This book is one of those books that I don’t like to tell people what it is about because any summary just doesn’t capture the brilliance of the characterization and story. However, through the word-of-mouth compliments of middle schoolers, it has become a favorite book for many of our school’s students and even won our HCMS Mock Newbery Award! I think it is Jason Reynolds’s way of connecting with adolescent readers through a true voice and circumstances that so many of them will connect to....more
So glad that Vivi decided to write about what happened between the last chapter and epilogue of Olivia Twisted. It finally fills in the gaps of what hSo glad that Vivi decided to write about what happened between the last chapter and epilogue of Olivia Twisted. It finally fills in the gaps of what happened to Z and Liv. And it is GOOD! I read it in one sitting and couldn't put it down! Start with the first book then definitely pick up this one!
I was very lucky to be one of the early readers for Olivia Twisted (Vivi’s children actually go to the school I teach at! Check out the discussion questions at the back of the book, too–I wrote those!), and I fell in love with Liv and Z. I loved how Vivi retold Oliver Twist yet made the story completely hers at the same time. However, anyone that read the book had one big question looming over them: What happened between the end of the story and the epilogue?!?!? It is something that I am sure Vivi was asked over and over again, and Olivia Decoded is the answer, and it is a GOOD answer. I read this book in one sitting, and I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened because even though you knew what happened because of the epilogue in Olivia Twisted, how it got to that situation was a big mystery....more
Love is a language that is spoken in so many different ways. Kiely's book is a love poem to forever love, first love, family love, questioning love, lLove is a language that is spoken in so many different ways. Kiely's book is a love poem to forever love, first love, family love, questioning love, love of music, love of words, and the struggle of love. Beautiful and touching and will fill your heart....more
One thing I’ve noticed is that so many orphans in stories seem to always get into some sort of trouble and then go on amazing adventures. Like Annie, Grubb from Alistair Grim, and Peter Nimble before him, John Coggin, a recent orphan, finds himself in quite a predicament of a situation when he is forced to work for his great aunt’s funeral home. It is the last straw when Great Aunt Beauregard tries to force Page, John’s sister, to go to work with them, and that begins the adventure! Elinor Teele takes us on quite a journey! With Boz, the comic relief with an amazing vocabulary, our three main characters meet some unique characters along the way.
Teele’s ability to weave such an odd story together and make it seem seamless is remarkable. John, Page, and Boz have about 5 stops along their journey all with a wide-variety of characters who all are a bit quirky but also relatable and you end up loving all of them. Although everything that happens is quite farfetched, you end up believing it all because you just want John and Page to be successful!...more
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan‘s Willow Chance is one of the most amazing young woman I’ve ever encountered in a book. She is brilliant and somehow changes the lives of every person she encounters. And she is not the only well-crafted character in the book–everyone in the book is important and very well developed. This is a wonderful middle grade book that I now know why so many people love it....more
Each time I pick up a Jennifer Brown novel I know I'll not want to get to until I am done, and this book was no different--I read it in one sitting. JEach time I pick up a Jennifer Brown novel I know I'll not want to get to until I am done, and this book was no different--I read it in one sitting. Jennifer Brown sure knows how to craft a story! Torn Away is a gut-wrenching book that so perfectly portrays grief and fear and sadness....more
A Thirst for Home is a heart-wrenching story that was inspired by the author’s adopted Ethiopian daughter. It looks at the struggle for food and water in Africa and how some mothers must give up their children for adoption in hopes of their survival. This book would be a perfect companion to A Long Walk to Water....more
This is one of those books that grabs you and sucks you in. I mostly love our main character. She has had to grow up too quickly thus making her a bit rough around the edges, but the way that friendship, family, history, poetry, and stories smooth her out is just so well done. Although at times I felt Grace came off older than she is, I realized, after talking to Carrie G., that it is because of the hardships she has endured. And the cast of characters, family and friends, who play a role in Grace’s transformation all are so well crafted. The Secret Hum of Daisy is a beautiful book because of Holczer’s word choice, Grace’s story, and the look at grief, family, and friendship....more
My Review: Matt Tavares's four superbly crafted biographies take a look at the life of each man, but as more than a baseball player. We learn about their childhoods, where they came from, and their dreams and hopes. Each book includes aspects of the history surrounding them including the Depression, wars, and racism. Additionally, these books are crafted beautiful with lyrically written prose. These books are must reads for lovers of baseball, history, and biographies in general.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was lucky enough to be asked to write a teachers’ guide for each of these books. For each book, I created discussion questions and activities (including cross-curricular activities). I plan on using this guide in my own classroom with the books in a lit circle type of setting. Each group will be given one of the biographies, will complete the discussion questions and activities, and then become experts on their player before presenting. These biographies are asking to be in classrooms, and I hope the guide helps show how they can fit into a language arts/reading class.
