Friday, June 30, 2017

Mid-Year Review 2017

It's halfway through 2017 already and I'm looking back at my reading goals and some of my favorites for this year.

I didn't get too ahead of myself this year with my book goals.  Sometimes I have three or four different types of reading challenges for myself.  I wasn't feeling that too much back in January.  I'm still not feeling it, so I'm glad I didn't do it.  I did however set myself a book total goal like I always did.

Book Total Goal for 2017: 70
This is more than my goal for last year, but I did surpass my goal last year.

Total for 2017 so far:  27
According to Goodreads, I'm six books behind schedule.  I am okay with this, though.

Diversity in Books:
I didn't really set a goal for this because I didn't really have any idea of where I was because I never kept track before.  So this year my goal is to keep track.  

I have a spreadsheet in which I'm checking off books as having either a main character or the author who is a POC, LGBTQ+, or a person with a disability (mental or physical). 

So far, I have 10 out of 27 books that count as diverse.  I'm setting the goal for myself to get to 20. 

A few of my favorite experiences this year have been re-reads.  So far, I have re-read the following titles:


I'm currently finishing up The Handmaid's Tale.  It's been years since I read it and although I remember it, I don't remember the details.  And I want to see the Hulu series, but need a refresher first.

Finally, my favorites so far!  I wanted to add The Dark Days Club and Red Queen, but I thought it was cheating because they were re-reads from just last year and they shouldn't be on my favorites list two years in a row--should they?

In no particular order:


How has your year gone so far?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love historical fiction that doesn't put romance as a center plot line. LOVE IT.

Mindy McGinnis has put her main character Grace into a terrible situation: she's in a mental asylum, placed there by her family because of the fact that she's been found pregnant. No one can know that she's pregnant, it would be terrible for the family because it would uncover secrets that would ruin them all. And Grace hasn't spoken since. While there she meets a strange doctor who recognizes her intelligence and schemes to take her out of there by pretending he botched a procedure on her and they will need to hide that from her affluent and very powerful father. He takes her away to a new asylum, one that is run with dignity and care. Although Grace must continue to hide her voice, she accompanies the doctor as he visits crime scenes in an attempt to use the new science of criminal psychology. Very soon, they discover that there is a serial killer in their midst.

We meet a number of characters throughout the book who live in the asylum. Some truly do have mental health disorders, but others do not. Most are women who are put there by husbands or fathers simply to get them out of the way. Some are ill, but mentally ill, and so they are committed so their family members do not have to deal with them. The conditions at the first place Grace is living in are deplorable. There is a lack of food, lack of medical care, and patients would often be beaten or hit. Some of them were locked in cellars for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this is what many asylums were like. The one in which Grace travels to was much nicer. Patients were treated with respect and care. It is a comparison that Grace makes often during her time there.

A Madness So Discreet is about many things, but I believe it is very much about how women have been viewed in the past. Not only are we shown multiple women who have been sent to live in asylums not because they needed help, but because they were different, needed medical attention, or were defiant, but the serial killer is targeting young women--mostly prostitutes. As you read the Dr.'s and Grace's surmising about the killer and his or her motives, you can see this played out even more.

The best part, is that there is no romance. There is no love interest. It truly is about Grace. I loved this book and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books! I think I might try outThe Female of the Species.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Books for Your Reluctant Reader

It's summer, I know, but it's super important to keep your kids reading throughout the summer.  Don't let the summer slide happen!  I'm not saying that they need to read ALL the time, but find a little time each day when reading is required.  Join a summer reading program at your local library.  Our library is amazing and they've had really great interactive events for kids.  It'll get them there, surrounded by books--so why not check a few out?

But what if you have a kid who doesn't like to read during the school year?  Well, I would say that they just haven't found the right book or author.

So here are some suggestions for you Middle Grade Readers.  Think anywhere from 5th--8th grade, depending on the book and the maturity level of the reader.

