Monday, December 11, 2017

Exit, Pursued By a Bear

Johnston, E.K. Exit, Pursued by a Bear. Dutton Books, 2016.
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Summary (from
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don't cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a small town. The team's summer training camp is Hermione's last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there's a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They're never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she's always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The rape wasn't the beginning of Hermione Winter's story and she's not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

My Thuoghts
Ok, I didn't get the Shakespeare reference. As I was looking for the image, I kept running across Shakespeare's Winter Tale (Hermione's last name is even Winters!). 

I enjoyed this book because it is real.  The subject of rape is something society can't ignore. It happens. I like how the author stood up to rape and rumors and accusations and slut shamming.  I like that Hermione had Polly (what a fierce friend!). I like that when asked by a reporter, Hermione speaks out and questions the reporter, "If I was a boy, would you be asking me that?" (Johnston 194). 

This is a book I can recommend. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Wiles, Deborah. Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy Book Two. Scholastic, 2014.
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It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer.
Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool — where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.
As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel COUNTDOWN award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place — and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right.

My Thoughts
I was afraid of reading this book without having read Book One, but it wasn't a problem. This is mostly 12 year old Sunny's story of growing up in Greenwood, Mississippi during the 1960s.  "I was there" (Wiles 420). The book itself is over 500 pages in length, divided into three parts. The first 40 pages were pictures, headlines and song lyrics to set up the story. This kind of primary source connection is sprinkled throughout the book.

There are several characters, but it isn't hard to keep up with them. I recognized Meemaw, even though my own grandmothers were not like her. I enjoyed having "Sunday lunch" at her house. She is described as a school teacher for 42 years and a "stickler for correct reporting and good punctuation" (Wiles 212). Maybe I see a little of myself in her character, especially when it's mentioned she watched Guiding Light (my all time FAVORITE soap opera!). I also like Daddy. He was a prominent business owner in the town where everyone knows everyone else. He is kind and tries to do the "right" thing, even when it isn't the popular thing.

There are actually many narrators in this story. While we see Sunny's white side of events, we also get a glimpse into Ray's black side. We see what's happening from Gillette's point of view. We get a historical perspective from the headlines, pamphlets and sermons. It is a tumultuous read (mirroring the time period the story is set). Slowly a revolution is boiling--We see the juxtaposition of Christian attitudes versus actions. There are Bible versus and Sunday School songs used throughout the book. There is a tense tone in the narrative. We see that the women are making things change (pages 353-361).
This is how it works. Everything is connected. Every choice matters. Every person is vital, and valuable, and worthy of respect. (Wiles 361)

As I read, I had questions about things. What exactly was an "associate"? Was this the Klan? Did Sunny's mom die or not? How much of this story is revisionist history or manipulative narrative? Why did Ray have to get shot?

Wiles gives us a six page summation of Freedom Summer.  Her acknowledgements also thank the many people and places she used for research. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Between Shades of Grey

Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. Read by Emily Klein. Penguin Audio, 2011.

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Summary (from
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

I'm also including the audiobook summary because I think it gives some more insight. (from

Emily Klein quickly convinces listeners of the harsh reality and perceptive viewpoint of Lina, an artistic 15-year-old Lithuanian. Klein’s evocative inflections mirror Lina’s family’s confusion and fear as they’re woken by Stalin’s soldiers and loaded onto cattle cars labeled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” which are headed to a labor camp in Siberia. Klein doesn’t hold back from the story’s intensity—portraying the brutality, filth, bitter cold, and sometimes brief tenderness that buoys Lina, giving her the resilience to record all she sees with her art, hoping that one day it tells the story she can’t. Relief comes as well in the well-drawn, well-acted vignettes of Lina’s formerly happy life in Lithuania. Klein also draws credible portraits of Lina’s mother, brother, and fellow prisoners. An author’s note strengthens this little-known part of history. S.W. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine [Published: APRIL 2011]

This photo was taken at TLA 2017. 

My Thoughts
This isn't the book you might think it is! This is historical fiction about the Soviet overtaking of Lithuania.  The book is 85 chapters in length.

