Monday, October 21, 2019

Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I love all books by Eric Walters, so when I saw this new one, I had to order it.  I read it in one sitting and as I was reading it I was already thinking about who I would recommend it to. 

This book is set in 2002, just 5 months after 9/11 and the main character is Shirli Berman.  Shirli is a grade 8 student who loves dancing, singing and acting and has just auditioned for a part in Fiddler on the Roof, a story about a Jewish family living in Russia in 1905.  As Shirli's own family is Jewish, she seeks the advice of her beloved grandfather - Zayde.  He has always been very quiet about his past.  Throughout the story, Shirli's life revolves around practices, boys, rivals and friends, she also starts learning about the history of Zayde and what he and his family went through during World War 2.   The secrets Zayde shares comes as a real surprise to Shirli and her family, but does explain a few things about her grandfather and helps Shirli better understand the role she is playing.

This story was absolutely brilliant, weaving in the way Jews have been treated throughout history, the terrorist attacks in New York and how Muslim people were treated in the aftermath of that event as well.    I loved the relationship between Zayde and Shirli, reminding me a great deal of my own relationship with my grandfather, who was also very silent about the role he played in World War 2. 

With November coming up soon, this book would make a perfect read aloud for grades 6-8. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

OCDaniel by Wesley King

One of the teachers at my school has talked to me about this book a few times, he reads it aloud to his Grade 8's each year.  I hadn't read (or heard about it) before he mentioned it.  Last week I was sharing a book I'd just finished and he suggested we swap books.  So as soon as he finished reading this book with his class, he gave it to me to read. 

OCDaniel is about a boy in 8th grade named Daniel.  Daniel is not one of the popular boys, but he is friends with one of the popular boys.  Daniel isn't good at sports, and he really isn't very good at math, but he is a nice guy, with a big crush on a girl who he is sure will never like him.  But Daniel also is hiding a big secret- he has OCD- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It takes him hours to fall asleep because he has a certain ritual he has to perform precisely before he can fall asleep.  He also has certain numbers that he really struggles with when he has to write them (or even perform them- like taking 5 steps to the bathroom).  He hides these feelings from everyone, his friends and his family.  But when Sara, a girl he has known forever, but has never spoken with because she doesn't speak to anyone starts seeking his attention, she starts to learn a bit more about Daniel and what he is dealing with every day.  Sara and Daniel are both young adults dealing with a mental illness and have to learn how to survive school, family and life in general. 

I really liked this story.  Daniel is such a loveable character.  I love his wit and his running commentary about the other boys in his school- the more athletic boys who seem to thrive at everything.  Daniel really reminds me of so many kids at my school.  I totally understand why teachers would read this book aloud- there is so much here to discuss and share with students.  I learned a great deal about how people struggle with OCD, and how some kids are battling some real challenges when they come to school.

I'd strongly suggest all teachers read this book. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Over the summer I was reading about this book on Twitter.  Many people were talking about how this is a book that everyone who works with middle school / Intermediate students needs to read.  I pre-ordered it this summer and it just arrived this week.  This book is one that is going to stay with me and is going to have an impact on how I approach situations with the students I work with.  

Maybe He Just Likes You deals with the issues of teasing/ bullying /harassing / "it was just a joke"/ "you are being too sensitive" that I see every day at school.    The subtle words and actions that some students use to 'tease' other students can often go unnoticed by adults and other students.  What I loved about this book was the idea that when it feels wrong in your gut- it is wrong.  

This book is about Mila- a 7th grade student who has a nice core group of friends, she plays in a band and is worried about her family financial situation and the relationship between her divorced parents.  She is a very relatable character, as I was reading this book, I was picturing students I know who are just like her.  

At school, things start to get a bit weird when boys in her class start hugging her and making off side comments that feel wrong to Mila.  When she mentions it to her friends, she is told that the boys are just flirting with her.  Even when she speaks to a Guidance Councillor, he also brushes it off and makes a comment about boys being boys and that ignoring them is the best way to deal with things.  But Mila knows that it is more than that - she asks the boys to stop, and they don't.  

This book is all about those subtle jabs, comments, and inappropriate touching that I think many young women deal with.  But is is also about empowering girls to listen to their gut, or their inner voice when something feels off.  I'm really hoping that many teachers read this book with their students and engage in conversations with the young adults they are working with.  I think we can all learn from this book.  I will be talking it up with as many educators as I can.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

Last March, I read the book Dr. Martin by Nic Stone and really loved it.   When I was searching for a book to read this summer, I looked at the other books by Nic Stone and saw this one.  I'm so glad I read it! 

