Black Boy, White School is a powerful book that struck many nerves, made me uncomfortable at times, pushed the limits in many ways, and made me think. Author Brian F. Walker paints a story showing truths that sometimes hurt and sometimes help all through the eyes of young black teen, Anthony. Anthony is precariously navigating the street life of East Cleveland, the violence and poverty stricken neighborhood in Northern Ohio. This is only part of the life that he has to balance. Anthony also is the teen who turns to a book for solace, the son who replies with a yes ma’am to his mother, and the scholarship student who will soon be attending a nearly all white prep school in New England.
This book is unapologetic in its realness. I say that because I have had Anthony as a student in my class. As I read, my heart actually was beating fast because of how closely Anthony’s East Cleveland life mirrored those of students I have taught. But the book’s author, Walker, doesn’t just expose the gritty street life in East Cleveland, he also exposes racism and hatred of immigrants. He weaves a story that looks at attitudes of young black students towards each other and their white peers. He puts age old traditions and what are deemed as socially acceptable practices under the microscope, so we can see them for what they are worth. Walker does all of this through the eyes of a 14 year old boy, so that we are forced into looking into a mirror, examining our own beliefs.
All this being said, let me be honest about the writing in this book. YA books sometimes can shock a teacher with the sex, swearing, open drug use, and violence. This book does all 4 of those things … in the first 4 pages of the book. If you are squeamish about gangster living or scared to know what’s really going on in the mind of your urban 8th grade students, this book might not be easy to read. As I was reading I also began to consider how I would approach a student about reading this book. While the book clearly doesn’t glorify sex, swearing, drug use, or violence it does give a hefty dose of these things. I suppose I would hope a student found this book and started secretly passing it to their friends, having secret little discussion groups behind my back. After all, the book was very well written, thought provoking, and generally would appeal to my urban students.
Recommended to students grades 10-12 and older interested YA readers....more
In the world of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and cell phones, it seems like everyone is ‘socially’ connected, especially teens (and now even pre-teens) .In the world of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and cell phones, it seems like everyone is ‘socially’ connected, especially teens (and now even pre-teens) . For this reason, it’s sometimes fun to read a story about a teen that is disconnected from technology in the modern world. That’s the case with Little Blog on the Prairie about 13 year old Gen whose family is spending the summer at an 1800’s inspired fantasy camp. Gen’s family will have to fend for themselves and work together to survive. Reality hits when the family eats a steady diet of watery grits and beans for the first week. Gen also doesn’t appreciate having to share a bedroom with her entire family, being the one responsible for scraping the greasy film off of the dishes, or missing soccer practice, modern necessities, and her friends. When a stow-away cell phone becomes Gen’s link to her friends and the outside world, she un-knowingly becomes a mini-celebrity creating daily anecdotes about prairie life.
This book was sweet, sweet, sweet. It’s a very solid tween read with just enough conflict and drama to connect with early YA readers. I liked the premise of the book so much, I was actually hoping for more blog entries, more pioneer drama, and maybe even a bit more romance. (The romance is very very mild.) But, tweens will eat this up. Recommended for Grades 5-8....more
Positively by Courtney Sheinmel is a beautiful and thought provoking novel about a teen girl that is HIV positive. When we meet Emmy, she is 13 and hePositively by Courtney Sheinmel is a beautiful and thought provoking novel about a teen girl that is HIV positive. When we meet Emmy, she is 13 and her mother has just passed away from complications due to the AIDS virus. She is scared and lonely and everything in her life has changed in this moment. She will have to go live with her father and step-mother who is expecting a child soon. The reality of living with HIV is tough for Emmy who can’t seem to fit in anywhere anymore. Her friends at school don’t understand. Her step-mother is too neat and overbearing. Her father isn’t help either. By the time Emmy’s emotions boil over, she has pushed away her best friend, disappointed her father, and scared her step-mother into suggesting that Emmy be sent away for the summer to a camp for others that are HIV positive.