 Graphic Novels
If you haven't checked out graphic novels, get some!  Go to the library and ask where they keep their graphic novels for children.  Now, don't you start griping and telling me that graphic novels are just comics and don't count as reading.  What else do you think you're doing when you read a comic or a graphic novel?  You're reading words and pictures at the same time, using inference as you fill in the spaces of the story that can't be included due to the lack of narration.  It's a different kind of reading, but it's reading!  The narration takes place with both words and pictures and that's fine.  Here are some suggestions, based on my students' interests this past year.

 I had a group of kids passing this series around.  I read the first one and then couldn't get my hands on the next ones because they were so popular!  It's about a girl and her family who move into an old house that used to belong to a long lost relative.  After the first night they're all sucked into a magical realm and she must work to save them all.
 Raina Telgemeier has a few books out.  Ghosts is about a girl whose little sister has cystic fibrosis and so they move someone that will help her--but Catrina doesn't like this place.  She's especially nervous about it when she hears about all the ghosts haunting it and the Day of the Dead celebration that is approaching.  It might not be the best place for any of her family.

And by the way, boys and girls both have been drawn to Raina Telgemeier books!
This probably looks familiar!  Raina Telgemeier (the same from above) has taken the classic and turned it into a graphic novel.  This is perfect!  I had a number of kids start on these books and then transition to the original novels.  And there are a ton of the original novels--only four of the graphic novels.

Oh and it's great fun for an adult to read who was super into the books as a kid--trust me, I know. :)

Books in Verse
Sometimes the idea of reading a book that is pages and pages filled with words is daunting.  So find a book where the pages are filled with so many words.  Books in verse are stories told in poetic form.  Here are a couple of authors that stood out in my class this year.

 This is the story of Ha' and her life in Vietnam that changes drastically when war arrives to Saigon and she and her family must flee to America.  She struggles to find a place in Alabama where she feels safe with her family.

If your reader enjoys this, then introduce them to Thanhha Lai's other book Listen, Slowly --not written in verse.  In this book, Mai was born and raised in California.  She's looking forward to a spectacular summer, when she finds out that she has to travel to Vietnam with her dad and grandma so she can help her grandma.  While her dad is off treating patients, she is to look after her grandmother--who speaks no English.  Mai speaks no Vietnamese.  It's going to be a long summer.

I have not read Crossover because I just can't get through sports books.  I've tried.  Many times.  I have very little interest in sports and so it's hard for me to focus on characters who are so devoted to it.  But my students LOVED this book!  It was a hit with many of my boys and girls.

Gordon Korman

I have found that Gordon Korman is an excellent introduction into literature for my students who really don't want to read anything.  If I can get them to start Ungifted, then I can get them interested in other books as well.  Here are two that I would start with offering.

 Ungifted is hilarious! Donovan is ALWAYS getting in trouble.  In fact, we meet him while he's in detention for some stunt or another. Donovan ends up making a very bad decision and it results in the destruction of the gym of his school--oops!  Before his parents are contacted, though, he receives an invitation to attend the Academy of Scholastic Distinction--a complete mistake.  But it might the only way Donovan escapes whatever punishment is about to come down on him.  No one will ever think of looking for him in a school for geniuses!  Only he'll have to figure out a way to make them all think he belongs there.  Hilarity ensues!
Masterminds takes place in the town of Serenity, where none of the kids have ever left.  It's the nicest place ever and there is nothing bad ever happens there.  But when Eli's best friend is sent away after an accident, he begins to suspect that something is up.  The more he snoops, the more he discovers and it's not as serene as all the adults are trying to make them think.

This is great because it's a mystery and the kids are in charge, trying to outwit the adults.  It's also a series.

Gordon Korman has many other books as well, so he's a great author to get kids hooked on reading!

What about you?  Any book suggestions that you've found to be winners for your more reluctant readers?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Allegedly

Allegedly Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary has spent most of her very young life in what she calls "baby jail." She's now been put into a group home, but it's not much better. The others girls are dangerous, the two women who run the place are mean and don't care about any of them--especially Mary. They all know why she's there--she killed a baby. Allegedly.

