Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten of 2016

So 2016 wasn't the greatest year in general, but book-wise it was pretty good!  I started out reading excellent book after excellent book.  The first 7 on this list are from the first half of the year.  My second half wasn't so hot.  Now it wasn't that I read a bunch of duds, I just didn't find as many that I LOVED.  In fact, finding a tenth book was somewhat difficult.  

So, in no particular order (except for the order in which I entered them into Goodreads):

LOVED this book about a ballerina whose world is going out of her control.  She signs up for an internship in Antartica before her family can do anything to stop it and she's stuck up there, trying to pretend she knows what she's doing and that she isn't really running from life.
Heartbreaking and beautiful.  Suzy tries to come to terms with her best friend's death from a jellyfish sting.  At the same time, she's trying to understand how their friendship slowly diminished.
AHHH!  I could not get over this book.  And it seemed like I waited forever to get through a few months before the sequel came out!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jane Austen.  Loved it. The sequel comes out early 2017.  Already pre ordered!
Didn't expect to love this book so much.  It's about friendship and finding out who you are when it's just you.
Ahhhh!  The sequel was amazing and now I'm desperate for the next one.  Terrifying.  Really it is.  Should I read the first two over again beforehand?  May have to make that happen.

Middle School Friendship.  Positive friendship.  Making good choices.  Standing up to and for your friends when needed.  I loved this book and its positive messages.
A sequel with lots of adventure and a strong female character.  Serafina has to solve another mystery, save herself and her friends, and figure out where she belongs in the world.
Yes!  I was temped to put An Ember in the Ashes on this list too since I re-read it before this one came in, but I decided that wasn't fair.  I loved this sequel, but once again, I need the conclusion.  I need to know what happens next.  Please tell me soon Sabaa Tahir!

This may be a cheat on multiple levels.  First, it's really three books.  Second, it was a re-read.  However enough time passed that I felt satisfied including it in here. :)  

Have you read any of these?  What are your favorites?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Under the Never Sky Trilogy Re-read

I had put this trilogy on my list of books to read again about a year ago and never got to it. Until I was looking around on Overdrive and realized that I could get all three through my library! AND all three were available right at that moment. Whoo hoo!

Now, I must warn you that there are spoilers here. We're talking about a trilogy, so it's kind of difficult not to spoil things.

Under the Never Sky, Through the Ever Night, and Into the Still Blue
Veronica Rossi
Harper Collins,  2012, 2013, 2014
Genre: Sci Fi, Dystopian, YA
Rating: 5 out of 5

 In Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi introduces us to the world Aria lives in: sheltered in a pod from the outside world that is slowly being destroyed by strong cosmic level storms.  Aria has spent most of her life attached to a smart eye, allowing her to go and do anything--virtually.  But not long after we meet Aria, who is smart and level headed, finds herself thrust into the outside world, no longer connected to her virtual life.  Living the real is hard.  And then she meets Perry, an outsider who terrifies her and she's certain would kill her, except that he needs her.

Perry has left his tribe, running away from his older brother's wrath and the shame of being the reason his young nephew was taken by some of Aria's people.  When he runs into Aria, he realizes that she can help him get Talon back and he will make sure she does.

Both Perry and Aria are trapped between worlds.  They don't truly have a place to belong.  Aria seems very needy and keeps getting herself into scrapes that Perry saves her from.  However, this is understandable as she learns what life is like out in the real world.  Women in the real aren't weak.  In fact, they're expected to defend themselves and their tribes--although men still are the leaders of the tribe and the women are sold off in marriages.

Aria's abilities and understanding of her world grow as she becomes more accustomed to her surroundings. In Through the Ever Night she has become strong and capable in her new world, no longer needing to be saved every minute or two.  She meets other strong women as well.  She doesn't always get along with them, but they are not weak or weak-minded.

However, some female characters are relying on their sexuality as a tool.  I haven't decided if this is something she chooses or if it's something she just uses because she knows that she lives in a man's world and must use it to get what she wants.  Because as we see more of this world, it's very much a man's world.  In Perry's tribe, it's always Blood Lords who rule.  In Aria's old world, men are in charge of the pods and hold their power over her.  Although Aria is doing what she feels is the right thing to do, she acts for Perry, and not so much for herself.  Maybe she isn't as strong as I thought before.  Maybe she's not as independent as I wanted her to be because I love her character.

Everything builds in Into the Still Blue as Aria and Perry are working together with Aria's people, and fighting against one of the strongest Scires there is.  Sable knows what he wants and he will do anything (I do mean anything) to get what he wants.  He cares not for who it will hurt.  He will make any promise (and then go back on it if it suits him better).  Sable is dangerous and they all know it, but it will take a coming together of two different worlds in order to save all the people Aria and Perry love.

