Summah!

It’s summahtime and the reading is easy, sort of. Not really, but it sounds good. I had plans to set aside time every day in the summer to read. I have articles due that require reading, I have pleasure reading to accomplish, I have review journals to scour, I have oodles of books and articles that need reading, and yet I find myself … struggling. Perhaps I’m overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it, so then I do none of it. Does that happen to you? I’ve made myself a schedule to read. I never used to have to do that, it just happened naturally. Mostly, though, I think it’s because I’m on summer vacation, have lost my regular schedule entirely and thus think I have endless amounts of time to get it done. Weird, but true.

But, since it’s been two whole months since I last posted I do actually have books to talk about today. Over at Unleashing Readers and Teach Mentor Texts the meme It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is happening and Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of A Wannabe Scribe is hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and so here I sit on a Sunday afternoon/evening, typing up a blog post and drinking a pink beer. (For anyone out there who might be a craft beer enthusiast, it’s PYNK from Yards). Here’s a pretty picture.

IMG_4067

Phew, that’s a lot of linkage in one paragraph.

Let’s talk books, that’s the fun part.

redqueenThe Red Queen
by Victoria Aveyard
HarperTeen
2015

I know that I’m waaaayyy behind on this one, I believe the third installment is about to come out, or has just recently published. It was highly recommended by a colleague, and I needed to lose myself in another world. It was a fast-paced, tightly plotted novel that really kept me engaged.

Sixteen-year-old Mare has red blood, which denotes her commoner status in this world divided by the haves, who have silver blood, and the have-nots, with their oh-so-prosaic red blood. Given a job as a servant to the royal family, Mare is thrust into a dangerous political game when it is discovered, quite by accident, that while she may have red blood, she has a power that should only belong to a silver. Her role navigating between the two worlds is perilous and loyalties are tested and broken numerous times. It was a fun, engrossing fantasy. Fairly tame, content-wise, but still some romance and complex relationships. I’ll be recommending this one to my 7th and 8th graders.

losersLosers Take All
by David Klass
FSG
2015

Another older title, but we put this one on our recommended summer list, so it seemed appropriate for this post. Strong realistic fiction for junior high crowd. This one actually made me laugh out loud a few times, which makes it a keeper in my book.
Jack Logan is a senior in high school and has been raised in a family of superb athletes, in a town that reveres high school sports. He couldn’t feel more like an alien if he tried. But then, he does try. Sort of. His hopes of flying under the radar for his senior year are dashed when the news breaks that all seniors must participate in a team sport. Jack, and his many non-athletic friends decide that making a co-ed, 3rd string soccer team is for them, and their one goal for the year is to not win a single game. Easy enough to accomplish, but when their sports-crazed principal is recorded during an insult-laden rant against the team, their efforts go viral and they discover a whole world of people out there supporting them.

topprospectTop Prospect
by Paul Volponi
Carolrhoda
Sept. 1, 2016
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher

I think this is Volponi’s first real foray into middle grade fiction, as his other contemporary sports novels have featured high school and college-age athletes.
Travis is just starting high school, when the dream of a lifetime for any student athlete comes along. His older brother Carter is a freshman on the Florida Gators football team, and the head coach takes a special interest in Travis, who is an outstanding quarterback. He is “offered” a scholarship to the university when he comes of age, and Travis is elated at the opportunity, and loving the status that kind of notoriety gains him. Eventually, Travis feels the pressure to perform, to maintain his skills at any cost, which may cost him is future.
This novel features authentic relationships, both between family members and friends. Travis and Carter are both navigating new and difficult terrain, and they are both forced to make grown-up decisions before they are ready, and both carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The lengthy football game descriptions got a little tiresome for me, so I skimmed those, but I don’t think I’m the intended audience here anyway. Kids who read/love Mike Lupica and Tim Green books are going to eat this one up, I’ll definitely be nudging them to try it.

applesauceApplesauce Weather
by Helen Frost
Candlewick
August 9, 2016
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher

A poignant, beautiful book of verse about family, grieving, traditions and storytelling. Frost’s poetic form is strong, her imagery is lovely and this one has rhythm that left me wanting more.
Uncle Arthur is grieving the loss of his wife, but the family is hoping he’ll appear on the farm on the day the first apple falls off the tree, just as he and Lucy did every year. When he does finally come, Faith and Peter, the two children anxiously awaiting his arrival, try to find ways to engage with him, to help him remember, to keep traditions alive and well and basically connect with a favorite uncle. It’s an ode to fall and to families that is not to be missed.

That’s it for now, but I’m looking forward to reading your posts tomorrow, and reconnecting with the blogging world. Hope to see you out there somewhere.

 

 

 

Some Reading and a new social media to explore…

Ah, Mondays.  I have a love/hate thing with Mondays. I really look forward to reading other people’s blog posts about what they’ve been reading, I’ve learned about so many amazing books through these connections. But, it also means getting up at 5:00 am, which can be hard on any given Monday, though now that we are in the middle of May, a new Monday means a new week closer to the end of the school year. Is it okay to be really psyched about that? I think so. I’m not going to feel too guilty about that.

Anyway, if you are here reading this you probably found me through the weekly meme, It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts. It’s pretty much the only reason I blog anymore. I need to change that. Maybe in the summer.

Take note, the books I’m talking about this week all publish in the summer. I got my advanced copies through NetGalley, which has been awesome about sharing books with me. I highly recommend them!

