Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews

My 2020 Books

From favorite to least favorite

This was SO hard to do. I read a few classics this year, re-read some of my favorites, added graphic novels to the mix, a couple short story collections, and read at least 3 nonfiction books. It was hard to rank them all.

Stamped was definitely number one. We read it as a family, and we all learned so much. I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the first time, (I know! Shocking! You know what’s even more shocking. I have still not read the 7th book!) and I loved it. Night was a re-read for me, and it has the same impact as the first time I read it. I’d say the next 20 books on the list are tied for 4th place.

Honestly, I really enjoyed most of the books I read this year. The last few on the list were just hard to get through. For some is was simply the style of writing, and it took away from the story for me. I know others who loved some of the last 5 or 6 books on my list. If I have learned anything from reading, teaching reading, blogging about reading, and reading blogs about books, it is that everyone has their own opinion. I’m just here sharing mine.

Stamped
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Night
Speak: A Graphic Novel
Other Words for Home
The Black Kids
Cinderella Is Dead
Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Autobiography of my Dead Brother
Ghost
Clean Getaway
All American Boys
The First Part Last
Grown
New Kid
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Nightbooks
Land of the Cranes
Free Lunch
Yummy
The Poet X
Look Both Ways
Kindred: Graphic Novel
Skyward
Head of the Colored People
Out of the Dust
Ignite the Sun
The Bone Houses
Fish in a Tree
Lu
Invisible Differences
When They Call You a Terrorist
Friday Blak
Eloquent Rage
Fahrenheit 451
Harbor Me
The Lonely Dead
Patina
Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets
March: Book 1
I’ll Give You the Sun
The Sky Is Everywhere
When You Know What I Know
To Night Owl from Dogfish
Invisible Emmie
A Good Kind of Trouble
White Rose
The Crossover:Graphic Novel
The Crossover
The Princess Bride
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker
Drama
Hey, Kiddo
Maybe He Just Likes You
A Line Tender
Nejma
Ghosts
Sisters
The Lovely and the Lost
Guts
For Black Girls Like Me
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
Dress Coded
Redwood and Ponytail
Smile
Booked
My Hero Academia
The Last Lie
Stargazing
Pet
Jo: An adaption of Little Women
Making Friends
Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board
Four Days of You and Me
I Am Ruth and Everything Is Not Okay

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, ProjectLitBookClub

Book Blitz

Okay, so I set a pretty lofty goal for myself in terms of books to read this year. In all honesty, with the shut downs and stay at home orders, I should already be done with my goal. But! This is not a time to hold ourselves to “should-haves”. It is what it is, and there was a good month or so that I didn’t want to pick up another book.

About two weeks ago, I peeked at my Goodreads reading goal and saw that I was 15 books behind schedule. I hadn’t quite reached 50 books, and I set my goal for 75. In past years, I would have just changed my goal on Goodreads – I know, that’s totally cheating – but this year, I decided to figure out how I could still reach my goal.

Hello, middle grade novels! Now, I do mainly ready YA and middle grade novels because this is the age I teach, but I made a point to reach for books in verse and graphic novels.