At this point there are so many things happening that it's hard to put down.  It's one event after another and there isn't much time to breathe.  I do see some issues still with Aria not being as independent as I want her to be, but she's coming into her own.  I think that you have to look at Aria's character in light of all three books and not in isolation.  There is some serious character development.  However, I still was getting annoyed because so much of what she does is for Perry.  Granted, it's for her too, but when did what Perry wanted become what she wanted?  And what does Aria want--for herself?  I have faith that she'll find that in the future.  The situation they are in kind of makes it difficult for someone to think about who they are beyond what will keep them alive.

Even on my second read of this trilogy, I loved it.  I read all three within about a week, during the 2nd to last week of school before Winter Break.  So there was a lot to do, but I find time to read this a lot more than I should because it was difficult not to do so.  There was enough of a time lapse between readings that some parts were vague and other parts I didn't even remember until I got there.  So at times it was like I hadn't read it before.  This is a great trilogy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

Belly Up
Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure, Animals, Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Teddy Fitzroy lives in a giant amusement park zoo, FunJungle, with his gorilla researcher mom and wildlife photographer dad.  After spending the early years of his life in the Congo with his parents, Teddy is pretty comfortable around animals and knows a lot more than the average adult, let alone other twelve-year olds.  So when FunJungle's mascot, a cranky old hippopotamus named Henry suddenly dies, Teddy suspects foul play.  With the help of the zoo's owner's daughter, Summer McCraken, he is determined to figure out what is going on--even though none of the adults believe him.

Teddy Fitzroy is a bit of a prankster and gets in trouble A LOT at the park.  He's the only kid there (except for guests) and many of the adults look down at him as an annoying kid.  This could be explained by the pranks he plays on keeper, guards, and guests, but his jokes are just that.  They would never hurt any of the animals or people.  He would never do that.  He truly does care about the animals and most of his pranks are in response to the rude and ridiculous actions perpetrated by the guests as they throw things into animals' enclosure or bang on the glass to entice the animals.  He's really just standing up for them.

Teddy is also very knowledgeable about animals.  After spending most of his life (he's only 12) in the Congo with his parents, he's seen a lot of animals in the wild.  He understands more about them than most adults do, like the keepers and researchers on staff at FunJungle.  So when Henry dies, he just wants to know what's up because he's seen plenty of dead animals before, but never seen an autopsy.  Teddy is curious.  However what he learns, leads him on a chase for Henry the hippo's real killer.

This story is full of adventure and fun.  Kids will laugh at the antics Teddy gets into and root for him as he dodges the not so intelligent adults.  There are a few minor curse words in this, but nothing I would be concerned about for middle school kids, grades 6+.  Teddy have a crush on a girl, but it's all very innocent.

I definitely recommend this book to readers.  Kids who enjoy Carl Hiassen will probably jump into Belly Up.  And, there are at least two more books in this series about Teddy and his adventures at FunJungle.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars

Diana Peterfreund
Balzer + Bray, 2012
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Years ago a genetic experiment gone awry left a good deal of the population with limited mental capacity.  Those who were not affected, stepped up to take cared of the Reduced, and became known as the Luddites.  They are the elite in society, running everything, and living off of nature.  Rules have been set in place that ban scientific exploration, medicines, and anything else that isn't natural.

Generations later, the Reduced's offspring are not all affected in the same way.  They are called Posts and despite being mentally capable, are still forced to work in menial jobs on the plantations where they born.  The North Plantation is no different, except financially things are not going too well and Elliot North does her best to hold things together.

Four years ago Elliot North's best friend, Kai, a servant, ran away from the North plantation, begging Elliot to go with him, but she couldn't.  Despite loving him, she knew she was the only one keeping everything together and keeping the Reduced on her land safe.  If she left, they had nothing.  Now Kai has returned with a group of Post-Reductionists looking to change things.  Kai is so different, with a new name, new clothes, and new friends.  He refuses to acknowledge his past or his relationship to ELliot, but when Elliot learns something about the friends he came with she must make decisions that could change their world forever.

I didn't expect to enjoy this book so much.  It happened to be on sale and I read a few reviews and it sounded okay, but nothing that I would devour--which I did.  This future world, which looks pretty provincial due to banning technology and science and experiments, is complicated with hierarchies that have been in place for decades.  Despite this, it wasn't difficult to follow the background story.

Elliot is a strong female character who has to pretty much hide how intelligent she is so that he father will allow her to continue managing the plantation.  She has to find ways to convince him to agree with her ideas, but make it seem like it's his idea--this is really difficult.  Often her father ends up ruining her plans to make improvements and spends money like there was an abundance of it.  She's desperately trying to keep their servants fed and safe.  Elliot is well liked because she stands up for those she's taking care of (some of whom have limited capacity to understand if they are being mistreated) and does her best.  She's also chosen to not follow her love, but to do what she knew was the right thing.  Even though throughout much of the book, she wallowing over Kai and why he's angry with her and convincing herself she doesn't care.

