” immigrants are the terrible people Trump and the GOP make them out to be. When it comes down to it, people are people, and we need to take care of one another no matter our country of origin since countries are arbitrary lines made by humans.

Goodreads Blurb: 

Miguel's life is just beginning. Or so he thinks. Fifteen-year-old Miguel leaves his rancho deep in Mexico to migrate to California across la linea, the border, in a debut novel of life-changing, cliff-hanging moments.

But Miguel's carefully laid plans change suddenly when his younger sister Elena stows away and follows him. Together, Miguel and Elena endure hardships and danger on their journey of desperation and desire, loyalty and betrayal. An epilogue, set ten years after the events of the story, shows that you can't always count on dreams--even the ones that come true.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fabulous Reads, Quick Blog

Hi all! Being that it is Winter Break, I've been reading quite a bit, so I'm not going to spend much time writing here. I'm going to share the books that I've read recently and let you decide what interests you.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Didn't think I was going to like this book because Margot was a brat at the beginning of the book, but she ended up figuring life out - as best she could at this point in her life. It ended up being a great read!

From Goodreads: Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father's credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot 
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. 

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.


Far from the Tree by Robin Benway 

I was hooked from the very beginning. Family and growing up and secrets. Everything necessary for a good novel. Plus it's young adult! What more could I ask for?

From Goodreads: A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.
 


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

This book had me laughing, crying, questioning, and feeling frustrated! Every emotion came through for me in this book. 

From Goodreads: 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.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. 

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?


You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins 

Three generations of Bengali women. Loved this book!

From Goodreads: Nominated for the National Book Award | PW, NYPL, Horn Book, JLG, and SLJ Best Book of the Year Lists | Six starred reviews: ★ Horn Book ★ School Library Journal ★ Publishers Weekly ★ Booklist ★ Shelf Awareness ★ VOYA 

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture--for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity--award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline


I think this may be one of my favorites this year! Here's what I wrote on my Goodreads review: Everything - writing, characters, plot - was absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time. I am not typically a fan of dystopian novels, but this novel captured my heart and soul. A beautiful book set in the future reminds us of how we need to take care of our earth and one another and how one group of people has been decimated over hundreds and hundreds of years - not just the time in the book. So many lessons in this book! I also stopped reading at times to reread passages from the book - the writing captivated me.

From Goodreads: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories." 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Put the Damn Guns Down

I need to write now, while the novel Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is still fresh in my mind although I have a strong suspicion this is a novel I won't soon forget. You see, I teach many young African-American men - 8th graders to be exact, and I know that many of them live the reality author Jason Reynolds portrays in his realistic, novel-in-verse.

Will, 15 years old, lives with his mom and older brother Shawn in a neighborhood that most would consider violent. Will and Shawn's dad was lost to gun violence. Their uncle was lost to gun violence. Shawn's "big brother," mentor, and role model was lost to gun violence. Will's friend in elementary school was lost to gun violence. It's a never-ending spiral of people lost to gun violence in this book.

Right from the start, Will witnesses another murder - his brother Shawn. There are three rules that have been passed down to men in the family from generation to generation.

  1. Don't cry.
  2. Don't snitch.
  3. Get revenge.
Will doesn't cry. He doesn't snitch. He decides to get revenge and so hops on the elevator from his apartment down to the lobby level, and it's a "long way down." In this short elevator ride, Will meets the people from his past who were gunned down. Each murder victim has his own story to tell, and it's up to Will to decide what he's going to do with his brother Shawn's killer.

Jason Reynolds does not preach to the reader that "killing is wrong." Instead, he takes a more subtle approach to get the reader thinking about guns, life, and revenge. The people from Will's past are honest and real and purposeful in what they share with Will - as long as Will ends up understanding their message. 