While reading this book, I had no question that it deserved the Schneider Teen Award. The Schneider Family Book Award honors a “book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,” and Girls Like Us take us into Quincy and Biddy’s worlds as they learn to transition from a special-ed classroom in high school to real life in such a true matter, it definitely meets the criteria for the award. In many ways, the book is like any book about girls who just graduated from high school: learning to live with a roommate you don’t understand, learning to be responsible, etc. However, the challenges that these young ladies face because of their disabilities puts the book on a whole different level. Although the book is primarily about Quincy and Biddy’s life, it does illuminate some serious issues towards the treatment of differently abled individuals. (P.S. I love the ending very much!)
There is so much to talk about with this book! Because it impacted myself and a few of my friends, we decided to have a Twitter chat focused around it (#GLUChat). If you have read the book (because there are spoilers) check out our conversation: https://storify.com/trkravtin/girls-l.... Thank you to Teresa for archiving and Michele, Carrie, Alyson, and Leigh for taking part in it with me!...more
I love historical fiction because it introduces me to history in a way that will suck me into it and help me retain the information. Many historical fiction books also choose lesser known aspects of history to share. Rory’s Promise does all of the above. When I was done with the book, I immediately went and book talked it to my reading class though I found myself talking to them even more in depth about the history it shares (which then make them want to read the book even more). Rory’s Promise touches on orphans, mining, race relations, religion, kidnapping, building of the west, and The Foundling Hospital of NYC and does so in such a fascinating yet educational way. I learned so much from the book, and I immediately went and did more nonfiction reading when finished. AND it was a book I couldn’t put down!...more
This book’s ending was so shocking. I sat with my mouth hanging open, just shocked. It was so sudden and really caught me off guard. The emotion I felt starts with the characters. Jimmy is a nobody in his high school until Renee enters his life. Renee is special. She doesn’t care about what others think, she stands up to the bullies, and she actually befriends Jimmy. Renee is who propels our plot. She gets Jimmy to get out of his comfort zone, she is mysterious so I was always trying to figure her out, and she was smart and beautiful....more
I can’t say enough great things about this novel as it helped me out of my latest reading slump! I also think it is interesting because I read Jackie Chan before reading Jumping Off Swings, and I think that may have changed my perspective. It is interesting to think about how the different order of reading can change how you view a book. I went in with no expectations because I didn’t even know what had happened to Josh, so I think that the reveal of that secret was bigger for me than if I’d read it in the other order. Because I was naive about the past, I went in with no past feelings for Josh and really just hoping for the best for him. I found myself struggling with him and crying with him because his hurt was so deep. Though Stella and Larry enter his life, I didn’t think he’d let them in, but instead, they become a huge part in him healing. I really loved Living with Jackie Chan (as well as Jumping off Swings which I read immediately after finishing Jackie Chan). Jo Knowles always impresses me with her ability to tell tough stories in ways that makes it so that the reader can connect....more
What I Think: I am a big fan of twists on classic stories, fairy tales, etc. and this one was quite an interesting one. Dora is an orphaned, young lady who is trying to learn more about her past, so she goes searching for her biological father, Sherlock Holmes, only to find he is dead. But do not worry, Dora has her father's deductive genes which we learn quickly when she goes to another detective to help her solve her cousin's mystery. It is through this random meeting that mystery that becomes Secret Letters comes to light. My favorite part of this book is Dora. She is a strong, clever female character in a time when females were not supposed to be any of the such. On top of all this, she is observant, like her father, so her deductive reasoning skills are something to be jealous of. AND she is snarky. I love snarky girl characters mostly when it is exactly what they aren't supposed to be. Now, Peter Cartwright is not anything to shake your head at either. He sees that Dora is exactly the detective he needs to solve the mystery he is in charge of and puts faith into a woman when his senior partner shunned her. It is because of Peter that Dora gets to even be a detective.