I enjoyed this book because I wasn't really sure of where it was headed.  It's supposed to be inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, but I can't attest to its similarities because I've never read Persuasion (Sorry Jane Austen fans).  I was interested in finding out what happened and that kept me interested and wanting to know more about the story.  The backstory was interesting to me as well and that piqued my interest as it was interwoven through.  I was interested in a second book, but when I looked, it's a completely different story--from what I can tell.  If I'm wrong, please let me know.

I would read it.  I enjoyed it and couldn't put it down, staying up until 2 on a school night to finish.  And if I'm willingly open to dealing with middle schoolers on less than 4 hours of sleep, you know it was good!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Graphic novel, Paranormal, family, illness, middle grade
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is my first Raina Telgemeier book!  My students have been reading Smile, Sisters, and Drama for a few years and they insisted that I read this one.  In it, Cat's family has just moved to Northern California due to her sister's illness.  Maya has cystic fibrosis, which affects her lungs and makes it difficult to breathe as her lungs slowly degenerate.  Their move is supposed to help Maya breathe easier and have a fuller life.  Cat isn't happy about the move, even though she loves her sister.  Upon arriving, they're introduced to the town's infatuation with Dia' de los Muertos and the celebration they throw to invite the ghosts back.  Cat is terrified, especially when an adventure to find the ghosts in early September leaves Maya in the hospital.  Maya, though, is as infatuated with the ghosts as they seem to be with her, even as Cat tries desperately to keep them all away.

I liked the idea that both Cat and Maya are coming to terms with the fact that Maya will die.  Cystic Fibrosis is a terminal illness and it means that Maya 's lung don't get better, they continue to get worse.  Maya is a little girl and she wants to talk with the ghosts so she can understand what will be coming for her in the future.  Cat wants them to stay away because she knows she can't protect her sister from death, try as she might.  Don't worry--this book ends on a happy note and the only death is the visiting ghosts on Dia' de los Muertos.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Mass
Bloomsbury, 2013
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I just finished reading two of Sarah J. Maas's books.  I have been meaning to give them a try and finally did.  My dad gave me the entire set of Throne of Glass to put in my classroom after he read them. It's been waiting for me to read it and determine its appropriateness--I have determined it is not so appropriate for a 6th grade audience.  Although it's the first in a series, I'm not really interested in reading more about Celaena.  I had an okay time reading the story, but there were lots of lagging moments for me and I only managed to get through it because we were on a long car ride over Thanksgiving.  The mystery wasn't really so mysterious and because I was aware that there are multiple books in the series, it was easy to surmise that she made it through the trials to become the King's Assassin.  So I won't be reading any more of the series and will most likely donate them to our public library.  I really have little interest in finding out about the love triangle that has formed between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol.

A Court of Thorns and Roses 
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury, 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Now, I've been interested in reading A Court of Thorns and Roses because I was really interested in how Sarah J. Maas formed this story as a Beauty and The Beast story.

The story was interesting and I wanted to see how things played out.  The Evil Fairie Queen was an good twist to the story.  However, I wasn't a fan of her relationship with Tamlin because I don't trust it.  Even now, after finishing it, I don't trust it (maybe there will be reason in the next book, but I'm not going there).  Tamlin is controlling and I did not like the scene that took place the night of the The Great Rite.  The violence that made to seem sensual and enticing made me not only distrust Tamlin for the rest of the book, but also question Feyre's feelings for him.  How manipulated has she become.

Then when they go Under the Mountain and she becomes Rhysand's toy, it was nauseating.  I finished it.  But I won't be reading on.  I hate triangles and the next book will become this struggle that Feyre must choose between two men and one is "good" and the other is "bad" and what can she do?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: Star Wars Jedi Academy: A New Class

Star Wars Jedi Academy: A New Class

Jarrett J. Krosoczka


Scholastic, 2016

Genre: Sci Fi, Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Star Wars

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Star Wars Jedi Academy is back with a new group of students. Jarrett J. Krosoczka introduces us to Victor Starspeeder, a padawan who has had some trouble at his current academy and is being transferred to another school where they can handle his...abilities. Luckily (?) his older sister is there to help (?) him out. But not only will Victor need to learn to control the Force, he'll also need to figure out how to handle his new classmates. If he can't hack it, he'll be kicked out of the Jedi Academy. 

Although we're with a new group of students, the story is similar to that of Roan's in the previous three books. Victor is a bit of a mess and makes mistakes pretty constantly when he first arrives on campus. It takes him awhile to figure everything out. He's also infatuated with one of his new classmates and tries endlessly to impress her--without much luck. 

