Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Plot to Kill Hitler by Patricia McCormick

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young man in Germany in the years leading up to World War II. He chose to become a pastor, and believed strongly in peaceful resolution of conflict. However, Bonhoeffer began to witness great evil building up around him in the Nazi regime that was taking over his country. As the Nazis began to strip Jewish citizens of their rights, they also took away the right of free speech for all Germans. Bonhoeffer believed that the church should speak out against Hitler but could not find other religious leaders willing to speak up. In short, readable chapters, McCormick tells how Bonhoeffer tried in many ways to alert other governments to the horrors that Germany was inflicting on Jews and how Bonhoeffer eventually came to the conclusion that to do nothing in the face of evil was to be evil yourself. He became a spy and joined in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and overthrow his government. His was an incredibly courageous life, and even though he was killed by the Nazis, there is much to learn from his example.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I have read many stories of people who survived great hardship during World War II, but I had never heard about the forced removal of Lithuanian people perpetrated by the Russians. This is the story of a girl named Lina who is taken during the night with her mother and brother and put on a train bound for Siberia. Lina is an artist, and keeps hope alive by secretly drawing and making efforts to send messages to her father, whom she believes is in a Russian prison. Lina and her mother and brother survive the train ride, only to be left in a remote village where they must do hard labor while they nearly starve to death. From there they are sent to an even more remote Arctic location where they live for many years even after the war has ended. The author brings to life many peripheral characters that you as a reader come to know and care about. The writing is beautiful and the story is heartbreaking and gripping. A movie is coming out in mid-2017, so now is the perfect time to encourage students to read this book. Recommended for middle school-up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Jordan Sonnenblick is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. It's about a girl going about her ordinary 13-year-old life when everything is upended by her father having a stroke. While Claire navigates the new difficulties at home, she's still going about her ordinary life of dance class (where she's worse than her friends), braces, and a boy who may be more than a friend. You have to trust me on this one--just read it. It's great and it will make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ever since the incident that put his father in jail, Castle prefers to be called Ghost. He's a middle school kid with some pent up anger, and a strong belief that he is a great basketball planer (even though he's never really planed much before). What Ghost is really good at is sprinting, and when he lands a spot on a competitive track team, he has to control his behavior or risk getting kicked off the team. Ghost has some strong adults in his life, including his mom, a neighborhood store owner, and his new track coach, but will they be enough to keep him out of trouble? I loved this story and I think it would be a great read-aloud or book for class discussion. Highly recommended for 5th-7th graders.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I love historical fiction and I am interested in the lives of enslaved people, so I was excited to finally read this story about Thomas Jefferson's lesser-known children. After Jefferson's wife died at a young age, he never remarried, but he did have a lifelong relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave who was also his wife's half-sister and who was as young as his own daughters. Some facts are known about Sally and her four children, but the author had to imagine many of the details of their story because no one knows how they really felt and acted and where they ended up in their lives. The story was told from the point of view of three different slaves and it tells of their confusion and concerns. While the weren't subjected to whippings and backbreaking labor, they did live in fear of their loved ones being sold away from them. They also faced the heartbreaking reality that some of them would be freed and go off to live as white people, while others would not have that freedom. I was engrossed in the stories of Beverly, Maddy, and Peter. This book would be a great read for students studying the founding of the United States and absolutely fascinating for anyone who is planning to visit Jefferson's home at Montecello.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Imagine finding out that everything your parents ever told you was a lie. That your whole world was actually a lie. That's what happens to Eli and his friends in this mind-boggling book. Elis has always lived in Serenity, a crime-free town that is isolated from the rest of the world. He and his friends have been taught to believe that they live in paradise and that the rest of the world is dangerous. But when Eli bikes a little too far from home, something unusual happens, and it leads him to suspect that things in Serenity aren't quite what they seem. He and his friends begin to uncover some very unexpected secrets about their community. If I say any more it would be a spoiler. Read this book if you like action, mystery, and kids going up against evil adults!

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Suzy is an unusual seventh grader. She loves science and can tell you all about space and animals and all kinds of information about the natural world. Unfortunately, talking about science all the time hasn't helped her make a lot of friends now that she is in middle school. A few days before the start of seventh grade she finds out that Franny, who used to be her best friend, has drowned. Suzy is full of guilt, but she won't talk to anyone about her grief or about the terrible thing she did to Franny at the end of sixth grade. In this story, Suzy becomes obsessed with a deadly type of jellyfish, thinking that maybe Franny died because of a jellyfish sting rather than by drowning. This beautifully written book takes you into Suzy's world, and while you see Suzy's flaws, you definitely are rooting for her to come to terms with her grief and make some new friends and move on with her life. Highly recommended for fans of realistic fiction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller

Can you imagine a young woman taking a hatchet and murdering her parents in their own home? Back in 1892 a woman named Lizzie Borden was accused of just such a crime. This nonfiction book takes a detailed dive into this true crime story, taking you through the day of the murder and the ensuing trial and acquittal of Lizzie Borden. It's a fascinating story, and the truth is that no one knows whether Lizzie was guilty or innocent. We do know that her stepmother and father were brutally hacked to death one morning while Lizzie was either in the house or in the barn. We also know that Lizzie gave some early testimony that seemed to contradict itself, but what she said was not allowed at the trial. Readers with an interest in criminal justice and the law will be riveted by the details of Lizzie's arrest, imprisonment, and trial. As an adult reader, I was fascinated and I recommend it for 7th grade on up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

If you want a romance book that you can't put down, pick this book up. I flew threw it in a very short time, and it was completely charming and engrossing. Madeline is allergic to everything, and therefore lives her whole life in her sterile house with her mother and a full-time nurse. (Think the bubble boy from Seinfeld, but not as angry.) She's bright and well-read and as well-adjusted as she can be, but at the age of 18 it's hard to imagine how she will live the rest of her restricted life. Enter the new boy next door, who finds a way to communicate with her and, not surprisingly, they fall for each other. What is surprising is the direction their relationship takes and the risks Madeline takes to live life on her own terms. As I said, it's a wholly engrossing story and I recommend it for romance fans (ages high school-up).