26240679Inspector Flytrap
By Tom Angleberger
Illus. By Cece Bell
Amulet Books
Publish Date August 2, 2016
E-ARC made available via NetGalley and the publisher

Wackiness abounds in this easy-to-read mystery chapter book. Our sleuth is a Venus Flytrap stuck in his pot who loves solving BIG DEAL mysteries. His sidekick/assistant is Nina the Goat; she eats everything in sight, pushes Inspector Flytrap around on a skateboard and responds to most things with a shrug and a “big deal”. The mysteries come into the office in a fast and furious pace, from missing pickle paperweights to unidentifiable yellow blobs on expensive paintings. The writing is pretty straightforward and the general quirkiness of everyone and everything will appeal to most young readers. Angleberger’s fast-paced dialogue paired with Bell’s familiar illustrations make for a winning combination here. The 2nd graders at my school will appreciate the humor and find it all right at their level.

29002386Saved by the Boats
By Julie Gassman
Illus. By Steve Moors
Capstone Young Readers
Publish Date July 1, 2016
E-ARC made available via NetGalley and the publisher

Inspired by her own experience of trying to leave Manhattan on 9/11 and get back to her home in New Jersey, Gassman writes a beautiful and moving tribute to the many boats of all shapes and sizes that responded to a call to action to help evacuate the city on that fateful day. She describes how boat captains of all sorts mobilized their crews and sailed into a city under attack in order to help those trying to escape the destruction that was unfolding. Just as powerful, the artwork beautifully complements the spare story, with nearly monochromatic digital illustrations that often feature one bright color as a counterpoint. Often, that color is the bright blue of the sky, harkening back to the crystal clear day, but sometimes it is the red of a life ring or the black smoke oozing from the towers. Truly, a gorgeous and creative work with an intriguing focus about a terrible day.

27206512Gemini
By Sonya Mukherjee
Simon & Schuster
Publish Date July 2016
E-ARC made available via NetGalley and the publisher

The voices of conjoined twins Clara and Hailey alternate in this new teen novel filled with all the angst, joy, and frustration that goes with being teenagers. The girls are soon to graduate high school, forcing them to think about their future and the possibility of leaving their insulated small town in California that has protected them from some of the harsher realities of being conjoined. Outgoing, artistic Hailey wants to go to art school and see the world, or at least some of it, but Clara, who’s passion is astronomy, wants only to stay safely anonymous, keeping close to home where everyone knows them and there are no prying eyes. But, as is often the case, a new boy in town opens Clara’s eyes to what could be, and for the first time allows herself to dream about being a normal teen and some of the things that entails, such as falling in love or traveling to San Francisco. For the first time, they really think about what life could be if they separated, an idea that both horrifies and intrigues them. This is an authentic story, and their emotions and responses are spot on. The girls have to find compromises in order to both get what they want, which feels about right for any teenager.  The writing was very compelling here and I couldn’t put the story down until I had finished, which I haven’t done in quite some time. I’ll be recommending this one to my older students who love a good realistic fiction with a side of romance thrown in. The ones who love Sarah Dessen and John Green will not be disappointed.

On to the social media…

I’m on Litsy. Anyone heard of it? I think it’s pretty damn new. I heard about it through a blog post from BookRiot and I’ve linked it here, she does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could. Her nutshell is that it is a combination of Instagram and GoodReads, or if they had a baby, or something like that. The premise intrigued me, so I joined. It’s only on Apple devices so far, I can’t even log in through the website, so purely mobile right now. But, if you, too, are intrigued and end up signing up, find me. My username is Runawaylibrarian. If it entices you more, my litfluence score is a whopping 42. It was 24 just for signing up. I need more friends. If you have already joined, comment here with your username and I will find you.

Have a happy Reading Week!

Never too late?

Its always fun to participate in the “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?” meme. Thank you to Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts for hosting us all.

 

5612052The Rock and the River
By Kekla Magoon
Aladdin, 2009
Gr. 7 and up
I picked this one up because I had heard such good things about it, and because I am searching for a book to recommend to our 6th grade team as a new class read. I know, I know. My rating above states Gr. 7 and up, and as an independent read I think that’s still pretty accurate, but as a classroom read, with teacher-led discussions and context to the time period, I think 6th graders, in the latter half of the school year, could handle this one pretty well. There’s a lot going on here and the book is pretty intense. It is 1968 Chicago, the civil rights movement is in full-swing and young Sam Childs is right in the thick of everything. His father is a noted civil rights activist who works closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., and his older brother, Stick, is being drawn to the work of the Black Panther party. Sam is in the middle, torn between the love and respect that he has for his father and the absolute worship of his brother who can do no wrong. As events bubble up and sometimes boil over, Sam doesn’t always know which way to turn, isn’t sure who is right in every situation and doesn’t always see the big picture. What I love about this book is that Sam is a flawed protagonist; he’s young and inexperienced, but has a good heart and wants to do the right thing. I also love that the Black Panther party is shown here as a very nuanced organization, that did a lot of good things in their communities, including building free health clinics, providing breakfast for children and offering up education classes. Magoon does not shy away from showing the violence and injustices of the time, and I found myself time and again, reflecting on how the incidents she describes from 1968 are eerily, and sadly unsurprisingly, occurring now, nearly 50 years later. It is a great read; thought-provoking and full of insight about family dynamics and relationships as well as illuminating a very difficult period of history. I’m definitely recommending that the 6th grade teachers at my school read it, and in the meantime, I’ll be adding it to some summer reading lists.