This was a fun read and readers of the original three Jedi Academy books by Jeffery Brown will enjoy it. The story isn't as interesting, though, and I found myself wishing I could hear more about Roan. I missed him. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Review: Crenshaw

Katherine Applegate
Read by Kirby Heyborne
Listening Library, Audible, 2015
Genre: Children's, Realistic, Family
Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this story about a family who has fallen on hard times, we meet Jackson. Jackson knows what it's like to move suddenly from your house and not be sure where you'll live next. He knows what it's like to live in a car, and he doesn't want to go back to that again. But when things start to go wrong for his family, he fears it's about to happen again. That's when Crenshaw reappears. Jackson met Crenshaw last when they were leaving their home the first time to live out of their van. And now he's back. Crenshaw is a cat who talks and prefers purple jelly beans. Jackson is mortified and just wants him to go away. But there are more important things on his mind right now and maybe, just maybe, this imaginary friend can help. 

Jackson is smart. He's incredibly smart and knows a lot about animals especially.  He's also observant and realizes what's going on before his parents realize he knows. Crenshaw is another source of anxiety for him as he worries whether people can see him or not. But the more he talks to Crenshaw, the more things become clear to him. 

This is a heartbreaking story. It's deals with a part of life that many kids struggle with on a regular basis and that adults have a hard time addressing. This story could allow readers to understand themselves, their friends, or their world better. Kids need to know they aren't alone in the world. Crenshaw (both the book itself and the imaginary cat) can help lead kids through a dark time. I hope every kid has his or own imaginary friend who will help them. 

It needs to be said that the audio book is wonderfully performed by Kirby Heyborne. He is particularly good when it comes to the voice of Crenshaw, bringing the cat to life for the reader. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Court of Fives

Court of Fives
Kate Elliott
Little, Brown and Company, 2015
Genre: dystopian
Source: purchased on Kindle
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In Court of Fives the obstacles are intense. Jessamy has always wanted to run The Fives and found the perfect time to sneak out and secretly do it. Just once. Until her father returns home earlier than expand her chances may be ruined. Unless she can do it without anyone finding out. If the truth was revealed that she ran the Fives it could mean her father's job, her mother's semi-acceptance in society, and her sisters' livelihoods at stake. Yet Jessamy can't resist the pull of the Fives.

There is a lot of action and suspense in Court of Fives as Jessamy not only runs complex Ninja Warrior like obstacle courses, but navigates the Patron world in which she only halfway belongs.  Jessamy's father is a Patron, a member of the elite class and a commander in the army. Her mother is Efean born, a Commoner, and not allowed to marry her father. Yet after twenty years he has remained faithful to her, even after four girls were born and no male. Jessamy is caught between the two worlds, not really able to be a part of either.

Her love interest is only somewhat interesting. I mostly felt like Kal was a puppy dog following her around. He's a prince and a bit whiny about it, wanting to run The Fives instead.

There is a lot of world and history building to help explain customs. Maybe some of it becomes more important in the second book, but it seemed pretty heavy. Plus most of the names in the Patron class are complicated and similar. So when they're referred to later on it's hard to remember who that was. Is it important? Maybe, but not to the degree spent on it.

Despite all the building, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the second one soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Letting My Own Child Choose Her Books

As a teacher I'm all about choice in reading and not limiting my students to levels or curriculum or genres.

Teacher Me: You love that one series that is horribly written and just makes no sense? I don't, but go ahead and read it! I'll cringe in my head as you happily pour through your beloved books, and feel happy that you've found something that you love reading. I'll work on a list of other books you might enjoy! 

As the mom, though, I'm finding it much more difficult. Is this because my daughter reading means me reading to her and I can't read that awful book about the goat one more time? Or because I want to read the story about Vasya Kandinsky? 

Mom Me: Thursday is Show and Tell. You get to bring your favorite book! Which book do you want to choose? 
Three year old: *names a random book you've only a few times and she complains about when you suggest it most of the time* 
Mom Me: Well, okay, but I didn't realize that was your favorite. * Secretly grateful she didn't choose any of the "bad" ones*
Three year old: It is my favorite. 
Mom Me: Okay. *desperately thinking of a way to sway her towards a "better" choice 
The following day
Three year old: I'm going to bring (fill in the blank) to school! 
Mom Me: What? Why? 
Three year old: It's my favorite. I love it. 
Mom Me: Are you sure? What about (fill in the blank)? 

And it goes on until I realize that I'm not allowing my daughter choice. And I'm keeping her from expressing her genuine excitement for this book because we have "better" books. 

And hours later I'm still thinking about all the books she loves and how this other one gets the status of favorite. Is it just the mom part, wanting the best for my child? But don't I want the best for my other kids? Or is it that as their teacher I can separate my emotions and understand that it's more important that they love their books than they read something that I have deemed good? Or I just want/need my daughter to be a reader and to be the kind of reader I want her to be? 