When Mary finds herself pregnant, she begins to feel as if she might have a chance. She and her boyfriend (who is also in a group home) can run away and start a new life together. But first she'll have to not get killed by her housemates, save up enough money at her job, and manage to get the ankle bracelet off her.

Tiffany D. Jackson makes us take a hard look at the life of Mary. She's tough, yes. But she's also vulnerable and young and there is no one out there looking out for her. And how did it come to be that she's been accused of such a crime? Although most of this book is realistic fiction, it's also a mystery: What really happened when Mary was younger?

We also see quite a lot of side characters--all with their own issues. Some have serious mental health issues that have brought them to this point and others have fought their way here because of their environment. This is a compelling read, but it's dark and dirty too. It will be difficult to put down as you try and piece together what really happened to Mary and what happened to that baby.

This book does contain very mature material. I would not recommend it to students who are in middle school and if you are recommending to high school students, I would be aware of their maturity level and their family/personal as well as any triggers.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Natasha and Daniel's story is a love story, but it's much more interesting than just that. I am NOT a romance story kind of person, but there are some that I enjoy. I decided to give The Sun Is Also a Star a chance because I've been hearing so much about Nicola Yoon. I loved it.

Although opposites in many ways, Natasha and Daniel fall in love within the span of a day. This is the story of how that happens. Natasha is spending her last day in the United States, trying to make sure it isn't her last day in the US. She's desperately going from one place to the next looking for someone who can help her and her family not be deported. Daniel is on his way to an interview that will determine the rest of his life as a doctor. It will make his family happy and proud and him probably miserable.

Natasha works hard at not letting Daniel's fantastical ideas about love and life interrupt her plan for the day--she will definitely not fall in love with him. Daniel will find a way to make Natasha fall in love him. It's his new goal (in a totally uncreepy way--I promise!).

I thought The Sun is Also a Star was a fantastic read. It's not just a romance, but a glimpse at the world of an undocumented teenage girl who has worked so hard and now her dreams are being smashed to pieces because of someone else. It's the story of the son of immigrants whose parents want the best for him and that means pushing him into a life he's not really interested in leading. It's about finding your own way--despite the circumstances you're given, or maybe because of the circumstances you're given. It's also about how everything around us is connected in someway.

Romance readers will definitely enjoy this book, but readers of YA who aren't necessarily drawn to romance will also enjoy it. Enjoy!

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Fuzzy Mud

Fuzzy Mud Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar, Tamaya and Marshal take a shortcut through the woods after in order to avoid the school bully, but they find themselves in even more trouble. After getting some weird mud (fuzzy mud) on her hand, Tamaya finds herself breaking out in a rash and it's spreading--a lot. If she tells the truth, then she has to admit that she and Marshal were not following rules. And Tamaya always follows the rules, however when it comes to light that someone else might also be hurt because of her choices, Tamaya has to decide whether breaking the rules will hurt her or help someone else more.

Fuzzy Mud explores a lot of major issues in this short book: the environment and the effect of introducing man-made substances into it; choosing between following the rules and doing the right thing (they're not always the same!); and bullying. By switching between Tamaya, Marshall, and other key figures, Louis Sachar builds on how this situation even came to pass.

Mostly we see the story through Tamaya's eyes as she discovers the mud, touches it, and watches as the rash spreads across her body. Through her sections we see how she struggles with not wanting to break rules, but also wanting to fit in and not quite understanding societal rules for fifth grade girls. Marshall gives is the real view of being the victim of the class bully. The new kid at his school has pinpointed Marshall and none of his classmates are stepping up--even though they all see it. There are also snippets of interviews with scientists who are trying to determine if certain micro-organisms that have been created are safe for the environment or not in a set of hearings in which they are debated. The headmaster at the school also gets her perspective as problems start spiraling and she is trying to keep it controlled.

Fuzzy Mudis a book that will interest some of your more reluctant readers. It's also one that will be good for kids who interested in the environment and improving our world. Being that's less than 200 pages, it makes it less daunting than many middle grade novels. This is a book that I'll be using next year for our fifth grade book club.

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