 

26073068

The Seventh Wish
By Kate Messner
Gr. 4 and up
Bloomsbury
Publish Date June 7, 2016
E-ARC made available via NetGalley and the publisher

Thinking of wishes is easy for Charlie, it’s the consequences of those wishes that sometimes aren’t so easy. While ice fishing out on Lake Champlain Charlie accidentally uncovers a wish-granting source; an undersized fish with glowing green eyes that promises granted wishes if she releases him back into the lake. And this small piece of magic allows her to make wishes for family and friends alike. She wishes a new job for her mom, excellent basketball tryouts for her ice fishing buddy, Drew, a passing grade on a test for Irish dancing companion Dasha, and so on. All come true, all have unanticipated ripples that helps Charlie understand that not all troubles need wishing. One big problem that doesn’t seem to have a wishable fix is her big sister Abby, who’s first year in college has left her with a drug problem that lands her in a residential rehab facility. Charlie is  angry, embarrassed and worried for her formerly athletic, bouncy sister who could do no wrong. Messner weaves an endearing tale as Charlie navigates problems big and small, at home and at school and manages to find a way to deal with all that is going on without relying on a fish in a lake. This new book reminds me quite a bit of All the Answers, which had a similar tone and small dose of magic that will resonate with plenty of young middle graders. I’ll be putting this on our summer reading list!

 

25937866Raymie Nightingale
By Kate DiCamillo
Gr. 4-7
Candlewick Press, April 2016
This one is my new favorite DiCamillo book since Because of Winn-Dixie, and its no wonder since this one has a similar feel. The not-so-glamorous side of  Florida locale, quirky characters both large and small, and an absent parent that leaves the young protagonist confused and sad. Raymie Clarke is bound and determined to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant, convinced that her father, who has run with a young dental hygienist, will see her in the newspaper and come back home. In order to win the competition, she needs a talent, and in 1975 Florida the only talent worth having is baton-twirling, and do a few good deeds. Baton-twirling classes leads to an unlikely alliance with two of her competitors, one faints fairly frequently and the other is tough-as-nails and determined to sabotage the entire pageant. At turns funny, poignant, and occasionally outlandish, the young trio manages to form a bond, do some good deeds and do their best in the pageant. And Raymie never does learn how to twirl a baton.
Highly recommended.

IMWAYR–Redux

What I’ve been reading recently. Sharing via IMWAYR. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for hosting this really fun weekly meme.

So, I tried to post this last week for IMWAYR, but my link was broken, so I’m trying again and have added one or two things.

badluckBad Luck (Bad #2)
by Pseudonymous Bosch
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher
Recommended for grades 4 and up

I read this having never read any of Bosch’s books previously, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I know that my students love the Secret series, and I feel pretty certain they are going to love this one, too, so I’ll be ordering this series. I certainly didn’t feel lost having not read the first in the series; characters were explained, the setting was built nicely and I was completely drawn into the story. Clay is a camper at a special summer camp for kids with special powers called Earth Ranch, where they are trained to use and hone their gifts. Brett is the son of a very wealthy man who owns a cruise ship company, but doesn’t like his son all that much. Their worlds collide when Brett is pushed off the cruise ship when he uncovers a secret and washes ashore on the island where Earth Ranch is located. Clay hides Brett in a nearby cave and begins to work with him to figure out the mystery of the cruise ship and how that is connected to the island and some of the members of Earth Ranch. Plenty of adventure, quirky characters, excellent gadgets and cool dragon lore make their way into the story.

whereyoullfindmeWhere You’ll Find Me
by Natasha Friend
FSG
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher
Recommended for grades 6 through 9

Being an 8th grader is hard enough. Add in your best friend throwing you over for the popular crowd, your mom attempting suicide and now living with your distant father and his young wife and their new baby, and life goes from difficult to nearly unbearable. Anna Collette is dealing with all of these things. Her mother’s suicide attempt has thrown everyone’s life into a tailspin and Anna isn’t sure what to think. She’s mad at her mom, at her dad, and especially at her former best friend, Dani. She mostly retreats into her own head, but a quirky acquaintance from school begins to draw her out and an unexpected weekend away with her stepmom show Anna that other people genuinely care about her. This was an engaging and entertaining read. Anna’s reactions and emotions felt very real, and her inability to see other people reaching out also felt real, her middle-school self-involvement also felt very true to life. She really shows some growth over the course of the year, and her future looks a bit brighter by the end of the story. A worthy selection for any middle-school library.

underdogsThe Underdogs
by Sara Hammel
Releases May 31, 2016
Published by FSG
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher
Recommended for grades  5 and up

The plot of this one is a murder-mystery, and a pretty good one at that, but the heart of this story is the friendship between our narrator, Chelsea, and her best friend, Evie. Chelsea describes how Annabel Harper was found murdered pool-side at an exclusive tennis club in Rhode Island and the investigation that follows, as well as the rippling effects the murder had on everyone who was part of the club community. Alternating chapters titled either Before or After describe the events that led up to the murder and the ensuing events as the detective narrows in on his suspect. Chelsea and Evie are determined to find the culprit and they follow the detective everywhere he goes, eavesdropping and speculating along the way. Chelsea also describes the difficult relationship between Evie and her father, a tennis pro at the club, who either ignores her or patronizes her. Chelsea truly becomes Evie only support over the course of the summer, and their friendship is something special. It wouldn’t be a good mystery if there weren’t some twists and turns and surprises, and this one packs a couple doozies. A poignant, engaging read. I’ll be getting this one for my middle schoolers.