We still have all day tomorrow to make her choice. And she's three, so it's likely to change at least two more times. The biggest question is whether or not I'll be able to keep my mouth shut and myself out of her favorite book choice. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

An Argument for Staying Up Late to Read

Sure you're exhausted and you feel zombie-like the next day as you trip over your feet and shove your hair into a ponytail. So maybe you close your eyes for five minutes during your plan time and feel the need to set a timer so you're not awoken by the bell and 25 kids tumbling into your class. There is the possibility you will lose all ability to function by the time 3:00 rolls around and you remember that you have that meeting today after school and a dentist appointment after that.  Your dental hygienist won't mind if you take a quick nap while she cleans your teeth--right?  Because you're going to need that power nap when you arrive home to your beautiful and energetic three year old who wants to play and cuddle and play some more.  And by the time she goes to sleep, you'll cram in a few things that need grading, just in time to start a new book.  But you promise to go to bed on time (or at least close to it) because you're pretty sure you'll end up falling asleep anyway.

But here's the good part: You stayed up late to finish your book and no one interrupted you.  You were able to pace back and forth when you needed to do so and you could snack on those twizzlers you had stashed away for stress eating situations.

You found yourself short of breath several times and anxious for the characters you're now considering your friends.  And finally you found out what happened, how your friends survived (hopefully), and if they'll be okay.  Even though you crawled into bed at 3:00am in an attempt to catch 2 hours of sleep, you crawled into bed happy and content.  Your heart felt warm and glowing, like the words you read seeped from the pages of the book and into your veins.  Coursing through your, they filled you with nutrients you never knew you needed and when they finally reached your heart, it filled with warmth.

So enjoy your late night reading, but maybe don't do it every night.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea

The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea
Raina Telgemeier, Ann M. Martin
Genre: graphic novel, middle grade, friendship
Source: Borrowed from School Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Yes, ladies and gentleman who grew up in the 80's-90's, the Baby-Sitters are back and they are in graphic novel form.  One of my students came up to me at the start of the school year to ask if it was okay if she read this book and held up the graphic novel.  At first I didn't quite register what book she was holding up, but asked her why she thought she couldn't read it.  "It's all pictures," she told me and flipped through the pages.  I nodded and told her that they're called graphic novels.  She asked again if she could read it and I asked her if she enjoyed it.  When she finally realized that I would not be telling her that it didn't count and she had to find a "real" book she scampered away as if she was getting away with something. Little did she know that I was thrilled to see her reading this!

At some point during this discussion, I focused in on the title and on the inside was thinking, "I need to read this!"  Now, I'm not a huge graphic novel person.  I don't have anything against them, they're just not what I gravitate towards.  I do, however, gravitate towards Ann M. Martin and The Baby-Sitters Club so as soon as our school library's copy was returned, I snatched it up and sped through it, allowing all my students to see me reading a graphic novel in the process.

It was awesome!  Raina Telgemeier did a fantastic job depicting the story and translating it into graphic form.  It made me feel nostalgic for my old copies of The Baby-Sitters Club, which may be in my parents' basement still, or may not.  I have a modge podge of the novels in my classroom and ever since I read this book and pointed out that they're also in novel form, they've been flying off the shelves as well as the graphic novles.  I may need to invest in more...

So go check it out!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

For Darkness Shows the Stars

I just started For Darkness Shows the Stars, so I'm not sure yet what I think. 

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.
But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret—one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.
Inspired by Jane Austen's persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.
I'm not sure what drew me to it initially, but so far it's pretty good. If you read this post, you'll see how I normally respond to romances.  But I still chose this book.  So far, I'm glad I did.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Currently Reading

I'm going to finish this book soon. It's a tough read, but important. I'll write more later. But you should check it out


IRC 2016

This year I have been privileged not only to attend the Illinois Reading Council Conference, but I was the recipient of the Barack Obama Classroom Library Award. Being surrounded by people who love books and teaching and kids (not necessarily in that order) has been inspiring for me. 

I haven't been posting in awhile because I have felt overwhelmed at school and simply trying to continue to afloat.  Being here has reminded me of why I teach. It has given me new goals and ways to reach them. I have met new people in different parts of the state to collaborate with and contact and work with. 

I'm hoping to keep up the positivity and get some important things done in the next few weeks that will help me keep up the enthusiasm. 

So if you're a teacher of reading or literature or English and work in Illinois, you absolutely need to join the IRC. Check it out here. Then make sure you attend the conference next year. Even if it's for only one day. Just do it. 

