Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Daniel is a poet who believes in fate, but is feeling trapped by his parents' expectations for his life. Natasha is rational, a science geek, who also loves music. She is not the kind of girl who would fall in love and let it change her life. But Daniel and Natasha are fated to meet and spend an incredible day together. Unfortunately, it is the day Natasha's family, who are undocumented immigrants, are scheduled to be deported to Jamaica. And it is the day that Daniel's Korean parents have scheduled his interview for Yale University. They meet and connect and the entire book takes place in that one day. Fans of romance will love this book--it's compulsively readable and the characters really come alive. And there are first-person snippets from other characters (real and inanimate) that make the book even more charming. Fans of realistic YA fiction (especially The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park) will love this book. Recommended for 8th grade-up.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

At first this seemed just like a charming tale about a robot who finds herself on an island where she learns how to adapt to her surroundings, how to care for an abandoned gosling, and how to bring the island creatures together in a community. But later in the book the modern world comes into the story, larger issues come into play. This was an enjoyable book that made me think. I was surprised at how much I liked it. This would make a good read aloud for a middle grade classroom, and would also be good for book club discussions.

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

To call this book merely a biography of E.B. White would be to do it an injustice. Each page of this visual masterpiece is a work of art that incorporates original drawings, as well as quotes, letters, and New Yorker cartoons in order to bring to life the man most famous for writing Charlotte's Web. White, who also wrote for the New Yorker and other publications for many years and co-wrote The Elements of Style, wrote copious letters in his lifetime and left behind a lot of information for author/illustrator Melissa Sweet to pull together. It's a sophisticated book that will appeal to some children, but there is much here for readers of any age to enjoy. This work of art should be given to any adult who loves the New Yorker, who has ever referred to Strunk and White's Elements of Style, or who has ever read Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Betty is a new girl in school, and she is more than a bully. She is a likely sociopath, who doesn't hesitate to kill a bird with her bare hands or to harm other children. Annabel becomes Betty's first victim, and is navigating how to handle the cruelty she sees and how to make adults believe her, when someone is gravely injured. Annabel knows that Betty is the most likely suspect, but Betty deftly throws the blame on Toby, a shell-shocked World War I veteran who is a fixture in the rural Pennsylvania community of Wolf Hollow. What follows is the complex, ominous, and haunting story of how Annabel tries to do the right thing when it is hard to know what the right thing is. This book will make you angry and sad, but will also inspire dialogue about how important it is to stand up for what's right. This is a book that students, teachers, and adults will all love. I would not be surprised to see this win a major book award for 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman never fails to amaze me. Whether his books are funny, scary, or unsettling, they always fully entertain me and make me think about complex issues. Scythe has a mind-blowing premise. In the near future, humans have created a perfect society by eliminating disease, poverty, hunger, and even old age. It's a utopia except for over population, so society has respected public servants called Scythes whose job it is to kill people. A good scythe kills without bias, chooses victims carefully, and causes little pain. Most importantly, a scythe should not enjoy the killing. In this first book of a new series, two teenagers are chosen to be apprentices to a venerated Scythe. Only one will become an official scythe, though, and it soon is determined that only one will survive the apprenticeship. The relationship between the teens and the Scythes is fascinating, and there is enough action to keep young readers on the edge of their seats. There are a few holes in the utopia (Why would a scythe ever kill someone with a weapon when there are painless pills that can be given? And how does the Thunderhead really replace government?) But this will make for great discussions with students about the fragility of life and the benefits of being (or not being) mortal.

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.