oneOne
by Sarah Crossan
Published by Greenwillow Books
Recommended for Grades 8 and up

A novel written in free verse, the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. Grace is our guide here, telling her side of the story, sharing her innermost thoughts, the ones she doesn’t share with anyone, not her therapist, and not her twin. For the first time in their lives, the girls are going to have to give up homeschooling and go to school. They are both terrified and resigned to what that means: stares, averted eyes, gossip, speculation. Everything that goes with being who they are. Life at home also has it challenges. Their dad has been unemployed for months, (years maybe?) and has taken to drinking the days away, mom works hard and worries even harder. Their younger sister shows promise as a ballerina and has essentially become anorexic in pursuit of her dreams. School turns out to be both better and worse than they thought, finding friends for the first time is pure joy for both of them. But just when things start getting “okay” in one realm, they completely fall apart in another. A beautiful read.

giftedGifted
by H. A. Swain
Releases in June 2016 by Feiwel and Friends
Recommended for Grades 8 and up
E-ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher

Orpheus Chanson is a “plute” and lives in the world of the one-percenters, where genius talents are provided through surgery, and the only important thing is how much “buzz” can be created and gathered. His father’s company developed the prodigy-making surgeries, aka “ASAs”, and own all creative products of such surgery. Zimri Robinson lives among the rest of the world, known as “plebes” where she spends her days in an Amazon-esque warehouse, running the aisles, gathering stuff that will be shipped off to the plutes. She spends her nights making and sharing her music in underground “speakeasy” type places since she has not had the surgery, and thus is considered off the grid and basically illegal. Their worlds collide when Orpheus growns disaffected with his life, nearly runs down Zimri’s grandmother on the side of the road and stops to help. This dystopian novel doesn’t stray very far from many of the genre tropes, was fairly predictable in plot, but still managed to hold my attention. The writing was fairly crisp, the characters were engaging and I can see plenty of kids enjoying it very much.

What I’m reading now….

22692740Symptoms of Being Human
by Jeff Garvin

 

A gender-fluid teen starts a blog as a way of self-expression, but finds as the blog grows more popular so does the risk of exposure. I’ve only just begun, but I’m intrigued.

Hmmm…..I guess monthly isn’t sooo bad

 

IMWAYR 2015

Ok, so a monthly post is better than no post, but honestly I had high hopes of accomplishing something a little more substantial and certainly something more than book reviews. It feels a little one-dimensional.  However, I love participating in IMWAYR! It’s a great way to connect. I’m sure anyone here has found me through that, but on the off chance someone not connected to it is here, go check out either Jen at Teach Mentor Texts or Kellee at Unleashing Readers, they cohost this very fun, weekly event.

doorstaircaseThe Door by the Staircase
by Katherine Marsh
Gr. 5-8
E-ARC available via the publisher and NetGalley

I love Baba Yaga stories. The chicken legged house, the fence made of the skeletons of eaten children, the MORTAR and PESTLE! It’s all just so different from the fairy tales I grew up with and it all just feels so weird and twisted. What’s not to love?
I think I had forgotten the summary of this one when I started reading, and didn’t realize until about halfway through that it was a Baba Yaga story, but my investment immediately quadrupled as soon as that realization sunk home. Of course, I was already pretty invested because I absolutely loved Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, the only other Katherine Marsh that I’ve read. She does not disappoint here. The writing is lovely and dense and a wee bit dark; the characters are both real and absolutely fantastic, and mostly I just loved the slow build of the story. People and elements are introduced intentionally and then filled out carefully that the whole thing just feels so substantial and deep.
Twelve-year-old Mary attempts to escape the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies by crawling up the chimney and then dropping to the ground below but is caught up in a magical whirlwind that pins her against the wall, preventing her escape and forcing her back inside. Orphaned years ago by a fire that took her mother and brother, Mary has never really known a loving household and longs for more than the orphanage can offer. When Madame Z offers both comfort and companionship, Mary jumps at the chance and can’t quite believe her good fortune. But, as is true in most stories, if things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Madame Z has secrets and is surrounded by what seems like magic and Mary, ever curious and oh-so-slightly mischievous, is determined to figure it all out before she allows herself to trust completely. And, thus begins her quest. She befriends a boy in town who becomes her partner in detective work, and they work to uncover all they can about Madame Z, find a way to protect themselves from being eaten, and master the magic that is all around them.
It’s an engrossing and sophisticated read. I’ll hand it off to kids who love the more complex fantasies, who love the fairy tale novelizations and who can appreciate the slow build of a good story. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students.
hangnailCastle Hangnail
by Ursula Vernon
Gr. 4 and up
Copy from my library

Castle Hangnail is in desperate need of a new master, otherwise it will be decommissioned by the authorities and the minions who work there will be thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. Enter Molly: 5 feet tall and 12 years old, announcing that she is the new mistress of the castle. Most of the minions are overjoyed at the news, but the butler is skeptical, she doesn’t really look or act like a proper mistress; she’s far too nice. But, Molly really wants the job, despite the fact that she’s not entirely qualified and lying about it, and the minions really don’t want to leave the castle, so everyone perseveres. This title by the author of the Dragonbreath series is really quite wonderful and fun. Molly is so completely lovable and the various minions include a couple of minotaurs, a steamy genie living in a teakettle and a clattering suit of armor, all unique and fully realized in their own way. It’s a fun, quirky tale that will have a wide appeal.
montysoleSaving Montgomery Sole
by Mariko Tamaki
Gr. 9 and up
E-ARC made available via publisher and NetGalley