Emmy resists joining the fun at camp. She finally doesn’t feel different, but can’t seem to move forward. Throughout the book, Emmy is insightful and sincere, sharing her story with deep emotion and feeling. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 13 year old narrator dealing with so much. I was pleasantly surprised and moved by the story. Emmy shows real anger, perspective, fear, and in the end makes positive changes in her life. In simple narrative in the back of the book, Courtney Sheinmel tells her story of growing up being a volunteer of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, befriending Glaser and her family. Sheinmel drew on her experience working with the foundation to write Positively. While this book dealt with real-life difficulties, pain, and life and death I felt really good after reading the story. It teaches important lessons about how to stay positive, that everyone makes mistakes, and walks young adult readers through a life with HIV. I hope YA readers are able to gain empathy and perspective on children with health problems like this. I would recommend this book to 6th graders and up.
The Berlin Boxing Club is a powerful new YA book written by Robert Sharenow. The book is a solid YA read that will draw readers into a historical fiction story set in World War II. This is only Sharenow’s second novel and he drew his inspiration from some real-life stories about World War II.
Karl Stern is a teenager living in Berlin in the 1930’s. He wasn’t raised in the Jewish faith, but that doesn’t stop his classmates and others in his community from identifying him as a Jew. He is bullied as is his family. Karl turns toward 2 secret loves: boxing and cartooning. In the 1930’s boxing was a worldwide phenomenon. Karl is introduced into the boxing world by a very famous German boxer, none other than Max Schmelling. Schmelling teaches Karl about boxing and gives the young teen advice when he is in town, which isn’t often. Schmelling, however, remains somewhat neutral to the political turmoil that is turning Karl’s life upside down. Throughout the book we are also shown illustrations of Karl’s work and see comic strips created by the character.
I hope this book gets noticed by other YA readers, librarians, bloggers, and teens. It’s on my list of must-reads for 2011. I have read other books that have similar themes, but none that were from such a strong perspective of a teen living through the devastating changes that Hitler and his Nazi party brought to Berlin. If you know a teen or even an adult that is interested in WWII history or fiction, this book is a great read. I really appreciated the amount of historical scenes we are given as we read the book as well. All of this plus the dramatic world of boxing are brought together in a well written book. The descriptions of the boxing are well done and easy to follow when the action gets intense. The book is amazingly true to life in the portrayal of a teen dealing with something so unreal, so unfathomable, so devastating, that it tears the character (and reader) apart. I would have to say, for me, this was a difficult read because of the subject matter. At times I had to put the book down and walk away because my emotions were riding a little too high. I will just recommend that if any part of this review interested you; you won't be disappointed by the read. ...more
Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski is a hot YA read and I had to read to find out what the buzz was all about. The title and the cover are both intriguing; from the beginning you can tell this is going to be a bit racy. The book does list 10 major ‘mistakes’ the main characters make and uses these as chapter headings. The book also spends a lot of time going back and forth using flashbacks to set the stage for various scenes. At times this was a bit distracting. Due to the content of the book I would rate it for older YA readers.
April is a high school teen with a steady boyfriend who so is totally in love with. She is ready to take things to the next level, but her family decides to move quicker than she can and relocates several states away. Somehow, (and by somehow I mean by lying, cheating, and breaking some laws) April and her friend Vi convince her father that April should be allowed to stay behind, on her own, living with Vi and her very absentee mother. That’s right, April and Vi are a junior and senior in high school with a house, an endless supply of both money and alcohol, and zero parental supervision. Can you imagine?
Everything you can imagine does happen in the book, including … everything. I really did think the concept of the book, albeit a little farfetched, was cute, but for me at least, a little too over the top. Between the drinking, bad boys, lying, and irresponsibility, it just wasn’t a fun read for me. There were times the book was a nice, fun read and some of the characters were good to get to know, but if teens read this book and find it realistic, I am not convinced. Overall I liked the style of the writing, I think the set up was unique, but I couldn’t get past the flat characters that only had one thing on their minds. If you are a older YA reader looking for a book that is exciting, easy to read, and a bit unrealistic at times, you might want to give this one a try....more
Books based in a High School always strike a chord with me. I enjoy all of the drama, friendships and cliques, and academia all wrapped up in one story. (Maybe this is why I am a teacher?) For all of these reasons, Prom and Prejudice really was the perfect recommendation for me. While you can guess from the title that the book plays off of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you don’t have to be an Austen lover to fall in love with this book. But … if you happen to be a Austen lover, this book is full of connections to Austen, so of course, you will love it too.
