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Category Archives: Middle grade

Four before you go any further

As the school year peaks around the corner (staff go back tomorrow), I want to round up a few of my favorite reads in the past few weeks. Of course this excludes graphic novels since I sit on a selection committee and must keep my lips zipped on those. So, without further delay…

  • Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
    • I’m obsessed with fairy tales that are atmospheric and Martin is seamless in her storytelling about two sisters, Snow and Rose whose father has gone missing in the woods which forces their mother and them to move into a tiny cabin in the woods. As they wander the forest and meet the people of the woods who are hellbent on finding out what beast is making their loved ones disappear, they soon discover that the mystery wasn’t so far away the entire time. It’s a mesmerizing tale.
  • Patina by Jason Reynolds
    • The second in his middle grade Track series, I couldn’t help but write the word yes over and over in my Goodreads review. It is every reason Reynolds is seated at the helm of YA and middle grade powerhouse writers. I look forward to my retirement many decades from now and still reading and sharing his books. He has become timely and timeless.
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
    • I had my husband bring home flowers specifically to photograph alongside the cover for a bookstagram shot. While only a small amount of the book takes place in the flower shop, I couldn’t help myself. But I did also pose it with a compendium of Shakespeare in acknowledgement of our bookish co- main character, Lionel aka Lion. This book is full of heart, featuring a wide array of primary and secondary characters including some fabulous adults. I want more fabulous adults featured in YA books! But topics including sexuality, attraction, mental health, religion, and self-discovery are prevalent in an honest and heartwarming combination.
  • If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer Armentrout
    • This was my first Armentrout and it was a recommendation from a local bookstore especially when she found out I was a high school librarian. Ever make a decision you wholeheartedly regret? Lena was upset and got into a car (sober) with friends who were drunk. The car crashed and she was the lone survivor. As much as the book focuses on the darkness of these deaths and the months of recuperation, there’s also a more positive message about how waiting until tomorrow whether it be about finding a way to move on, saying yes to a love interest, or staying positive even if you’re going through hell. Certainly food for thought and a unique blend of a lighter romance coupled with a serious disaster.

If these weren’t on your radar or you were putting them off, put them at the top of the pile. And once you’ve read and adored them, give them a hug from me.

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You may already know her, but know her newest book too

YouMayAlreadyBeAWinnerTwo days after its book birthday, I’m posting about Ann Dee Ellis’ newest middle grade You May Already Be a Winner. I had wanted to post last week when I read it on a sunny day in the backyard in my camp chair, but never got around to it. But now that it’s available, I must so that all can purchase, read, and enjoy Ellis’ work from Dial Books an imprint of Penguin Books.

The book is focused on character development in a beautifully heart-wrenching way, so our memorable character is actually the main character, Olivia, a middle schooler who has had adulthood thrust upon her. In charge of the social, emotional, and academic well-being of her younger sister, it’s been weeks since Olivia has been to school herself. But when the school threatens action against her mother for Olivia’s truancy, Olivia is sent back to school, with her small sister in tow. Rather than call attention to their issue, Olivia thinks she can hide her in a closet. To say that Olivia is overwhelmed with adult issues is an understatement made more complicated by an intriguing boy who shows up one day and the question of where her father actually is and whether he’s coming back.

This pressure is perfectly summed up in the later stages as the weight of it all begins to be too much with one of the many memorable quotes: “In that moment I felt exhausted. But mad. But exhausted.” This pressure continues and comes a head at school when her little sister is discovered and mom is called– forced to share the details of what’s been happening at home.

None of my descriptions so far have shared the tone of the book which is of quiet desperation. As adult readers, we’re forced to tears, knowing what Olivia needs but is not getting. As middle grade readers, students will see themselves or their friends who struggle with overwhelmingly adult responsibilities and empathize. So when Olivia finally can’t hold it in any longer (Go, Olivia!) I was secretly cheering her frustration to adults, specifically a staff member at school.

Memorable scene:

“‘I understand you are having some home issues.’ I say, ‘I understand you have bad hair.’

He laughs. I don’t laugh.

Olivia needs love and her childhood and instead gets parents who are trying to make the right decisions for themselves and ultimately their children but are not turning out that way. She’s angry when she finds out her mother is only a few doors away in their trailer park. She’s angry that her father won’t commit to coming back to the family. She’s angry that the boy she was falling for ratted her family out to the school. BooksforWeary

And while I’m not one to enjoy happier endings, this one did and therefore I could not completely fall in love with the book from start to finish, though I appreciated its intended audience’s need for hopefulness. It is provided.