Montgomery (Monty) Sole feels like an outsider in her own home town. She’s not a jock or a cheerleader, she’s got two moms and she’s the leader of the Mystery Club at her high school which is most definitely not about reading Agatha Christie novels. She, and her two best friends, outsiders in their own right, make up the full membership of the Mystery Club where they get together to talk about all sorts of supernatural phenomena such as telepathy, crystals, and whatever else strikes their fancy. There’s really not much of a plot going on here, it’s more of a slice of life kind of thing. Monty’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, sure that people around her are judging or making fun of her, and she’s certain that the new boy in school who’s father is an evangelical minister is really out to get her. I found Monty to be so extreme in her reactions, so quick to judge others, that I really couldn’t sympathize or like her. Her friends and family were much more reasonable and compassionate, but I mostly thought of her as a whining little brat. Without any real plot and lack of a likable protagonist this book was a bit of a slog for me. The language and some of the situations make this too old for my up to 8th grade library, but following on the heels of This One Summer, I can see where it might have a place in some high school and public library YA collections.

IMWAYR!

Welcome to 2016! My first post of the year and sadly in about two months. Ah, distractions, they come in so many forms. Those distractions have also affected my reading habits. I’m off my game and I don’t like it. I’ve had two weeks off from school and I’ve only read in the last few days, not quite sure what I was doing at the beginning of the vacation, but not the things I planned on doing, and certainly not anything I should be doing.

Anyway, I hope to see/read/connect with many of you over the next year. A resolution! I will attempt to post more, maybe not reviews, but things that might encourage dialogue, and going along with that, I will try to comment/dialogue more on other people’s blogs. I want to reach out and connect. I can also be found on Twitter (@runawayreads) find me there!

IMWAYR 2015 This really fun meme is hosted by Kellee @ Unleashing Readers and Jen @ Teach Mentor Texts. I have found so many wonderful kidlit folks and so many amazing books through this weekly adventure.

 

 

And, so, on to some of my recent reading. Much good, some mediocre.

26452754Build, Beaver Build!
by Sandra Markle
Illus. by Deborah Hocking
Gr. 1-4 (younger if reading aloud)
E-galley available via NetGalley
Publish date: March 2016

Markle hits out of the park (again!) with this stunningly beautiful and informative picture book about beavers. The narrative follows a young beaver kit, just 3 months old, as he explores and learns about his environment; mimicking his parents behaviors as they forage for food and repair their dam. The young kit grows, learning to identify and escape from danger, play with his siblings and become a more productive member of his family. Markle’s writing is lively and engaging, creating drama and suspense amidst the details of life at a beaver dam. Hocking’s illustrations are lush and detailed, vibrant with color, and worth lingering over. The paintings that depict scenes above and below water at once are of particular distinction. I’ll definitely be getting this for our school library and sharing it with my elementary students and teachers.

25810642The Girl in the Well is Me
by Karen Rivers
Gr. 4-7
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish date March 2016

Breathless and gasping! The first chapters of The Girl in the Well is Me leave the reader suspended in the well with Kammie. Our young protagonist is stuck in a well, arms pinned to her sides, feet dangling, dark all around her with only a circle of light overhead. How she got there is only part of the story, and how she endures her time becomes the bulk of the narrative. Eleven-year-old Kammie is new to “Nowheresville” Texas, having moved there with her mother and brother, after her father is sent to prison for embezzlement. Her initiation into the popular clique has been interrupted by her abrupt fall into the well, and the question of whether or not the other girls will come back with help is at the forefront of Kammie’s mind. What follows is Kammie’s internal dialogue as she deals with fright, thirst, hunger, loneliness and decreasing amounts of oxygen that render her incoherent and hallucinating. Zombie goats and a French-speaking coyote are interspersed with memories of life with Dad before prison and her thoughts about friendship and fitting in. This is a tense read, the first-person narration brings an immediacy to the story that any other perspective wouldn’t, and readers will picture themselves in the well with Kammie regretting every decision that lead up to this moment right along with her.

25332026Terror at Bottle Creek
by Watt Key
Gr. 5 and up
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish Date: January  2016

Watt Key (Alabama Moon, Four Mile) is a master of suspense-filled survival fiction, and this newest one is no exception. 13-year-old Cort lives with his dad on a houseboat on the Gulf coast of Florida helping out with their fishing guide business, while trying to maintain some semblance of normal after his mom moved out. A hurricane is bearing down on them, and preparations begin which include boarding up windows, gassing up generators and the like. When the storm finally hits, Cort is holing up in a neighbor’s house with their two daughters while his dad and their mother check on Cort’s mother who lives some distance away. As the storm begins to rage, the youngest daughter, Francie, gets swept away on the water with the family dog and Cort and Liza, the other sister, go after her. What follows is a harrowing adventure as the three of them search for high ground, fight off snakes and wild boars, and simply try to stay alive in the face of ever-increasing danger. Key builds the tension very slowly, but with methodical detail, and thus the reader feels as if they are right there in Florida wilderness, living and breathing the storm. Cort’s a very capable and ingenious teenager, and his anger at his father for leaving them alone is palpable and realistic, but he’s been taught well and his common sense manages to keep everyone alive. Give this one to fans of Gary Paulsen or Will Hobbs, there’s plenty to chew on.

