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.




Reading Quiets the Mind; Reading Opens the Mind

We are slowly coming out the other side of this awful pandemic after 14 months of being cooped up in our homes, wearing masks when we are ou...