Read Together: Grades 9 and up
Read Alone: Grades 9 and up
Read With: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens
Snatch of Text: "I really should have ended there. But I had discovered more about him, and he was staring at me now with such a look of baffled rage that I could not stop myself. "You were critical of my cousin from the first!" I continued furiously. "Why did you judge her like that and turn away? She never injured you. And yet the story of her old romance obviously upset you so much that you could not speak to her impartially. I wonder why? could it have something to do with the fresh imprint of the missing wedding bad upon your finger? You took the ring off less than a year ago, judging by the fair strip of skin above your knuckle. And yet, sadly, you aren't wearing mourning. I am very sorry for you, sir, and because I am not blind, or innocence, I will conclude that you are a good man who is very angry at some other lady who has badly wronged him." I had never experienced a silence like the one that followed that declaration." (p. 46-47)
Mentor Text for: Allusion, Deductive Reasoning, Dialogue, Snarky Humor
Writing Prompts: Read a Sherlock Holmes story and show how the plot arc, characters, deductive reasoning, and mystery are similar and/or different between the story and Secret Letters.
Topics Covered: Sherlock Holmes, Illicit Love, Deductive Reasoning, Writing in Code, Strong Woman Protagonist, Family, Victorian England...more
Annie and Rew have only vague memories of their father who died triumphantly and don’t remember their mother at all who decided she didn’t want to be a mom. They now live with their grandmother who suffers with an agoraphobia-type disorder. Some days she rarely leaves her room leaving Annie to be in charge of the household, her brother, and any tough decisions including lying to her social worker. This has lead to Annie having to grow up faster than other 11-year-olds. Most of her days, she spends time with her brother near the zebra forest telling stories and reminiscing about their father and the adventures that he would have taken if he was still alive. Though, like in all of our lives, one moment can change everything and with a rattling, stuck backdoor Annie and Rew’s lives will never be the same.
Sometimes you come across quiet novels that aren’t being talked about in the mainstream that are very entertaining and well done. This is one of those books. It starts out quietly with amazing stories being told between Annie and Rew and great character development. Then the plot twist changes everything! And the suspense, emotion, and background story really starts to build....more
A student who is in my yearbook class was so excited when he saw my classroom library that he came bounding over to me the first week and asked me, "You have so many books! So you read a lot, right? Have you read Wolves of the Beyond?!" He was so excited. And how can a teacher kill a kid's excitement in 2 seconds? By answering, "No. I'm not sure what that is..." Well, he was so flabbergasted by my lack of knowledge that he brought me the book to read, pretty much commanding me to. And I have to say, I am pretty glad he did.
Lone Wolf is obviously the beginning of what is going to be a majorly epic animal fantasy series similar to Erin Hunter's books and Redwall. This series is a spin-off of Lasky's Ga'Hoole series yet I never found that not reading Ga'Hoole hindered the story in the least. Though it takes place in the same land as the other series, it is new characters and still includes description and a map to help with the setting.
While reading, there were 3 things that really impressed me. 1st, like most fantasy animal fiction, I am always amazed by how an author can get into the head of animals. Lasky describes the animal instincts, aggression and emotions in such a beautiful way as if she can read their minds. 2nd, the world building in phenomenal. It amazes me when an author can build such a high fantasy world for their animals to live in. Finally, the immense plot development that is required to make these epic series and ones that intertwine like Wolves of the Beyond and Ga'Hoole astonish me even more.
