Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

I'm a huge fan of Courtney Summers books- I've reviewed a few of her books on this blog.   I like the stories she tells, although they tend to be a little more mature than the audience I usually write for.  Some of her books I would be hesitant to give to Intermediate students because of the topics she writes about.   

Cracked Up to Be is one of those books that is mature, deals with topics that tend to be more suited to high school students, but I would give it to a more mature grade 8 student. 

Parker is the main character, she is a deeply flawed young lady who is trying to cope with an event that happened at a party last year.  Before that party, Parker was the perfect student, daughter and girlfriend.  But something happened there that changed everything.  Now, Parker is trying to hold it together in order to graduate and escape her town so that the secret she knows never has to be told. 

Parker was a great character- sassy, smart and damaged.  She was someone who I wanted to survive in order to move forward and be successful.  I would suggest reading this book before giving it to any younger student since there are some mature topics. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Last summer, I read the book Holding Up the Universe  and I when I looked to see what else Jennifer Niven has written, I found All the Bright Places.  I must have ordered it right away, but didn't get around to reading it until this week. 

All the Bright Places is the story of Fitch and Violet who meet high up on the ledge of a tower close to their school contemplating life.  This chance meeting changes both of them in very significant ways.  Fitch has a fascination with death.  He often researches ways people have died and this helps him when he gets into his 'dark' moods and struggles to get out of bed and engage with the world around him.  Violet is dealing with the tragic death of her sister less than a year ago in a car accident. Violet is counting down the days until the end of high school when she can finally leave her town, her home and memories of her sister. 

Fitch and Violet are very different people whose paths do not cross much at their high school.  Violet is popular and hangs out with all the right people.  Fitch is considered a freak by his fellow classmates.  Yet somehow these two different people are thrown together and become friends.  Along the way, they help each other deal with everything life has thrown at them. 

I really enjoyed this book and the story.  There were times I was crying, and other times I was laughing.  It is a serious book, but with such beautiful moments.  Fitch is a unique character who looks at the world differently than most people.  Watching Violet deal with the grief of her losing her sister is heartbreaking. 

This book, while appropriate in many ways for Intermediate students does deal with mature topics.  Suicide is a prevalent theme in this story so I would caution anyone who wants to give this book to a student to read it first and ensure the student could handle the topic. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

While in self-isolation, I'm trying to work my way through all of my books sitting on my shelf.  When I taught grade 6 a million years ago, I read a lot of Margaret Peterson Haddix, but I haven't read her books in a while.  This one is unlike any others I have read by her, but I did like it.

Uprising is the story of three young girls in 1910 who live in New York and work under terrible conditions.  Bella has just arrived in the United States from Italy, she is working hard to make money to send for her family back home.  However, not knowing the language is very challenging for her, she has no idea how to navigate this new world, and working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is hard, confusing work for her.   Yetta arrived in New York from Russia and is working to create a union to fight for better conditions for the women who work at the Shirtwaist Factory.  Then there is Jane, who grew up with privilege and money, but her father doesn't believe that women are entitled to an education and wants to marry her off as soon as possible.   These three young women are living during the time when workers were fighting for their rights and for fair working conditions. 

I enjoyed reading this story, the characters lived through such trying times in fighting for a better life for themselves and others to follow.  I knew a little bit about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the fire that changed the lives of the workers and rights of others, but not much.  It's amazing how people were treated then. 

I can think of a few students who would like this story. I think the audience might be limited to kids who like historical novels, I did find the character development took a longer time than I usually like, but I did enjoy the story. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

This is one of those books that has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf since last summer.  I find it harder to read real books because I rely on my kindle to read at night.  But decided during this time when I'm at home, I should focus on reading some of the books I've picked out.  This was a great start.

See All The Stars is the story of Ellory, and her group of three friends.  For three years of high school, they have been inseparable.  Spending all of their time together.   But that was then- in grade 11, now it is grade 12 and they have all gone their separate ways, often going out of their way to avoid each other.  This story alternates between grade 11 and grade 12 year as we slowly start to discover what happened to this friendship. 

I really enjoyed this story, I liked the main character Ellory a lot, I also liked learning about her friends, although I didn't really like them as people all that much.  Ellory and her friends seem like many high school friends, trying to figure out what life is going to be like for them and how they want to move through the world. 
I also really liked the way the author moved between the two time periods.  She gave enough hints in the future to know that something serious happened, but it wasn't until the very end that you learned what actually happened. 

This story does have some mature pieces to it, however I wouldn't hesitate to give it to my grade 7 and 8's. 


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chirp by Kate Messner

A few weeks ago, I read on twitter that Kate Messner had a new book out.  I've not read any other books by her, but know that she is a great author for Junior age students.  This one really appealed to me, so I ordered it quickly.  One of my goals for this time when we are not working in school is to read more of the YA books on my shelf.  So this was the first one I wanted to start with. 

This book is the story of Mia, who is returning to Vermont after being away for a few years.  While she was away, Mia had an accident while training for gymnastics, and that fall took away a lot of her courage and self-confidence.  One of the reasons Mia's family move back is to live close to her Grandma who is trying to turn her cricket farm into a profitable business.  But strange things keep happening at the farm, and Gram thinks someone is out to get her. 

During the summer, Mia meets new friends, attends a few different camps, solves a mystery and learns about challenges women have to overcome in order to be successful. She learns as well that there are some secrets that need to be shared, or they will change how you feel about yourself and the world around you. 

This story was compelling right away.  I liked all the characters and liked how the girls could be both athletic and successful in academic pursuits.  This book couples nicely with Barbara Dee's book Maybe He Just Likes You .  I think this book would be great for students in grade 5-7.  There are a few sensitive topics brought up in the story, but they are handled in a very age appropriate way.  I'd highly recommend reading this book!

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.