 

21525995In Real Life
by Jessica Love
Gr. 9 and up
E-ARC available via NetGalley
Publish date: March 2016

Hannah and Nick have been best friends for years despite never having met in real life. Introduced in 8th grade by their siblings who flirted for a nanosecond, Hannah and Nick have maintained a purely virtual relationship via texting, emailing, phone calls, etc…When Hannah decides that maybe her feelings for Nick are more than just friendly she uses the opportunity of her parents’ weekend away to go on a road trip with her older sister and best friend to go finally meet Nick in person and see where things lead. What follows is a pretty predictable set of misadventures, what with Nick having a real life girlfriend, and maybe not being fully truthful about a number of other things. As they miscommunicate, misunderstand and generally act like lovesick teenagers the two eventually find a way to make their relationship more than just virtual. The story relies so heavily on pop culture references, current gadgets and social media, that it is hard to see how it will not feel dated in 5-10 years. The characters mostly feel one-dimensional or fairly stereotypical, and none of them were ones I could relate to or sympathize with. There’s a tad too much sex and drinking for my 7th and 8th grade students, but older kids looking for a light, fluffy read will find it fun and easy.

Looking forward to getting to know you all more in the coming months.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR 2015It’s always fun to link up and share what I’m reading. You can join the fun by bopping over to Teach Mentor Texts written by Jen or Unleashing Readers by Kellee and see what so many others are reading. Go ahead.

 

Been a slow reading few weeks; I’ve started and stopped a few different books, but I have two to share. Small victories.

courtfivesThe Court of Fives
by Kate Elliott
Gr. 8 and up

Jessamy’s family lives between two worlds; not fully accepted into the elite Patron caste that her father was born into, and yet not part of her mother’s Commoner caste either. And so they tread lightly every where they go, keeping their heads down and trying not be noticed, too much. Jessamy wants to be a dutiful daughter, but longs to openly participate in the Court of Fives, a physically dangerous game akin to parkour that would bring shame and a probable punishment to her family, which it eventually does when her secret is discovered. This high fantasy has a setting reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, and a culture that feels more in tune with Ancient Greece. Descriptions of the game itself are interesting and face-paced, and the story is convoluted enough to keep the reader interested. I enjoyed it very much, and have been able to share it with students who love adventure fantasy.
25741571The Wolf Wilder
by Katherine Rundell
Gr. 4 and up

Gorgeous writing. Unusual setting. Quirky characters. I loved this one from the author of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms and Rooftoppers. Young Feo (short for Feodora) lives with her mother in the woods of Russia in the time of the Tsars, where they work to re-wild wolves that had been pets to the wealthy Russian aristocracy and then discarded when they became inconvenient. Feo is far more comfortable with wolves than with people, but when her mother is imprisoned by a crazy, power-hungry officer in the Tsar’s army, Feo must rely on and work with others in order to escape capture and free her mother. There are lush descriptions of the Russian winter, heart-stopping action sequences and some funny, awkward moments for Feo, who is never quite sure what response is best and has to adjust her smile to suit the situation. Every kid who reads this is going to want to live with their own half-wild wolves, I know I did!

23617200Full Cicada Moon
by Marilyn Hilton
Gr. 4 and up

In this novel in verse, young Mimi narrates the ups and downs of having just moved to rural Vermont from Berkley, California where her black father has taken a job as a professor at a local college.  Mimi struggles with a lot of “what are you?” sorts of questions, as well as fighting the stereotypes that girls can’t take shop or want to be astronauts. Her Japanese mother also tries to find a place in this new and unfamiliar environment, and together the family is constantly moving forward and onward. Mimi gets a lot of support from her parents, and their family is a very loving one that can withstand the prejudices that swirl around them. She also manages to make friends and find ways to pursue her interests despite the many obstacles. I really loved the story and Mimi’s voice. What I didn’t love was the poetry. This felt like one of those novels in verse that just had short sentences broken up randomly, nearly to the point of distraction. I repeatedly found myself thinking about how I would have written the poem differently. Sigh. It would have made a beautiful prose novel.

 

It’s Monday! Been a busy few weeks!

IMWAYR 2015It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s always fun to link up and share what I’m reading. You can join the fun by bopping over to Teach Mentor Texts written by Jen or Unleashing Readers by Kellee and see what so many others are reading. Go ahead.

It’s been a busy few weeks around these parts. Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival  and hear a number of authors/illustrators talk about their work. Sharon Creech, Matt Phelan, Tad Hills, Bruce Degen and Peter Brown all presented. For me, Matt and Tad were the most memorable and engaging. I love Matt’s artwork and his process, and listening to him talk about how he goes about putting a graphic novel together was fascinating. He also has an article about this in the current issue of The Horn Book if you want to see what I’m talking about. Tad Hills was just pure entertainment; funny, smart and totally humble. People were especially taken with the Halloween costumes that he has made for his kids over the years, check out his website to take a look at them. They are very impressive!

The day before that conference I attended Candlewick’s Librarian Preview for Spring 2016. Some really great things to look forward to coming from them next year.