Mentor text for: Setting, Characterization, Plot Development, Descriptive, World Building (Mapping)
Snatch of Text: "In the Cave Before Time, he had seen two constellations of wolves. One was the starry one on the rock ceiling. The other "constellation" was not stars but the hunting and traveling formation of wolves running together. In that formation he had sensed a common feeling, a spirit of fellowship. It made him fell all the more lonely. He had wanted to run with those wolves, to be part of that "constellation," ever since he had first seen the picture." (p. 145)...more
In the end, this was a beautiful book. Well written, emotional, though incredibly slow and hard to get into at the beginning. Worth it in the end; glaIn the end, this was a beautiful book. Well written, emotional, though incredibly slow and hard to get into at the beginning. Worth it in the end; glad I stuck with it. ...more
Sophie is a normal teenager who struggles with going between her divorced parents mostly when they live in completely different cultural situations- her father has a office job in America and her mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Though she was born in the Congo, the last handful of years have been spent in America with her father and returning to Congo and her mother's sanctuary. The book begins with Sophie being picked up and while waiting in a check point, she spots a baby bonobo who is not being treated well and, against everyone's wishes, buys him. Otto now enters into her life and ours. He becomes the co-star of the book and begins to change Sophie's feelings about being at the sanctuary. But then, right before she is about to leave, chaos at the hand of revolutionaries envelopes Congo and Sophie finds herself in a completely type of situation. Now if you follow me here or on Twitter, you know that I am a sucker for ape books and I have been lucky that many people who care a lot about apes write some amazing ape books - this is a book to add to that list. It left me with even more of a passion for saving these animals who are our closest relative. I. Love. This. Book. It quickly moved into my favorites list even while I was only half way through with it. It is such a journey that you take with this young lady and the growth you see in her (and Otto) is incredible. On top of that, Eliot Schrefer is an author who not only can tell a good story, but he can help you become part of the story and visualize and feel everything that is happening. And I am not alone in this love. Endangered was a finalist for The National Book Award, Eliot Schrefer was a hit at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE, and it is being gushed about on Twitter: "ENDANGERED is one of those books that has a powerful impact, makes you think, and sticks with you long after you've closed the final pages." -Jillian Heise (@heisereads)
"ENDANGERED was a can't-put-down book with an emotional and intelligent story that left me wanting to learn more about bonobos and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I enjoy books that engage me and leave me thinking, and Eliot Schrefer has balanced that beautifully in this novel." -Jillian Heise (@heisereads) "ENDANGERED is so, so good! Highly recommend to everyone, even though I am only halfway through it. @kelleemoye, you weren't kidding." -Ricki Ginsberg (@ReadwithPassion)
"@kelleemoye @eliotschrefer It is such a complex book. Would be great to teach! Very accessible for kids, too." -Ricki Ginsberg (@ReadwithPassion)
Read Together: Grades 6 and up
Read Alone: Grades 7 and up
Read With: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya (via Jillian Heise), Non-fiction books about bonobos and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Snatch of Text: "The man released the bonobo. The little ape sat down tiredly in the dirt and lowered his arms, wincing as his sore muscles relaxed. I kneeled and reached out to him. The bonobo glanced at his master before working up the energy to stand and toddle over to me. He leaned against my shin for a moment, then extended his arms to be picked up. I lift him easily and hugged himself to me, his fragile arms as light as a necklace. I could make out his individual ribs under my figures, could feel his heart flutter against my throat. He pressed his lips against my check , I guess to get as close as possible to my skin, and only then did I hear his faint cries; he'd been making them for so long that his voice was gone." (p. 3-4)
Mentor Text for: Imagery, Emotional Impact, Figurative Language
Writing Prompts: Sophie makes many decisions throughout the book that many people, specifically her parents, would not have agreed with. Would you have made the same decisions as her? Were there any you would have done differently? Do you think her decisions were worth it? Use text evidence to back your answers.