I’ve read 8 books (nearly done with number 9) in the last 10 days. Here are my quick blurbs and recommendations.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Graphic novel – fully colored. Target audience is definitely upper elementary/early middle school. I still think the 8th grade/9th grade crowd would enjoy this book. Emmie is a very quiet girl who loves art and expresses herself well that way. However, standing up for herself and speaking up are not her thing. I felt this book would be perfect for 6th graders.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written in verse. Some black/white sketches throughout. If you want a book to give you some feels, this is it. It tells of a family and their run in with ICE and detention facilities. I think this books could be used in the middle school when studying stories of immigration. I know our 6th graders read Refugee by Alan Gratz, and this could be a good companion piece.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic novel – fully colored. Cute story with a lesson of meeting people where they are and helping when and how we can. The main character learns a valuable lesson about not listening to rumors and making your own opinions about who does or does not make a good friend. This would be a good classroom library book for upper elementary/ early middle school.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written in verse. This book shocked me in the first couple pages. I have gotten to where I don’t read the back covers of books just to go in without any preconceived thoughts. I was not expecting this book to be about abuse. The front cover is yellow and bright blue, usually colors associated with happiness. This book was TOUGH for me. I tried to read it at school between classes and during my lunch, and ended up having to put it down for after school. Lots of tears. BUT I do think this is a good book to have available at a middle school. It is not graphic in it’s depiction of what happened, and deals a lot with the internal conflicts the victim goes through.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written in verse with dual-narrators. Redwood and Ponytail are nicknames of the two main characters. The way this book is written took me a minute to figure out. The two main characters have their own section, but there are conversations within the verse and the formatting was different than I had ever seen before. After I got used to it, it was fine. The two girls meet at the beginning of their 7th grade year and hit it off as friends, but there seems to be more there. The book does a great job of showing the internal conflicts of both girls. A great coming-of-age type novel. Fits well within the middle grade books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic novel – lots of color. It took me about half-way through this book to go, “Hmmm, I wonder if this is a true story.” Maybe I should start reading the backs of books again, because it definitely says “In this memoir” on the back of the book. I really enjoyed this book, and felt very connected to the main character and his grandparents. With the language, drug references, and other things that go along with addiction, I think this is best in a high school classroom library. Maybe an 8th grade classroom library could be okay. I think the 6th grade parents would probably say something if their kid brought this one home.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Regular novel – as regular as a Jason Reynolds’ book can be. Jason Reynolds is the king of middle school literature. He also writes pretty amazing YA books as well. But this book was something special. Each chapter (section?) tells a completely different story, but they are all connected. The way Reynolds weaves these stories together is genius. I wrote my middle school ELA coordinator and told her that I think we should use this book for our short story unit and teach each chapter as it’s own individual story. It is definitely good for all middle school grades, and I think upper elementary as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Regular novel. Yes, another Jason Reynolds book made it to my book blitz this week. This one is the 4th book in the Track series. And again, not reading the side cover/back cover hurt me with this one. I had it in my head that the Track series books were all stand alone novels where the same characters existed. I do feel like you can read these out of order and not give away too much of the other stories. I read Ghost, which is the first in the series, and this one did not give away too much of that story. But, for my students, I would recommend going in order because they do build off each other. I love the way Reynolds wrote this book as if Lu is talking directly to the reader. It felt like a conversation. This series is perfect for upper elementary throughout middle school.


Now I find myself with 57 books read so far this year, 9 behind schedule, and 18 left to go before December 31, 2020. It doesn’t seem impossible, but I am also teaching full time and trying to write my own novel. Only time will tell.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, Possible Trumans 2021-22, ProjectLitBookClub

Maybe He Just Likes You – Review

Goodreads Summary

I’m just going to jump right in to this one. I finished the book about 3 hours ago, and I am still having a hard time putting words to why it just doesn’t work for me.

I will start with all the positives. The writing is perfect for a middle grade novel. The chapters are short, and there is a good balance of dialogue and description. The main character, Mila, is good, although there are times when I wanted to shake her. She grows a lot throughout the book and learns a few valuable lessons about friendship along the way. Her friends’ group is diverse, so that is appreciated.

Problems start for Mila almost immediately when she’s involved in an awkward group hug that involves a group of boys from the basketball team. Comments, random “accidental” touches, getting too close, and among a couple other things start happening with this group of basketball students and Mila. At first she brushes it off, but it doesn’t take long for her to notice that they’re singling her out.

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS BELOW

Okay, so here goes my attempt to say why I didn’t like the book as a whole. Before I go on, I definitely appreciate Barbara Dee taking the #MeToo movement and shining light on the fact that this does happen in middle school. Sexual harassment is not just teasing or flirting or done because he likes you. We need to stop excusing bad behavior because “boys will be boys” or “boys are just immature.” Honestly, it needs to be addressed in elementary as well.