A few that are worth putting on your radar:

crossingniagaraCrossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin
by Matt Tavares
Coming in April 2016

I’m a sucker for great picture book biographies, and this one has all the hallmarks. Lovely artwork, a little-known subject and a bit of suspense. Bring it on. I’m thinking if you liked The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, this one is going to be a winner for you.

raymienightingaleRaymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo
Coming in April 2016

New middle-grade fiction from Kate? Bring it on! Hard to go wrong on this front. Because Of Winn-Dixie will always be one of my favorites.

hourofthebeesHour of the Bees
by Lindsay Eagar
Coming March 2016

This is the unknown of the bunch, the one that the people at Candlewick were really excited to present. It’s getting a lot of love from early readers. Middle-grade fiction, magical realism.

Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Things are only impossible if you stop to think about them. . . .

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots. Readers who dream that there’s something more out there will be enchanted by this captivating novel of family, renewal, and discovering the wonder of the world.

Look for an ARC if you can. Maybe at ALA midwinter?

Ok, on to things I have actually read in the past few weeks.

babayagasassistantBaba Yaga’s Assistant
by Marika McCoola
Candlewick 2015
Gr. 4-8

This graphic novels is getting lots of attention for lots of reasons. I picked it up because I love Baba Yaga stories, they are so quirky and so different from many of the folktales we share with kids. This one is fairly creepy, hews pretty close to some of the traditional elements of a Baba Yaga story, and yet offers up a fairly original tale. The artwork is really well-done, and kids are going to be drawn to this one, whether they are familiar with the original stories or not. Works on many levels.

crenshawCrenshaw
by Katherine Applegate
Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Gr. 4 and up

Another story that is getting lots of love from many quarters. It is the story of young Jackson, whose family is on the brink of homelessness (again!) and they are selling their possessions in order to make rent money, but Jackson can see that this strategy might not be a long-term solution, and now that he’s older and wiser, he’s worrying more about what that all means for his future. Enter Crenshaw, a very large talking cat who was Jackson’s imaginary friend many years ago, coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) when the family was living out of their minivan for 14 weeks when he was about 5 years old. Crenshaw helps Jackson navigate his anxiety and his family. This is an incredibly moving story, really poignant and multi-layered. I can see it being a great book for a class or reading group, so much to talk about. I immediately shared it with our 4th and 5th grade teachers to float that possibility. I highly recommend this one for most elementary libraries. If you liked Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this one.

audacityAudacity
by Melanie Crowder
Philomel, 2015
Gr. 7 and up

LOVED IT!  It’s a fictionalized biography, written  in verse about Clara Lemlich, who was very active in the early labor rights movement in NYC in the early 1900’s, especially for women. She worked in several sweatshops after fleeing Russia and the pogroms that were happening there, and quickly realized how poorly treated the women who worked in the sweatshops were and how they had no real voice to make changes. She loudly advocated unionizing, and was often beaten and ignored for her efforts. This book was just so affecting, and I really haven’t stopped thinking about it. Beautifully written, this one doesn’t feel like some of the novels in verse, which are really more just lines of prose broken up to look like poems. Each page reads like an individual poem, and many can be read out of the context of the story and stand alone wonderfully. I feel like I’m doing this one justice. Go read it! Give this author some love.

drownedcityDrowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
by Don Brown
HMH Books, 2015
Gr. 4 and up

Beautiful. Haunting. Thoughtful. Don Brown really hit it out of the park with this graphic novel. The narrative begins with the building of the storm as it raged across the Gulf of Mexico, and then tells the tale of the city as it tried to cope during and after the storm. Brown incorporates some science into the tale, explaining how the storm grew, and why the aftermath was so bad with the broken levees, etc… There’s so much here in this slim novel, and so worth sharing right alongside the novels that describe the storm. I will say there are some really difficult images in parts of the book; floating bodies, people drowning, etc… so I would tend to recommend it for older elementary and middle school students. Very powerful.

Phew. It’s been a busy few weeks, and that feels good. All very book oriented. I like that.

Off to read what others have reading, have a great week!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR 2015As happens every Monday, Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers host a meme that is focused on children’s literature. A place to share what we’ve been reading over the course of the week. It’s a great way for me to think about and share what I’ve been reading, and an even better way to see what other people are reading and connect with them over books. My favorite activity, connecting with people about books.

Per usual, I can never really seem to get my act together every week to write a post, so I join in every few weeks. C’est la vie. I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about that. I do what I can.

In no particular order:

sunnysideupSunny Side Up
by Jennifer and Matt Holm
Published by GRAPHIX, August 2015

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was talking about this one long before it hit the shelves. I listened to The Yarn podcasts about it, I read the blog posts, etc….and I was psyched to order a couple of copies for my library. Our students devour realistic graphic novels like Smile, Drama and El Deafo, and this one is a no-brainer. It lived up to the hype. I loved it. Found it funny, and sad, and real, and it takes place in Pennsylvania and Florida in the mid-70’s, as did my own childhood, so it spoke to me.

watchtheskyWatch the Sky
by Kirsten Hubbard
Published by Disney-Hyperion April, 2015

The description of this one reminded me vaguely of The Compound by S.A. Bodeen, and I loved that one, so I decided to try this one out and see how my students might like it. Jory lives with his mother, stepfather, a younger “sister” and a baby half-brother in central California. Jory’s stepfather Caleb is a military veteran and a strong believer in ‘signs’ that portend something awful is coming their way, and thus begins a harrowing few weeks as the family prepares for impending disaster by tunneling a bunker in the canyon behind their house that will be stocked with supplies, enough to last 3-6 months. Jory has always supported his stepfather, but things are getting more dangerous and Jory just isn’t sure about what’s right and what’s wrong. The tension builds over the course of the book, as Jory is forced to keep more secrets, to separate his school life from his family life and to watch his mother’s health slowly deteriorate. Kids will like this one, though it definitely has some darker themes, I’m saving it for the 5th grade and up crowd. Fans of The Compound, or Watt Key’s Alabama Moon will probably like this one as well.