Lizzie is a student at a scholarship student at Longbourn Academy. Her passion is music, as is her scholarship, and while this gives her focus and purpose, it also makes her very different from the rich teens with whom she shares her classes, dorm, and campus. Other girls are focused on prom and the boys at a neighboring school; Lizzie could care less. The story has enough surprises and quirky connections to keep readers absolutely entertained and wanting more. I think the book would be perfect for girls thinking about prom and girls slightly younger teens who are already dreaming of going to prom.
I guess you can already tell that I loved this book. It was so easy to read and get to know the characters. This book is almost an anti-prom story to tell the truth, and that’s perfect for me. Eulberg’s writing seems effortless, she taps into the voice and feelings of teens from many different ways of life in a very personal way. I particularly enjoyed meeting the family’s of the characters in this book and wish there was more and more to read. I really would give this book to most teen girls who like cute and fun stories about teens. ...more
And now introducing: The Lonely Hearts Club a beautifully clever book about one teen’s experiences dealing with a broken heart and learning how to lean on her friends, accept her family (with all their quirks), and possibly get revenge on teen boys. Penny Lane is named after the Beatle’s title character and she is almost as passionate about the Beatles as her parents, who are quite obsessed. Penny starts off in l.o.v.e. with a boy that she just knows is the one. the one! When he does the ultimate bad guy deed, she vows that all boys are jerks. She swears off dating and decides to focus on being the best she can be as a friend, sister, and daughter. Everyone around her see what she is doing and some girls even follow suit, forming this club, The Lonely Hearts Club. This book has a very loud Girl Power theme to it! The best part of this book isn’t the constant reference to the Beatles or the fun and quirky characters, it’s the surprising valuable and palatable lesson that Penny and her friends learn by the end of the book.
You already know that I love this book; I just hope that others are reading it and enjoying it as much as I did. I hope teen girls are talking about it. I hope, hope, hope, Eulberg writes more about these characters! (She has already hinted that she may return to these characters in the future.) The book isn’t too girlie, so it has appeal to a wide range of readers. I think it has a few mature scenes and should be reserved for teens. If you haven’t found Eulberg on your to be read list yet, I strongly suggest adding her books to your list....more
In a world where paranormal is a favorite of YA readers, I have a confession to make. It scares me. I have never been a fan of the scary, gruesome, ghostly, or even the slightly spooky. I appreciate how this genre draws in readers. I understand that books are the perfect avenue to suspend your beliefs and get lost in another world, but for me at times it’s a little too much. Well, I decided to suspend my own feelings and try out the book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This is the first novel from Riggs. One of the things I should tell you about the book is that the front cover of the book seen here is just the beginning of the fascinating and bizarre photographs that are integrated into the novel.
In the book, Jacob is a high school student in boring Florida when a series of events sends him to his grandfather’s childhood stomping grounds to explore a small island and boarding school. We find out, Jacob’s grandfather had told him all about his childhood with fantastical characters, often sharing photographs which as a reader we also get to see. Now as a teenager, Jacob is trying to piece together his grandfather’s past including the spooky boarding school that was the backdrop for many of these bizarre photos. Murder, monsters, and mayhem are all part of this paranormal adventure, as well as the beautiful and dreamlike photographs.
Well, I read the book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down despite myself! Not only were the photographs vivid and graphic, the words painted a picture that played like a black and white movie in my mind. I felt fear when I read some of the more gruesome scenes, even groaning out loud at parts. I have the feeling this was all the intent of the book. I think older YA readers will eat this book up. It’s so different from other books; did I mention that part of the story is told during WWII Wales? One part of the book that was more than a bit odd was the main character Jacob having kind of a romance with his own grandfather’s ex-girlfriend. Maybe YA readers don’t mind this on a paranormal level. Overall, I would recommend this book to older teens, book clubs in particular (since there is a lot to talk about), and anyone who likes the bizarre, weird, and strange. I can’t help but think that the author will soon be writing about more adventures about peculiar children soon. ...more