Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring Into a Good Book!

After this arduous Minnesota winter, signs of spring abound: birds are singing, snow is melting, the temperature tops 40 degrees, and kids are out riding their bikes while dodging the snow and the puddles. This time of year always makes me hopeful. My students have grown tremendously - academically, socially, and emotionally - and will transition to the high school next year. I am proud to have been a part of their journey, especially their reading journey. Many of my students ask me for book recommendations, which I love, yet many others now have books in mind for what they want to read next. Several of my students will read anything I put in front of them because they trust me. Others need me to coax them a bit. No matter what, I love putting great books into the hands of my students. To make that work, I need to be a reader of middle grade and young adult books myself, so here are the latest books I have read since the beginning of February.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Although this is an adult book, I have a few eighth grade students who can handle the tough topics in this book. The kids who have read it have thoughtfully read it.

Blurb: In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist series, Book # 1) by Renee Ahdieh


A fun read!

Blurb: The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place--she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort--a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she's within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love--a love that will force her to question everything she's ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Lu (Track series, Book #4) by Jason Reynolds  

Although the first two books in this series are my favorite, the last book, Lu, is a winner, too!

Blurb: Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.

Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means. 

Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas 

Okay, I loved Ms. Thomas's first book, The Hate U Give, but I love her sophomore book even more! 

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
 

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

This is the second book of Mr. Gansworth's that I've read, and it is similar to the first in that it took me a while to get used to his writing style and it took me almost 100 pages to start connecting with the characters. It's worth it. Keep going. 

Blurb: Lewis "Shoe" Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he's not used to is white people being nice to him -- people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family's poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan's side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis's home -- will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock 'n' roll.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham 

Historical fiction has become my favorite type of fiction lately. I can't get enough of it. This book will teach you much about the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 - even though it was more of a massacre. 

Blurb: Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

Again, another historical fiction book and while I didn't enjoy this book as much as Dreamland Burning, it was still a solid book about the Spanish Influenza. 

Blurb: A deadly pandemic, a budding romance, and the heartache of loss make for a stunning coming-of-age teen debut about the struggle to survive during the 1918 flu.

For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country--that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode--and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?

Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?


An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.
 

Tight by Torrey Maldonado 

Fantastic read for middle school kids! You won't be disappointed in this one!

Blurb: Tight: Lately, Bryan's been feeling it in all kinds of ways . . .

Bryan knows what's tight for him--reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But drama is every day where he's from, and that gets him tight, wound up.

And now Bryan's friend Mike pressures him with ideas of fun that are crazy risky. At first, it's a rush following Mike, hopping turnstiles, subway surfing, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But Bryan never really feels right acting so wrong, and drama really isn't him. So which way will he go, especially when his dad tells him it's better to be hard and feared than liked?

But if there's one thing Bryan's gotten from his comic heroes, it's that he has power--to stand up for what he feels . . .

Torrey Maldonado delivers a fast-paced, insightful, dynamic story capturing urban community life. Readers will connect with Bryan's journey as he navigates a tough world with a heartfelt desire for a different life.
 

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

I enjoyed this book and think that the growing up Twinkle has to do will connect with teenagers.

Blurb: 
“Utterly charming.” —NPR
“Cinematic.” —Teen Vogue
“Funny and sweet.” —Buzzfeed

Three starred reviews for this charming romantic comedy about an aspiring teen filmmaker who finds her voice and falls in love, from the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi.

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Oh, this book captivated me! Everyone should read this book! I wish we knew more about the children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings after the children were adults. 

Blurb: The untold story of Thomas Jefferson's slave children

Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston are Thomas Jefferson's children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and while they do get special treatment - better work, better shoes, even violin lessons - they are still slaves, and are never to mention who their father is. The lighter-skinned children have been promised a chance to escape into white society, but what does this mean for the children who look more like their mother? As each child grows up, their questions about slavery and freedom become tougher, calling into question the real meaning of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Told in three parts from the points of view of three of Jefferson's slaves - Beverly, Madison, and a third boy close to the Hemings family - these engaging and poignant voices shed light on what life was like as one of Jefferson's invisible offspring.
 










Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January in Minnesota . . . Perfect Time to Cuddle Up with a Good Book

Well, here in Minnesota, we are in the midst of THE Polar Vortex. Three days of no school so far, and the fourth no school day will be tomorrow. It's been nice to sit at home and read to my heart's content, but I am missing talking to my eighth graders about what books they're reading and recommending books to them. We've seen a lot of growth since the beginning of the year in terms of kids challenging themselves to read out of their comfort zones, being willing to be hooked into a book, and sharing good books with each other. Talking to kids about books is my favorite thing about being a teacher, so I have to keep up with books to share with them. The list of books below were finished during the month of January; the first book listed is the first book I finished.

On a side note, I appreciate those of you who take the time to read my blog. I truly believe in the power of books to make us better human beings. Reading fiction research continues to show the importance fiction plays in our lives. Here is one of many articles that shares the benefits of reading fiction: The Real-Life Benefits of Reading Fiction. In our polarized, and sometimes hate-filled, country and world, reading can help us better understand each other. That's a must for everyone - all political parties, all races, all religions, all nationalities . . . To be fully human to each other, we need to understand and have empathy for the entire human race. 



The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

My take: While I'm not one for fantasy books (typically), this one was part fantasy and part realistic fiction. It was a quick read, kept me engaged, and was entertaining. 


Blurb: What if you aren’t the Chosen One?


The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions...


What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee 

My take: This short novel melted my heart. We can make the world a better for place for everyone in it. 

Blurb: After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.
 


A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

My take: I have finished the book, and all I can think is, “Why?” and “How can I help?” 

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes should be a required read for every American. Every human. There are hundreds of instances in the book where the author, Atia Abawi, captures the essence of humans and what it means to be human - both the good and bad. One day, I hope we see only the good in humans. This book will stay in my heart and my mind. 

Read this book. Share this book. Pass on Tareq’s and Susan’s story to everyone because there are real Tareqs and Susans our there in our shared world. They deserve our understanding and help. 

If you can, please donate to the IRC: https://www.rescue.org/.

Blurb: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he's threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq's family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family's story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.
 

Words We Don't Say by K.J. Reilly  

My take: Teenagers will find this book relatable. Lots of good life lessons to learn from this book. 

Blurb: Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.

Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn't been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn't mean he's keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.

So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.

As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn't see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesn't know how he feels about her, his best friend Andy's gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve there-including a veteran they call Rooster-and begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.
 

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

My take: So much to learn from Marcelo, a young man, trying to be himself, learn about the world, and do what's right.

Blurb: Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear--part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify--and he's always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom in order to experience "the real world." There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.

He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face -- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

Reminiscent of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

My take: What's not to like? Fabulous read that makes me want to do more to help our country and my fellow citizens!

Blurb: An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
 


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING? Leave a comment. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Favorites of 2018

With all of the "Best of" lists coming out and the end of 2018, I thought I'd create my own list of favorites from 2018. This will be a challenge for me. While I don't read as much as some of the teacher-bloggers I follow, I have read 79 books to date. (I plan on reading one more before the year is up - 36 hours to make that happen.) 

Here are my favorite books - in no particular order. (I'm doing 18 books because my 15 year old daughter said, "The Top 18 in 2018.")

Which books are your favorite from 2018? Share in the comments section. 

Remember these are not in any particular order. 

1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds  


(My students always want to talk about the ending of this book. But, what happened, Mrs. Sirovy? Me: Let's talk about what you think happened.)

1 hour, 43 minutes

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

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.


2. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

(This book still comes to mind even though I read it at the beginning of the year. It was the second book I read in 2018. It's a haunting futuristic story that you can't help but read and think of how Native people on the continent have been mistreated and almost forced out of existence.)

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."

3. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui 


(Every time I recommend this book to one of my 8th grade students, they can't put it down.) 

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.
 


4. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

(Finished this book over winter break, and I cannot wait to recommend this book to students. Charlie breaks over and over in this book, but there is hope at the end. Plus, I like the beginning of the book with it's setting in Minneapolis and locations I know.)

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
 


5. Front Desk by Kelly Yang 


(One of my favorite middle grade books ever!)

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?


6. Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

(This book drove me nuts - in a good way. Family, baseball, religion, and conviction. You won't forget this book.)

Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.
 


7. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes 


(When you get your most reluctant reader to read this book in only a few days and she asks for more books like it . . .)

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.


8. An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir

(Ok, so this one is actually three books, but the entire series, so far, is amazing and I couldn't choose only one of the books. I am not a huge fantasy genre fan, but . . . yeah, read these books. I need  the fourth book to come out now already.)

Book 1 - 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.

9. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi 

(Again, I loved this fantasy book! Who knew? It is a monster of a book, love hefty books, that I couldn't stop reading. Anxiously awaiting the second book in the series.) 

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

10. Loser's Bracket by Chris Crutcher

(Chris Crutcher has been one of my favorite young adult authors for many years now. He works with kids. He gets kids. He has a heart. Plus, I love Annie, the main character, in this book. She's smart, sassy, and kind. She, too, has a good heart.)

When it comes to family, Annie is in the losers bracket. Don’t get her wrong, her foster parents are great, even if Pop is a little too concerned about Annie getting an athletic scholarship. But Nancy, her birth mom, and her sister, Sheila, are . . . less than ideal. And no matter how hard Annie tries to stay away from them, she always gets sucked back in to their lives and their messes. She tells herself she’s doing it for Sheila’s son, Frankie, but she knows her issues with her birth family are more deeply rooted. Then a family argument at one of Annie’s swim meets escalates and Frankie goes missing. Annie can’t help but think that Frankie’s disappearance is her fault. With help from her friends Leah, Walter, and Tim, and her social service worker, Annie searches desperately for her missing nephew, determined to find him and finally get him in a safe home. Annie’s story is quintessential Crutcher, by turns gripping, heartbreaking, hopeful, and unflinchingly honest, and will appeal to readers of Matt de la Peña and Andrew Smith. 

11. Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson 

(I have read many Jacqueline Woodson books, but this book stands out for me because of it's honesty, heart, and hope. You will feel so much and love each of the characters in this book.)

Jacqueline Woodson's first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them—everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

12. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley 

(This book will have you from the start, and you won't be able to put it down.)

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

13. North of Happy by Adi Alsaid 

(A book about a teenager from Mexico that isn't an immigrant story? A book about a Mexican teenage boy that is about a Mexican teenage boy trying to do the best he can and figure out his life like other kids around the world? Yes! Please don't misunderstand what I am trying to say. I know immigrant stories are super important, but it's also important for our students to see that kids from different parts of the world do and feel normal, every day things.)

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.
 

14. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

(How can anyone not love the protagonist in this book - Mercy Wong? She's got spunk, drive, and a heart. Can you tell that I like these types of characters?)

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

15. Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert 

(Once again, Ms. Gilbert packs a lifetime of lessons into one book, and the title, just like her book Conviction, has so many meanings.)

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.

Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.
 

16. Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

(This book was funny, heartwarming, and touching. You will fall in love with Darius, he's a great kid! Plus, how many books are out there about a kid like Darius?)

Darius doesn't think he'll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming--especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush--the original Persian version of his name--and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

17. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

(I was hooked on the very first page. No lie. One of my students was also hooked on the very first page. She said, "This book is goooooood!" You, too, will love it! Promise.)

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
 

18. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

(I read this book following A Very Large Expanse of Sea, so I was worried I would be disappointed because I loved that book so much. I shouldn't have worried. Everyone should read this book. Quick chapters, which many of my developing readers prefer, and good lessons to learn while reading the book. Life as a Native, American teenager. Loved. I will be reading more of this author's books.)

New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

Stay tuned for the books I'm looking forward to reading in 2019. So many GREAT books. Too little time. 

Spring Into a Good Book!

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