I'm hopeful that all the inspiration I've gained this conference will carry me through the year. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Seventh Wish

The Seventh Wish
Kate Messner
Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2016
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Family, Drug Abuse
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

All Charlie wants is a new Irish dance dress for her upcoming competition--and a little more attention from her parents.  This year is a little rough because her sister Abby just started college and Charlie is used to having her there.  With her next door neighbor and his grandma, she starts ice fishing in hopes of selling the fish to earn money for her dress.  When she catches her first fish it's small and calls out to her to release it in exchange for a wish.  Charlie wishes, not expecting anything to happen, but when her wish does come true it's not exactly the wish she had wanted.  Willing to try again, Charlie starts making wishes to help her friends, but they aren't exactly working.  Then her sister comes home from college and things are suddenly pulled out from under Charlie when she finds out that Abby is battling a drug addiction.  Can her wishes help cure her sister and make everything the way it used to be? 

I loved this book.  Charlie is your typical middle school student.  She is focused on school and dance and wants more of her parents' attention.  When her dance competition is pushed aside for her parents' work and personal commitments, she accepts it, but she's not happy about it.  She wants to be with her friends and do a good job on her science project.  When Charlie and her parents discover that Abby is addicted to heroin, life gets harder.  Now instead of spending Sundays working on her science project and going to dance class, Charlie is at Abby's rehab for visitors' day.  Instead of worrying about dance and homework, she's worrying about if her sister will get better.

This book is a great look at what it's like to have a family struggling with an addiction.  It's not just Abby struggling; her entire family is having a hard time as well.  Charlie is embarrassed to tell her friends what's going on and she's having problems getting her homework done on the weekends.  Another dance competition is coming up and she desperately wants to go, but she won't be able to if Abby is still in rehab.  Her parents are trying to get insurance to pay for the program that Abby is in and everyone is trying to understand how this happened.

Kate Messner has taken a very serious and difficult topic and woven it into Charlie's life.  Ultimately this book isn't about drug addiction, but about a girl who really wants a new dress for dance so she can move up to the next level.  It's about Charlie, who is trying to wish all the bad stuff away for her friends and herself and realizing that it doesn't really work that way.

Abby's addiction is presented in a way that is appropriate for middle grade readers and it's very likely that kids will relate to what Charlie experiences as they see family members who struggle with different addictions.  I think it's extremely important that kids see themselves in what they read, and these are, unfortunately, experiences that some kids have.  They need those reflections in literature.  It's definitely a book I'll be sharing with my 6th graders this year as I use it for a Read Aloud in the fall.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena

Rick Riordan
Disney-Hyperion, 2012
Source: Purchased
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology, Middle Grade
Rating: 4 out of 5

In the third book of the Heroes of Olympus, the seven heroes finally unite in order to stop Gaea from rising, but not without some hitches.  For one, Leo has kind of started a war between the Romans and the Greeks and not only do they need to accomplish their mission, they need to make sure they don't die so they can go back and save Camp Halfblood and stop and the war.  Piper knows that things will go badly, she's seen it, but she doesn't really know how that's supposed to help them avoid it.  And Annabeth has her own special mission that means she'll have to leave her friends in order to finish it--if she can't it's all for nothing.  But can a group of Romans and Greeks really keep it together long enough to stop Gaea and find the doors of death?

I love love love love love love love love love love love love love Rick Riordan.  I may be going a bit overboard with that, but I really do.  He is such a terrific storyteller!  I know I've said this before, multiple time, but I just can't get over how well he does this.

In this book, we're finally back with Annabeth who is struggling because she's happy to be leader and have Percy back at her side, but she knows she'll have to leave them soon.  If they can even reach their destination.  I felt there was more "romantic" stuff in this book between Annabeth and Percy.  Now, by more, I don't mean that it suddenly turns into a romance.  The focus is still on the mission and the adventures that ensue because of that is what drives the story, but it's still there--more so than in previous Percy Jackson books.

Piper is my least favorite character.  She didn't seem as strong as she did in the first book.  I was ready to skim through her parts a lot more, but kept myself from doing so.

Leo is still my favorite!  He's always making mistakes, which I appreciate.  He is far from perfect and he kind of embraces that when it's possible.  Leo is also the odd man out, which makes me feel sad for him, but he starts coming into his own in this book a little more.  He's in control of their ship and saves the day a few times.

So in conclusion, I love this series.  One day I will finish it.  There is so much that happens in each book that they're pretty long and so it takes me awhile to get through one of them.  I'll try get the fourth book read before the end of the year.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Audiobook Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Katie Coyle
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Dreamscape Media LLC, 2015
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, YA, Science Fiction
Source: Audiofile, SYNC free downloads
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the alternative world of Vivian Apple, the Church of America has led much of the world to believe that "The Rapture" will be coming.  Vivian does not believe, despite the other predictions that have come true: floods, extreme weather conditions, mass shootings.  After spending Rapture's Eve at a party with her best friend Harp, Vivian returns home to find two holes in her believer-parents' bedroom--and no trace of either of them.  Even with all the signs that the rapture has happened and everyone else (even some believers) have been left behind, Vivian and Harp don't buy it.  With Harp and the help of mysterious Peter, she sets off on a cross-country trip to find out the truth.  