Odd One Out is the story of three friends, two who have been best friends and next-door neighbours for years.  Jupe lives with her two dads and has known forever that she is gay. Coop lives with his mom and has known forever that he is attracted to Jupe. The two of them are inseparable.  Then Rae moves to town and quickly becomes a part of their friend group.  Rae feels attracted to Coop, but also to Jupe.  When Rae and Coop start dating, Jupe is confused about her feelings for both of her friends
as well. 
I know that synopsis of the book is a bit confusing, however this book was incredible.  I finished it about 4 days ago, and still find myself thinking about all the characters.  I loved the friendship between Jupe and Coop, I also loved the young man that Coop is.  He is kind and caring and really seems to break the stereotype of what boys who play basketball are like with both their own friends and towards girls.  Coop is the young man I hope all boys can inspire to be like. 

I also liked reading how all three of these characters question their sexuality, but in very age appropriate ways.   I think many young women need to read this book.  I so often have students that I talk to who are grappling with who they are, and I think having a book to read that explores this topic is very important. 

There are some mature parts to this book, again, very age appropriate, but I would be a bit cautious giving this to some Intermediate students, however there are several students who I know would benefit from reading this book. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Click'd by Tamara Ireland Stone

This summer I discovered a new author- Tamara Ireland Stone  and have now read a few books by her.  I really like her writing style.  While the first two books Every Last Word and Little Do We Know are heavier books that deal with big issues, this one is a bit lighter, however it still deals with important issues. 

Click'd is the story of Allie- a 7th grader who has just spent the summer at a Girls Coding Camp where she created her very own app- Click'd.  Allie is very proud of her app, she wanted to create an app that would help her meet friends who shared similar interests.  She is thrilled when her computer science teacher recommends her for a huge coding competition that is coming up soon.  Allie is very excited to share her new app.  After showing it to her friends, Allie is convinced to open it up to her school. Suddenly the whole school has Click'd fever and her app is reaching epic proportions.  But when she discovers a glitch in her app that has the potential to leak personal data and information, Allie is torn between allowing her success to continue and doing the right thing. 

I thought this book was great- the grade 7 students in this book are similar to grade 7's at my school.  Interested in their phone, the latest app and their friends.  Allie is a great character, I loved reading about a female who is passionate about coding, but also interested in soccer and her friends.  I think this book would make a great read aloud and would allow opportunities for discussions about coding, friendship, perseverance and other topics that are interesting to students in grade 7 and 8. 


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Secrets we Keep by Trisha Leaver

I'm not sure where this book came was just sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.  But boy was it a good one!

The story is about two sisters, Ella and Maddy, identical twins who may look alike, but couldn't be more different in personality.  Ella lives in Maddy's shadow, she's the quieter one, the smarter one, the one with a few close friends.  Maddy is the popular one with the boyfriend, a group of friends that she can always rely on for a good party and is co-captain of the field hockey team. 

One night, after a terrible argument, Maddy and Ella get in a car accident that leaves Maddy dead and Ella confused as to her identity.  When everyone assumes that Ella is Maddy, Ella figures that it is because everyone wants Maddy alive, and not her.  Ella feels she owes it to her sister to live the life she was meant to live, and Ella decides to give up her dreams and her life.  But it isn't easy being someone else, even if that someone is the person you should know the best in the world. 

Ella is such a wonderful character, you really get the sense of the struggle she is facing after not only the death of her sister, but learning the truth behind the person her sister had become. 

I can't wait to give this book to a few of the kids at school in September. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales

Back in the spring, I read a book This Song Will Save Your Life and I really liked it.  I ordered this book because it was written by the same author.  I've been in a bit of YA book slump trying to find a book to catch and keep my interest. This morning I had a bit of time on my hands, so I grabbed this book and it was just what I needed. 

If you don't have anything nice to say digs into what happens when mistakes are made in today's world of social media.  Winter, is a 17 year old senior.  She is a smart girl who has her future completely mapped out for her.  Then one night she sends out a tweet as a joke that goes viral and suddenly the whole world is mad at her.  She loses her friends, has hurt her family and has no idea what to do next.  The rest of the story explores how Winter deals with the fallout of one mistake that could happen to anyone. 

I thought this story was brilliant from many different angles.  The idea for kids to realize that what you post online stays there forever, and that when you comment or criticize someone, you don't always have the whole story.  I so often see the impacts of words exchanged online, I think people forget that behind the keyboard is a real person.  Hopefully this book will help people realize that their words do have power and can hurt. 

I think this is a book that could be read aloud in an Intermediate classroom for sure- I would suggest you read this one for yourself.