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

It is 1911 and a 14-year-old girl from rural Pennsylvania dreams of a better life than she will ever have working on her father's farm. Forced to quit school, she treasures the diary given to her by her beloved teacher. Joan is a reader, and she knows from Jane Eyre and other classic stories that there is more to life for a young girl than cooking and cleaning. She runs away to Baltimore, changes her name to Janet, and gets hired by a wealthy Jewish family to be their hired girl. She learns to navigate a new world of wealth and a bewildering world of religious differences. All the while she writes in her diary about her dreams of travel and education the world beyond the station she was born into. My favorite childhood books are the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, and Janet is clearly akin to Betsy Ray, another girl from 1911 who longed to be a writer and see the great world. Young people who like history and coming of age stories will love this, as well as adult readers. In fact, when I purchased my copy of this book, it was in the adult section of my local children's bookstore. Recommended for grades 7-up.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Middle school kids are going crazy for this book and I'm so glad my 7th and 8th graders chose it for their book club. It's a sci-fi/dystopian Cinderella story, but there's no helpless princess here. Cinder, a cyborg and second-class citizen, is the best mechanic in New Beijing. She lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, who treat her badly (no surprise there). A deadly plague is killing people right and left, and a lunar civilization ruled by Queen Levana is lurking nearby, waiting for a chance to take over the earth by way of marrying Prince Kai. Cinder has a brief encounter with the truly charming Prince and is charged with repairing his android. But shortly thereafter her sister gets the plague, Cinder is "donated" for plague research, and she discovers some shocking secrets about her past. It's fun to catch all the fairy tale references, but Cinder truly is its own story. I listened to the audiobook and couldn't wait to hear more. My only gripe is the ending, which is one of the worst cliff-hangers I've ever read. This book is not short, but there's no reason that younger middle schoolers up through high schoolers won't enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I absolutely loved this historical fiction book and Ada and Jamie, two siblings who are sent out of London during the air raids of World War II. Nine-year-old Ada has a club foot and her mother has kept her a virtual prisoner her whole life. She has never gone to school and rarely left their apartment. But when her younger brother Jamie is scheduled to be sent to safety in the country, Ada doesn't hesitate to go with him. In a seaside village in Kent all the children are taken in by local families. Jamie and Ada, who are malnourished and dirty, are the last children chosen, and are practically forced on a single woman named Susan Smith. Although Susan says she has no idea how to take care of children, she knows that Ada needs a doctor, and crutches, and an education. Ada thrives in the country as she learns to ride a pony and makes her first friend. She and Jamie are wary of embracing their new life, though, because they know they could be returned to their mother at any time. This is a story of healing and survival, set during a fascinating time in British history. Highly recommended for upper elementary and middle school readers.

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

This year I had the privilege of taking students to visit the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where undocumented immigrants are detained in prison-like conditions. It is staggering to think of the almost 2,000 people held in the detention center which is run by a for-profit company, and it was disheartening to be denied a visit with a detainee for no good reason. Just after this experience I read this young adult novel about Georgia teenagers facing immigration issues. Alma came to the U.S. as a child and has lived most of her life in North Georgia. She is bright and hard-working and hoping to attend college on a scholarship. She meets Evan, the privileged son of a senator, and they fall in love. However, Evan has no idea how complicated life is for Alma and her family, and when her father and brother are taken by immigration officials, he learns that there are no easy solutions for Alma's family. This is an important book that gives a real human face to immigration issues. There is a real lack of YA fiction about the immigrant experience and this book deserves a wide readership. It is most definitely a YA romance, though, and will be enjoyed by teen and adult romance fans. Recommended for 9th grade-adults.

Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood

Prairie Evers is a girl who has never been to school. Her grandmother has been her teacher for her whole life and Prairie loves being free to roam on her parents' New York farm. But when granny announces her plan to move back to her home in North Carolina, Prairie is forced to attend school for the first time. Prairie is not behind academically, but she has a lot of catching up to do socially. Fortunately she makes a new friend, Ivy, and discovers that Ivy has troubles at home. Ivy becomes like a sister to Prairie and together they raise chickens, do their homework, and eventually try to help Ivy have a better life. It's a good story, probably best suited to 3rd-5th grade readers who like a realistic story with lots of charm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys


Many people think the sinking of the Titanic is the greatest maritime disaster of all time, but it's not even close. During World War II a German ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk, and it held about 10,000 passengers—most of them women, children, and injured soldiers fleeing from Russian troops. This book tells the story of a group of refugees fleeing toward the Wilhelm Gustloff. One is a nurse, one is a young pregnant girl, and one is a young man with a big secret to hide from the Nazis. They come together in order to survive a desperate trek across East Prussia, but as the reader, you know that they are heading toward disaster. The story is told in very short, alternating chapters from the points of view of several of the characters. You will care about these people and learn a lot about World War II history as you read this engrossing historical novel. Recommended for 8th grade-up. Adults will enjoy this book as well, maybe even more than young people.