This is a crazy scary world where Believers have pretty much taken over all of America.  Top government officials are believers, people have pulled their kids out of public school because they won't teach Church of America doctrine, young girls are getting married, people buy Church of America food, and anyone who is not "traditional" is considered evil.  It only gets worse after the Rapture and those who have been left behind are trying desperately to prove they are worthy of being raptured in the second round.  The truth behind this world, the fact that it could so easily be the one we live in right now, is what makes it scary.

Vivian is a great character who begins the book timidly, not believing anything about the rapture and seriously baffled as to why her parents do believe.  She does what she's told and follows rules.  She studies hard because she knows that as soon as the rapture passes and it doesn't actually happen, she's going to be able to apply to colleges and get an education.  Except then it does happen--or seems to happen--and where did following the rules and being a good girl get her?

I didn't expect to like this book so much, but it was so good and I had to find out what was going on and what Vivian finds in her search for the truth.  If you like books about the end of the world, Vivian Apple is a great choice.  The performance of the audiobook was also perfect, with Julia Whelan portraying Vivian Apple perfectly. I highly recommend this book and there is a second one that you can read: Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2016
Genre: middle grade, family, friendship
Source: purchased for my classroom
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Raymie's father ran off with a dental hygienist and she hasn't heard from him since.  Her mother has been quiet and seems lost.  But Raymie has a plan.  If she can win the Little Miss Central Florida tire competition then she'll get her father back.  Unfortunately, she has Louisiana Elefante, whose parents were performers, and Beverly Tapinski, who wants to sabotage the contest, in her way.  In addition, she has to learn to twirl a baton, but her teacher is crazy and she hasn't learned a thing yet.

Raymie is a thoughtful and bright young girl.  She's hurt and confused that her father left one day out of the blue and her mother just sits and stares now.  So now she has come up with a plan to fix everything.  She's managed to find an adult who will talk with her honestly in her father's secretary.  She's kind and gives Raymie advice, but for the most part Raymie is on her own with the help of her two friends.

Louisiana Elefante is wispy and beautiful, sings like an angel, and faints--a lot.  She's a bit kooky and claims Raymie and Beverly as her best friends almost immediately--much to Beverly's chagrin.  It's difficult to ignore her, because Louisiana seems to need friends who will help her.  Beverly Tapinski is sick and tired of pageants--and she's not afraid to say so.  She has a tough life and covers that up by putting up a tough front that no one will mess with.  Both Raymie and Louisiana annoy her, but she always seems to be helping them out since she's not afraid of anything and they are.

Told from Raymie's point of view, we learn about all three girls and watch as their friendship evolves.  It's a charming story and good read for middle grade readers.  There are funny parts--especially when Louisiana is in the picture--but there are also some sadder parts as the reader begins to realize more about each girl.

Kate DiCamillo writes great stories for young readers, introducing them to interesting characters who are true to life.  It's easy to believe we can meet them randomly on the street one day, or find them in our own best friends.  Definitely a great read for middle grade readers!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Book Review: Every Last Word

Every Last Word
Tamara Ireland Stone
Amy Rubinate (narrator)
Ideal Audiobooks, 2015
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mental Illness
Source: Thanks to SYNC Audio for the free audio files!
Rating: 4 out of 5

Samantha McAllister has a secret that she's been hiding from her best friends, The Eights, since she was eleven.  Samantha has OCD, the purely obsessional kind where she starts thinking about one topic or problem or just a teeny tiny idea and she can't move past it.  She's obsessed with the number three and will drive around until the milage on her car ends with a three before parking.  Somehow she has done a tremendous job of keeping this from her friends who are the most popular girls in school and have very high expectations for how they should all look, act, feel, etc.  When Samantha meets Caroline, though, she's pulled into the world of Poet's Corner.  With Caroline's help, Samantha begins to write and share with this group of writers.  But as she finds herself becoming more entrenched in Poet's Corner, she realizes that there are a lot of secrets and eventually she will have to start letting them out--if she can manage it. 

I liked this book more than I had anticipated.  From the description and the first chapter or so I thought this was going to be about a bunch of mean girls--and it is in a way.  The Eights are truly mean girls who just exacerbate Samantha's OCD and anxiety, creating hierarchies of friendship within their group.  Intentionally leaving one girl out of an invitation and letting her know. Awfulness.  But it's also about Samantha learning not only how to step away from them, but how to accept herself.  PLUS!  I was totally thrown by events in the last few chapters.