princessxI Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest
Published Arthur A . Levine Books, May 2015

This one I started reading solely because a coworker recommended it so strongly. I liked it quite a bit, but didn’t love it the way she did. I actually put this one down about a third through and didn’t think I’d finish it, but I did pick it back up. May is 16-years-old and still grieving the loss of her best friend, Libby, 3 years earlier in a car accident. She’s staying with her Dad in Seattle when she starts to see stickers and graffiti around town depicting a character that she and Libby had created years ago, but that had been lost when Libby died and her father got rid of all her stuff. May is confused and a little bit frightened, but determined to find out how this long-lost character can possibly be resurrected and who is behind it. It takes a while for the story to start, and I can’t say I was particularly surprised by the outcome, but the writing is strong and the characters are interesting. I can see the 6th-8th graders really enjoying it.

doryDory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
Published by Dial, October, 2014

This is a cute, short chapter book about young Dory who is getting ready to start school, but her older siblings are not convinced she’s ready for school since she still acts so “babyish” by throwing temper tantrums and still playing with her imaginary friend. Dory has an outsized imagination that keeps her entertained until her older siblings are willing to actually play with them. Rollicking humor, lots of drawings, sure to engage those who are ready for a step-up from the early readers.

courtfivesAnd, finally, I’m currently reading Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, but I’ll save a description for next time.

Can’t wait to see what everyone else has been reading lately.

Cheers!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee from Unleashing Readers host a weekly linkup party with a kidlit bent called It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? Go check them both out! 

I am definitely not good at the weekly, or even semi-regular posting thing. There just always seems to be a million things to get done, and writing blog posts slips down the priority list. The silver lining of that particular procrastination means that I have more books to talk about for IMWAYR.

Without further ado….

23309730Ruby on the Outside
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
For ages 9 and up

I love most of Nora’s stuff. Our fifth graders read Anything But Typical, which they love, and she has come several years to our school to work with them on creative writing and to talk about her books. This new one is a great middle grade read.
Ruby’s mom is in prison for 20-25 years for being an accessory to a murder when Ruby was only 4 years-old. Ruby lives with her aunt who tries her best to be a good parent, but it’s not always easy. Ruby is eleven and finally starting to realize that she harbors a good deal of anger towards her mother, and she has a lot of questions about what really happened and why her mom was there, and part of the crime. Ruby also struggles with friendships, as she is reluctant to let anyone get too close so they won’t find out about her mom. But in the summer before middle school Ruby meets Margalit whose friendship might mean enough to her to actually share her deepest, darkest secret.
I loved Ruby’s conflicted feelings about her; the desire to be loyal butts up against her very real anger that her mom is not in her life because of bad decisions. I’ve already book talked this one a few times and kids have been clamoring for it every time. It’s right around 200 pages, which I love, makes it completely accessible to so many kids.

23281891Lost in the Sun
by Lisa Graff
Ages 10 and up

Trent is still carrying around an enormous amount of guilt because a hockey puck that he hit into a fellow hockey player with an undiagnosed heart condition, died. Trent’s method of coping is to make sure that everyone around him hates him as much as he thinks they should, and so he checks out of school, antagonizes his father, and basically makes a complete ass of himself. I liked this one a lot, but Trent is a hard kid to like, and it takes most of the book to come around to finding some sympathy, at least for me that’s how it went. Graff’s books are always reliable, accessible realistic fictions, and I love sharing them with students.

20483085Poisoned Apples
by Christine Heppermann
Greenwillow Books, 2014
Ages: 14 and up

This slim volume of poems packs quite a punch. It got a lot of talk and great reviews when it came out last year, but I resisted buying it for my library because of the recommended age level, my school only goes through the 8th grade. Just recently I saw it mentioned somewhere and decided to go ahead and get a copy and I’m glad I did. These fairy tale poems cover a lot of ground about beauty, bodies, eating disorders, girls and love. Together they are quite powerful, I read the lot in only two short sittings, but even taken separately there are some really important poems here that are worth sharing with teens. With titles like “Mannequins Make Me Feel Like a Failure” and “The First Anorexic” readers are immediately drawn in. I can easily see teachers and advisors at my school wanting to share some of these with the older students, girls and boys alike, to spark discussion about some the issues that are prevalent throughout middle and high schools.
Highly recommended.

23310697Rhythm Ride
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
for ages 12 and up

In this one, Pinkney writes much like she presents. I had the pleasure of seeing her speak at a conference this summer and she was mesmerizing, and completely compelling. It was like a spoken poem. This history of Motown Records is told in the narrative voice of “the groove” and the words just bounce to their own funky rhythm. I loved reading it, and loved finding out more about the artists that made some of my most favorite music. The motown sound was running through my head throughout the book. I can’t recommend this one enough and can’t wait to share it with my 7th and 8th graders, even if they don’t know Motown music. They will!

piecesofwhy

Pieces of Why
by K.L. Going

This one I reviewed separately on my blog here.

Phew. It was some good reading these past few weeks, I’m glad to be back into the routine of school, which helps me find the time to read more consciously.

Can’t wait to see what everyone else has been tackling this week!

Cheers.