Being a white female, I have heard many times from my white "friends" about how black men are killing black men and "it's their own fault," "good riddance," and "another bad black guy gone." The problem with that thinking is that there is so much more to those situations, and it's never a clear-cut issue. Yes, guns and murder are insanely wrong, but how do we as a society stop this senseless violence? It's up to all of us, and one way to do this is to share this book, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 

Trust me. You will think about this book for days and weeks and maybe even months to come. You will want to share this book. You will want to talk about this book. Maybe it will even get you or someone you know to be a catalyst for changing this daily American tragedy . . . 

Amazon blurb: 

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Knowledge Is Power

"The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading."
~ David Bailey, English photographer

I don't know about you, but our country's politics make me feel anxious and sad every day - not for me but my students. My students are the most amazing 8th graders, and they rise up to my high expectations day in and day out. Yet . . . many of my students have obstacles that they are trying to overcome: poverty, homelessness, racial inequities, religious discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, immigration issues, parental incarceration . . . The list could go on and on, and still my students come to school because they know that "knowledge is power." 

Some days, I wonder if I truly am helping my students. There is so much hate in our country right now. Too many Americans look down on my students because of their race, social economic status, religion, and so on. Is the fact that I show up to school every day going to make a difference in my students' lives? I have hope that I do make a difference. 

My main focus is helping the kids to understand that reading and writing gives them power - power to beat the system and power to be who they want to be. My students are reading books with characters like them (mirrors) and reading books about characters not like them (windows). With all of this reading, my students are able to see our country and the world from multiple perspectives, which gives them power - power to help make the world a better place. 

Because I have such a diverse group of students, I read quite diverse books. I love middle grade and young adult novels because I feel more connected to my students that way and I can help my students find books that speak to them. 

I have to give a quick shout-out to our amazing Media Center Specialist, Anna Teeple, because she has a way with helping our most "still developing" readers find books they love! It's a team effort at our school, and I appreciate all of her support with our students. Thanks, Anna!

Now, on to the books I have read recently that I hope you will enjoy as well . . . 

Posted by John David Anderson 


This is a must-read for all middle school students, parents of middle school students, teachers, administrators, counselors, you name it. It delves into the topic of how words really do hurt and how we treat others. I plan on using this for a read-aloud in my Advisory class soon. This book will definitely make for good classroom conversations. 

Goodreads blurb: 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.
 


Akata Warrior (Akata Witch series, book #2) by Nnedi Okorafor 

If you are into fantasy books, this is the series for you. I enjoyed the first book Akata Witch and enjoyed the second book in the series as well. It's great to have books to share with my students that take place in other countries, and this book takes place in Nigeria, from which I have several students. It's a fun, fast-paced, and intense book that gives the reader a different view of the world.

Goodreads blurb: A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book. 

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Much-honored Nnedi Okorafor, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, merges today’s Nigeria with a unique world she creates. Akata Warrior blends mythology, fantasy, history and magic into a compelling tale that will keep readers spellbound.


Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

I didn't start out loving this book. I didn't like the main character because I felt she was the stereotypical, upper-middle class white girl with typical problems. She seemed standoffish to me and a little self-centered, but . . . about forty to fifty pages in I had to check myself. I was being critical of a character because of my preconceived notions - exactly what I tell my own children and my students not to do because people are dealing with issues that are usually hidden. The main character, Bailey, is dealing with problems, and I shouldn't have judged. Well, I loved this book! It reminded me that books give us knowledge and help us to be more empathetic, which is what I obviously needed. 

Goodreads blurb: The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is a whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green 

Author John Green has the ability to take the lives and emotions of teenagers and turn them into books that everyone loves. Now, I know John Green is famous for his novel The Fault in Our Stars, but that wasn't my favorite books of his. I love his many other books that feature quirky teenage characters from all walks of life. Turtles All the Way Down doesn't disappoint. Aza, Daisy, and Davis are truly likable characters, each dealing with their individual problems. 

Goodreads blurb: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.




I Was Too Busy Reading

I apologize, folks. I did not write a blog about Black authors like I said I would, and I feel terrible about that. Sometimes, I forget abou...