Samantha is dealing with a serious mental illness throughout this book, and her life.  She meets weekly with a psychiatrist, is on medication to help control her obsessions and help her sleep, and her parents are super supportive and help her work through obsessive thoughts.  This isn't is a story about a girl who is magically cured of her mental illness and never needs to see her psychiatrist or take meds again.  She makes progress, yes, but she still has a network that surrounds her.

Poetry is a huge component of this book.  Teens writing poetry that is deep and meaningful to them and shows who they are.  It's not the poetry you'll study and try to write in college, which I appreciated because it made it more realistic.  It was very emotional and held everything these kids needed to say or experience or hold onto while they struggled through their days in high school.  It reminded me of the poetry I wrote in high school and kept tucked away inside notebooks and folders for my eyes only. It's a way that Samantha uses to help channel some of her anxiety and obsessions.

I really enjoyed how we were able to walk with Samantha through her journey.  I liked her story.  Yes she has OCD and struggles with it, but I think that this story is still very relatable even if you don't suffer from a mental illness.  She's a high school girl dealing with cliques and trying to find herself--a self that she's comfortable with and can accept.  Something we're all trying to do!

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Book Review: A New Hope - The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy
by Alexandra Bracken
Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Movie
Source: borrowed from public library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This is the story of Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker retold.  Leia's first attempt at proving herself so the rest of the senate will respect her has gone all wrong.  The plans she was supposed to deliver to the Rebel Alliance are not someplace out there with a droid and she's in the hands of Darth Vader.  Han Solo didn't know realize what he was in for when he agreed to transport an old man, a kid, and two droids off Tatooine. Now that he's learning more, he's not sure what he thinks.  Luke is just learning about The Force and he's still reeling from his aunt and uncle's death.  Now he's been swept up into this rebellion with Ben Kenobi and a smuggler. 

Alexandra Bracken has delved just a little deeper into Star Wars: A New Hope, giving us insights into the thoughts of our main characters and letting us see beyond who they were portrayed in the movie.  This is such a great book for lovers of Star Wars--whether you're a veteran van or a newbie.  It's easily accessible for middle grade readers and a treat for older readers who are familiar with the movies.  It also won't disappoint because it doesn't stray from the movie, it simply adds a little more to the story.

In addition to the story, there are beautiful illustrations throughout.  They are formatted into the words, with the text surrounding them in a delightful and complimentary fashion.

The fifth and sixth episodes have also been retold, but by different authors.  You can check those out on Goodreads if you want to know more about them.

The Empire Strikes Back: So You Want to Be a Jedi? by Adam Gidwitz

The Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Top Seven Books of 2016 So Far

So far 2016 has been an amazing year of reading for me!  Not only has the first half of the year flown by, but I read so many good books in the last 6 months that I'm afraid the second half of my year may just go downhill.  Odds are not in my favor.  So here are the best books I've read so far this year!

In no particular order:

Have you read any of these?  What are your favorites so far?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

June Reading Recap

How has your June been?
I've gotten a lot read this month, but not too much written. I feel like I'm a little behind in my reviews, but part of that is I'm deciding to not work a review so that I can read more.  I'm currently okay with this set up.  I'll take a few days out of the month to go on a writing frenzy and get as many drafts out as possible and then just need to go back and edit closer to publication time.  This is working well.

Books Read

Other Posts and Highlights

Favorite Links
So most of my links that I bookmarked have nothing to do with reading...just one!  But it's summer and I tend to be a bit less focused in my online wanderings. 

We all need something funny now and then.  If you haven't seen the T-Rex compete on American Ninja Warrior, you need to.  It'll make your day.

As if I needed another excuse to buy more books!  Epic Reads has a list of Winter YA cover reveals!

Anybody out there struggling with their summer fitness goals?  No?  Oh, yeah.  Me neither.  I liked this list of fitness tips for the reluctant exerciser.

For my teacher friends out there who started their summers off by heading to pinterest or google to research and find more interesting ideas for their classroom in the fall, here are a couple links that I found that I think will be helpful for me.

From  Do you notice all your students?  I mean really notice them?  Even the quiet ones?

From  Making connections with your students that are meaningful is difficult.  It's something I want to work on a lot more next year.  I feel like I didn't do a great job of that last year.
What's Coming Up in June
Although I'm never really sure what I'll be reading and when it'll be posted, here are some books on my TBR for the next month.

I am finally finishing this book.  I'm actually currently reading it, but it's taking a long time...

I just started The Mark of Athena and I am reminded of how much I love Rick Riordan!  This is the 3rd book in the Heroes of Olympus series.  I read the first two within the past year, but I just can't convince myself to spend so much concentrated time on the whole series.  So I'm spreading it out.

This is one from my classroom that I need/want to read.  It's been on my list for awhile now and really needs some attention.
There will, of course, be many more!