My problem is this. There is not enough punishment (rehabilitation???) for the boys. They basically get a slap on the wrist after 250+ pages of harassment; they get 3 weeks of detention and get kicked off the basketball team (but just until the spring if they can prove they’ve changed their ways). AND THEN, it seems like Mila and one of the boys involved in the harassment are going to start liking each other in the last two chapters. I don’t know if this is the intent or not, but reading it really makes it seem like there is this romance brewing (it gives all the subtle hints of other middle grade novels when two characters like each other…so….???)

I think I am reading this as a mother of a 7th grader. If this behavior was happening to my daughter, I would be LIVID. Mila’s mom is really flippant about it. Like she offers to go to school and talk to the principal, but Mila asks her not to, and so it’s basically dropped. I don’t know any of my friends with daughters who would let this just drop.

I do think that I’ll get this book for my classroom. I think it will be helpful for students to have it as a conversation starter about what is appropriate and what is not.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley

The Black Kids – Review

Fun fact about this book. I won it in a giveaway, and then a day later got notification from NetGalley that I had been approved for the early release copy I had requested a few weeks prior.

Goodreads summary here

I put all my other current reads on hold to start this one. I watched Christina Hammonds Reed chat about her book a couple weeks ago and was intrigued. It hurt my ego a little that the book was referred to as “historical fiction” since I can vividly remember the beating of Rodney King, the trial, and the outcry. I also remember a Doogie Houser, M.D. episode that focused on the protests. So yeah, I know yesterday is technically history, but when I think historical fiction, I’m thinking prairies or wars or societies without technology, not something I was alive for.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this novel. Ashley, the main character, is a senior and one of the few Black girls at her school. Her best friends, whom she has grown up with, are all white. She lives with her parents and her nanny, Lucia, in a nice neighborhood in LA in the early 1990s.

When the verdict is released, Ashley begins to go through a sort of transition. She starts to reexamine who her friends truly are, and she begins to see the ones she grew up with for who they truly are.

As America faces yet another incident of police brutality with the George Floyd case and the ones that have happened since the end of May and before, it was hard to read this book and realize America hasn’t changed in 30 years. Whites still think they’re better. Police still use excessive force, especially on Blacks. Systematic racism continues to harm our Black communities. It was hard to read.

Even though this book made me feel ashamed of where America currently is, I think this is a perfect book to add to any high school library. I think this will bring about great conversation, and it will help a lot of students (and adults) process through our current events.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley

Cinderella Is Dead review

I received this book early from #Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I’ve decided not to do a summary this time and just jump right in to my thoughts.

I first heard about this book from an Instagram live and knew right away that I was going to have to read it and quickly. I got on Netgalley because I just didn’t think I could wait until its release date in early July. It took a while to get approval, but as soon as I got it downloaded, I started reading it.

First impressions – as a parent, I was annoyed with the main character, Sophia. She wants to change all the rules in their land which is controlled by a misogynistic king who has no problem chopping the heads off those who oppose him. Her parents were first concerned with her safety, and disrupting the societal norms would not make her safe. In fact, there is a point when Sophia asks, “Don’t you want me to be happy?” And the response is no, I want you to be safe [alive]. I felt this deep in my heart as a mom of two girls.

As I read, though, I began to come around to Sophia. No dictator or dystopian ruler is ever overthrown without someone risking everything. Sophia is a strong (and sometimes reckless) main character. She cares deeply about the people she loves, and she wants better for everyone, including herself.

The setting and story building are fantastic. It is very easy to visualize what this society looks like. Every time I picked it up to read, I was transported to this world. This book is very well-written, and I am looking forward to reading more by Bayron.