With a lovely cover that encapsulates the book, a rough and necessary story of a girl in need of her childhood, I advise middle grade and high school students to read it since the topics of family and perseverance never get old. You’ll already be a winner if you decide to pick this one up to read.

 

Books with memories

For the last several years, I have only had a small (for a librarian) bookshelf in my home. This is not to be confused with the TBR stack that is stored in a footstool in the living room. The books that are on the bookshelf have been read and are there for very specific reasons. I’ll share a few of the backstories.

DeathwatchDeathwatch by Robb White is there because it was the first book, as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher that I recommended to a student who came back within days to tell me that it was the best book he has ever read and to thank me for recommending it. Could that have been the first inkling that I would make a good librarian? Perhaps.

Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney by Jennifer Armstrong is shelved because it was a humorous gift received by my mentor as a middle school English teacher dealing with a particularly challenging parent and child in my first year teaching. Ah, memories I don’t wish to go back and relive, but absolutely learned from.

ThingsTheyCarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is sentimental as it was a book that a group of people spent one full year planning and implementing as a city-wide read. I am particularly proud of the months-long activities that accompanied the the book including a day at our high school library that included local veterans, art installations, and learning activities.

Stolen Lives by Bill Heller. This book has a dedication to me and another employee at the school I work in because we helped him find some answers to the questions he was seeking related to the second book in a series of investigations about a higher incidence of a specific cancer affecting graduates of our school after nuclear fallout during a rainstorm.

HarrisandMeHarris and Me by Gary Paulsen and Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White are both great examples of laugh out loud readalouds showcasing that not all stories have to be about dead parents and addiction. Instead, both are wonderful romps about kids being goofy.

And last, I would be remiss not to showcase the dozens of books I’ve amassed (and will continue to amass) when our high school library host author visits. Signed copies are the memories of a job done right and fantastic stories that highlight all that’s perfect in young adult literature.

So while I can do lists upon lists of great YA literature, which I do on this blog, I’ll highlight some of the special copies of books on my shelf.

 

 

Six sensational new releases

I spend most of my free time reading. Both because it’s my favorite hobby and it’s also my job. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a six sensational list, so let’s get back into it since my #edublogsclub challenge this week is to create a listicle (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!) Here are six sensational new releases in order of their publication date.

  1. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold
    • Not for the faint of heart, Arnold packs a punch. Nina’s relationship with her mother, who does not believe in unconditional love shapes Nina’s relationship with Seth. It’s dark and vividly portrayed and oh, so necessary.
  2. Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin
    • This is Romeo and Juliet where Ronit is an Israeli girl and Jamil is a Palestinian boy and what happens when they fall in love… in verse. Breathtaking!
  3. Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos
    • If you’re named after the poet Pablo Neruda, you must use his poetry to woo the ladies. And Neruda is a hopeless romantic and an artist, but it’s the friendship he forms with Callie, a girl in class that allows him to work through his own feelings about friendships and relationships, especially when one closest to him is fractured and he’s caught in the middle.
  4. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
    • Remember those early video games? Know how popular virtual reality is now? Well mix the two and you’re back in 1987 with Bill and Mary, the main characters of the story where Bill’s friends want to see Vanna White naked and Mary is a girl coder working on her family’s computer in their store. It’s about their relationship to coding, to each other, and darker secrets that will be uncovered.
  5. The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
    • I’m a fan of offbeat stories and this one is an homage to one of my favorite adult novels, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. In this story, the girls of Devonairre Street cannot fall in love because the men always die. They’re a curiosity that is now attracting tourists to this quaint street. It’s the story of their pain and what kind of future they can have with this awful power.
  6. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef
    • A powerful look at a woman who is known as a legendary nurse yet wielded significant power as a manager with adeptness at numbers and charts. Her style made some cry and her work essentially drove her sister mad since she felt that Nightingale overshadowed her.

As always, these are just a few of the many I’ve read and a snapshot of some of the newer titles that will be released soon (or were released in the recent past) worth reading if you are a fan of young adult literature.

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Six sensational stories with veterans

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from the past and one current favorite to recognize all the men and women who have fought for our country, returned, struggled and adjusted, and continued on. I certainly could highlight many, many more including books like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien or The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, but I’ve chosen these six sensational ones to highlight for this homage to our veterans, including my husband.

