When I first read Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, I was blown away. Her style of writing drew me in from the first sentence. Dear Martin is still one of my most favorite books, and when students are searching for a book to read during SSR, it’s one of the first I grab. When I found out that Dear Justyce was coming out, I did something I have never done before. I pre-ordered it…twice.
When we first went home for the pandemic, I started searching for new people to follow on social media. Finding Nic Stone on social media was probably the best little gem I found. Through her, I have been introduced to a host of other authors as well as Project Lit. If you aren’t following her, you should. She is full of wisdom, inspiration, and just realness.
Dear Justyce is just another example of the wisdom that Stone has for us all. We follow the main character Quan throughout most of his life. In the present, Quan is in holding at a detention center awaiting trial. I think the blurbs out there give it away at to what sentence he is facing, but (as I’ve mentioned many times) I try to stay away from any sort of information about a book before I read it, and by doing that, it was a real mystery to me as to why Quan was in the detention center. It does come out, but not before the reader has a true sense of who Quan is.
I feel like this novel really opened my eyes to the way our justice system works. I’m not naïve enough to think the the system is flawless, but I had no idea how many people are in prison simply because they are awaiting trial. Have not even been convicted, yet they’re locked up, sometimes for years.
Another thing that really stood out to me (probably because I’m a teacher) was how Quan’s downward spiral happened after an incident with a teacher. He had a teacher that believed in him, supported him, encouraged him, but when she went out on maternity leave, the substitute didn’t have the same thoughts. This lack of faith, support, encouragement, and downright belief that Quan was a bad kid had a direct impact on the choices he makes.
Reading this book has made me really examine what I am doing with my students. Where do I need to be more encouraging, supportive? Where do I need to push them a little more?
I HIGHLY recommend this book to all educators. It will definitely be another Nic Stone books I shelf in my classroom and recommend to students.
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.
It has been a minute since I have blogged about my reading adventures. Or anything at all. This summer, like many people, I spent a lot of time reading, learning, reflecting, and changing. Everything I read seemed too big to write a review on. I started to think that my thoughts on these novels I love weren’t anything that needed to be shared to a wider audience.
In all honesty, I have very few people who read my blog. Significantly fewer since I left Facebook and can’t share my posts with my “friends” there. But I started to think this past week as we were all captivated by the election results that we all matter. Every voice matters. When we share our passions with the world, it matters.
My main focus will be reviewing the books I read. From time to time I will use this blog to share other things I am learning.
For now, here are the books that I’ve read since my last blog with my Goodreads ranking. I MAY come back and review these later, but for now, the rankings will have to do.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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.