A little side note: So, I once again read a couple reviews on Goodreads before writing my own. One I read complained about how Sophia quickly fell in love with this new girl after saying she was in love with her friend Erin for three years. To that person, I would say, have you ever met a 16/17 year old girl? But besides the fickleness of teens when it comes to love, I felt that Sophia really wrestled with her feelings. She felt conflicted having feelings for this new girl when she still loved Erin. I felt like the author did a great job showing this struggle.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, Possible Trumans 2021-22, ProjectLitBookClub

New Kid – Review

This was a very quick read. I believe I finished it in under 2 hours, and I consider myself a slow reader. Graphic novels have become super popular over the last few years, and I am really glad about it. My struggling students are more willing to pick up a book with pictures, especially at the beginning of the year when they are about 99.9% against reading. (By the end of the year, we have turned most of them into at least willing-to-read readers, if not *fingers crossed* lifelong readers!)

Quick Summary: This book follows 7th grader Jordan Banks as he (if you couldn’t guess by the title) goes to a new school. His new school is a private school of some sort. It isn’t a religious private school, but a highly academic one that encourages *mandates* student after school participation in sports or theater. From the very beginning, Jordan and his dad worry that the school is lacking in diversity. And…it definitely is. There are a handful of minority students, but definitely not what Jordan was used to. He faces microaggression from fellow students and teachers and has to decide whether or not he is going to point out this “subtle” racism or not make waves.

I know this book is written for middle schoolers, but whew…I think there are plenty of adults who could learn a thing or two from these pages. This will definitely be a book I add to my classroom library, and I can even see us doing it in a small group or maybe even the whole class.

I’m definitely looking forward to Jerry Craft’s next graphic novel 🙂

Posted in 2020 Books, ProjectLitBookClub

Let Me Hear a Rhyme Review

I Loved This Book! With the current state of our country, I feel like who cares about a book review? But then I know that I start teaching again in a couple months, and my students know to come to me with book recommendations. Given the amount of books that I read, this blog helps me keep my thoughts straight and helps me remember why I would (or would not) recommend it to my kids.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have been using quarantine as a way to learn more. I started following a handful of authors which then turned into a (what’s the next biggest thing after a handful?) well, a lot more authors. I found this book and Tiffany Jackson through that. She is also on the Project Lit Book list 3 times…and she has 3 books out! (Fourth one Grown coming out in September!) Her books have also made it on the Missouri Gateway Nominee list. So, while these aren’t the ultimate authorities for great books, it says a lot about an author when they make these lists.

Now for a quick summary since you can read much better ones all over the internet. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is a young adult fiction book that follows three youths (Jasmine, Quadir, and Jarrell) who are dealing with the death (murder) of their brother (Jasmine’s) and best friend, Steph. It is set in Brooklyn in the late 1990s. The day of the funeral, the trio come across some music that Steph had recorded, and a few days later the boys develop an idea to let the world hear Steph’s music. They have to get Jasmine involved, but the only way she will join in with the scheme is if the boys help her find out who killed her brother.

Like I said above, I LOVED this book. For one, it is set in the late 1990s and the late 90s hip hop references made me super nostalgic for my last few years of high school. I can remember watching the news (probably on MTV) when Tupac and Biggie were killed. I even found myself pulling up the Lauryn Hill album that is referenced a couple times throughout the book and reliving hearing that for the first time. Yes, this extremely sheltered white girl from the midwest loved hip-hop.

My students, even though they weren’t even born until 2006, still talk about a lot of the artists mentioned throughout the book, and I think that will draw some of them in.

Now, that is really just a tiny part of the book. The story is so well-written. I pride myself on being about to figure out YA books within the first couple chapters. And while I was completely right about the romance, there are a couple things I did not see coming, and one of them made me cry. (I actually audibly said, Oh NO! and then started crying.)

The chapters aren’t too long either, and as weird as that sounds, a lot of my students get discouraged when a chapter (or book) is really long.

(I have probably mentioned this before, but my reading class is for students who are struggling readers and scoring at least 2 grade levels below the 8th grade. It takes a lot to get them to read on their own, so finding little things like short chapters helps.)