  1. In Country by Bobbi Ann Mason- The journey that Sam takes to understand why her father never came home from the Vietnam War and what her uncle and his friends are experiencing upon their return creates a beautiful arc to the story where they travel to the Vietnam Memorial fulfills Sam’s quest.
  2. I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant- This is a small story with a very big impact because it doesn’t sugarcoat the experiences of a World War II story. I’ll share a favorite quote “When I told my father, during his Sunday evening call, that I had enlisted, I think he stopped breathing. When finally he could inhale once again, it seemed to be with great labor. A man with a ton of weight on his heart.”
  3. Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen- A contemporary classic using one of the oldest terms for PTSD, this is Paulsen at his best telling the story of nineteen year old Charley Goddard during the Civil War.
  4. Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19 Year Old GI by Ryan Smithson- Knowing him personally makes the impact of Smithson’s story stronger and his willingness to speak to teenagers about the impact of his service on him and his family make this a powerful memoir with a mix of emotions, facts, experiences, and heart.
  5. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers- A seminal work that makes me love Walter Dean Myers. African American service member, Perry who enlists and goes to Vietnam coming face to face with evil and danger to fight against racism in the military as well as the horrors of fighting in Vietnam.
  6. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk- This story has many layers, but the one that spoke loudest to me as a reader was Toby’s, the World War I veteran living near Annabelle’s home in Pennsylvania. He’s disliked because he’s mysterious, a loner, and disheveled, but Annabelle knows how deeply he feels inside, especially when he becomes the target of the new, mean girl’s rage only to suffer a tragic fate that is emotionally draining.

If you haven’t read them all, add them to your to-be read pile because none of them will disappoint. Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served as well as their families who have supported them.

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Simplicity

simplicity

With our large English as a New Language learners population at our high school as well as the students who are not reading at grade level, our library is a smorgasbord of reading options that include picture books through college-level academic texts and everything in between. And recently I have been enjoying the array of simple graphic, semi-graphic, or textual fiction and nonfiction for a range of reading abilities.

Take the “A Wicked History” series detailing the lives of “wicked” rulers, tyrants, and dictators with a format that makes learning history cool while creating smaller and shorter chapters with pointed information that give perspective to their “wickedness”.

I also enjoyed several of the Scholastic Branches’ series including the Dragon Masters, Owl Diaries, Lotus Lane, Monkey Me, and The Notebook of Doom. With the right amount of character development, setting, story, and illustrations, these series books are not boring or tired, they actually get better.

Likewise, Orca’s graphic adventure series and the Jason Strange by Stone Arch Books are equally engaging, with my new favorite the graphic adventure series that both teaches and entertains.

So whether you’re a high school library looking to diversify reading ability in your texts or a middle school or elementary school making sure you have the right stuff on the shelves, these are all perfect options with a built in audience and quantity that will keep the students coming back for the others. I advise that they be on every bookshelf.

 

 

Late nights

There are nights when my head hits the pillow and I realize there’s just too much in my head to be able to fall asleep. My cure? A bath and a book. So I grabbed Ransom Rigg’s Tales of the Peculiar with it’s beautifully lush green cover gilded with gold vine. There’s just something about it. Then there’s the amiable “historian” of the peculiars, Millard Nullings, Esq., EdD, MBCh. who is compiles the tales of the peculiars. I can only hope this is the first installment.

Memorable character: Each short story brings its own set of unique characters but the tale of “The First Ymbryne” is an absolute favorite that opens with “The first ymbryne wasn’t a woman who could turn herself into a bird, but a bird who could turn herself in a woman”. It brought me back to all that I loved about Rigg’s first installment of his series and meeting Miss Peregrine herself. And meeting Ymeene is no different. Strong and fearless.

Memorable scene: In “The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts” the reunion of Hildy’s dead family with her living family is the penultimate beauty of both the creepiness of the story of a girl who could see ghosts and the themes of family (through blood or loyalty) throughout his series and this book of tales.

Memorable quote: The humor of each tale lies in the narrators nonchalance. Take for example the case of the cannibals descending upon villagers. “He went on to reassure the shocked villagers that they were civilized cannibals and never killed innocent people. They, and others like them, had worked out an arrangement with the king by which they agreed never to kidnap and eat people against their will, and in turn they were allowed to purchase, at terrific expense, the severed limbs of accident victims and the bodies of hanged criminals. This comprised the entirety of their diet.”

I advise that anyone who became obsessed with Rigg’s genius in his Peculiar series pick up this book immediately and face it OUT to admire the cover, but even those that haven’t been entangled in the world of peculiars can still appreciate the creativity in this handsome collection. More, we want more!