I highly recommend this book. There’s a mystery to solve, a sweet romance, lots of music references, drama, girl power…

Now to get Jackson’s other books and preorder Grown!

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, ProjectLitBookClub

Clean Getaway review

Quarantine has given me a lot of free time. Even while I was teaching from home, I found myself with time where I was just waiting around to answer students’ questions, so I started looking for people to follow on social media.

First person I started following was Jason Reynolds. I have a serious author crush on him, and I love everything that I’ve read that he has written. From his page, I found Nic Stone. At this point, I had only read Dear Martin which I loved, so I decided to follow her. If you’re looking for people to follow that will make you love life and want to be a better person, follow her. She’s friends with so many other awesome authors, and I have been introduced to many people and things from following her.

One thing was Project Lit (click the link to learn more, especially if you’re a teacher!). The basic gist is this English teacher decided to start having his students read books that better represented them, and over the years it has turned into a multi-country book club for students. I’m late to this party since it’s been going on since 2017, but I signed up to be a Project Lit leader, and I am looking forward to starting a book club in our school whenever we can go back.

Okay, alllllll that to say, I found Clean Getaway from following Project Lit and Nic Stone on social media 🙂

Now to the review. This book is great. I didn’t expect anything less from Nic Stone since I loved Dear Martin so much. From my understanding, this is her first middle grade novel (but definitely not her last). The book is everything a middle grade book needs to be: accessible, funny, fast-paced, easy-to-read, interesting characters, and adventure.

The book begins with Scoob (nickname – real name is William Lamar) and his grandma in an RV heading on an adventure. The reader finds out pretty quickly that Scoob was supposed to be on spring break, but had gotten in trouble at school and was on punishment with his father. No fun spring break for him. However, this all changes when his grandma shows up with an Winnebago and a promise of adventure if Scoob wants to go. Of course he goes, who would choose punishment over adventure? Scoob conveniently leaves his phone at home so his dad wouldn’t call him, and Grandma doesn’t tell him much about the adventure, just that they have a long way to go.

What I loved about this book is that it definitely talks about racism in a way that will allow teachers to talk to younger students. William is black, and his grandmother is white. We see early on some subtle racism (is there such a thing???) on their first stop to get food. Lots of strange and disapproving looks from the other customers. The book also talks about The Green Book. This book allowed Black Americans to navigate the country by highlighting Black-friendly businesses. I can definitely see using this as a talking point with my students. I also loved the relationship between Scoob and his grandma.

There is definitely more to the book than what I have written, but too much more will give away some of the surprising aspects to the book. I would recommend this to any lower-middle school grade kids, and probably 4th and 5th graders as well.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley, Uncategorized

☀️ Ignite the Sun ☀️ review

This was my 3nd ARC from NetGally. My 2nd YA one, and I have to say it was FAR better than the last one I read. Of course, they are completely different genres, and it’s hard to compare fantasy to contemporary romance (Although, I don’t think it could be a YA book without some romance, so you aren’t missing out on that with this book.)

This books follows Siria on her journey to discover who she truly is. I really cannot say much about it, because even saying who she truly is would give away a bit of the beginning plot twist.

It is set in a fictional kingdom of Umbraz which is ruled by a dark Queen. And by dark, I mean, the queen has eliminated the sun with her powers. She has ruled for years, and the people of Umbraz can barely remember the sun, they fear it, and rely on Queen Iyzabel to keep them safe.

That’s all the summary you’re getting.

Now for a couple personal thoughts.

One of the things I think could have been better was Siria’s character arc. She does change throughout the book, but I just felt like I didn’t really know her. Honestly, this is true of most of the main characters in the book. They are all very surface level.

On the other hand, the world building was great. Hanna Howard did a great job of helping me visualize her world. The castle descriptions were among my favorites.

This book is set to release in August, and if you like YA fantasy with a female protagonist, I would say you would like this one.