Sepetys does a fantastic job weaving history into an interesting narrative. She uses her own family's history as the genesis for a relatively unknown piece of WWII history. At the end of the audiobook, Sepetys gives her personal story with a small history lesson. It is moving what she did for research. Her goal is for this slice of history to not be lost.

Often in school, I was taught about the Jewish Holocaust. I've read multiple stories, seen movies and researched texts about the concentration camps and have even visited two. However, I've never studied much about what was happening in Russia during this time. Back in the spring I listened to a book (Symphony for the City of the Dead ) that gave me insight into the "real" Russia during this time period. Stalin killed so many more people than Hitler! Between Shades of Gray tells me of what happened to the Lithuanians and adds to my knowledge. I just didn't know.

I listened to this story when I could, so it took me several out of town volleyball games to hear how Lina & her family were able to endure and survive their deportation. When they were sent to the Arctic, I know the temperature in my car got colder.

As I listened, I thought about being in high school and hearing on the news about the division of the USSR and much of western Russia breaking up into many other countries (like I just refer to as the "ickstans"). I don't think I realized until listening to this story that those countries actually existed BEFORE 1991.

I love that I'm still learning. I love that fiction can bring alive the facts for me. I've noticed that I've read or listened to several historical fiction books, and most of them are set during WWII.

The title of the book doesn't surface until almost the end of the story. Sepetys explains in the author's note that "between shades of gray, sometimes there's a small crack that lets the love shine in."

Phonetically, /ze pet ees/ is how you pronounce her last name (I can't type the accent marks).

Read the book. Would you survive?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Sedoti, Chelsea. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. Sourcebooks, 2017.
image from:
Summary (from
Hawthorn wasn't trying to insert herself into a missing person's investigation. Or maybe she was. But that's only because Lizzie Lovett's disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don't happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she'll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.
So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie's disappearance.  A theory way too absurd to take first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie's life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie's boyfriend. After all, it's not as if he killed her-or did he?
Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn's quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself. 

My Thoughts
This book was the Overdrive Big Library Read this season. I felt like I needed to read it if I was going to promote it. (I enjoyed last year's pick https://r ).  However, this book didn't captivate me like last year's. In fact, it was slow getting into it and took me almost the entire month to read it. I thought it would be more mystery. I thought there'd be more, I don't know. Something.  I thought the cover was cute and somehow tied into the book. I thought I'd learn about the hundred lies. I don't think what I expected is what I got.

I also hated the grammatical errors (commas before the word because, not capitalizing words that should be). I understand that modern writers take liberties with conventional rules, but I want teen readers to see correctly written texts as models.

I have this labeled for my mystery/drama genre, but I think I will move this into my chick lit section.

Griffin Mills is a small town with not much to offer. When a girl goes missing in the woods, the entire town starts talking. This isn't just any girl, though. She's Lizzie Lovett. She's was a high school cheerleader, a girl who had lots of friends, a girl who seemingly had "it all" in life. Why would she go missing? What happened? That's what Hawthorn, the main character, is trying to figure out. She speculates some funny scenarios (i.e., alien abduction). She is socially awkward, but on this quest to find out what happened to Lizzie, Hawthorn has self-discovery. She grows. She makes bad decisions. She makes good decisions. She develops some authentic friendships. The title makes the reader think this will be Lizzie's story, but really it's Hawthorn's. I liked Hawthorn. She is real. She is quirky. She is smart!

While reading, I kept thinking that Hawthorn's brother Rush might be "in" on something with Lizzie's disappearance. He just pops in and out of the story. Towards the end, I was glad to see his protective big brother role shine.

I  liked seeing the literary references (In Cold Blood, Carrie, and one of my favorite poems We Wear the Mask ( including Halloween costumes (Poe and Hester Prynne).

The hippies descending on the family's lawn was funny (and ended up being purposeful to Hawthorn's quest).

It isn't unbelievable that two characters in this book have sex, but the scene is more graphic than it needs to be. This could have been alluded to without the details.

SPOILER ALERT---ultimately, this is a book about a teen suicide. I think the reader needs a resolution about what happened to Lizzie, but as my school and town have experienced this tragedy fairly recently, I wondered about my high school kids reading this book. Lizzie's suicide probably wouldn't haunt me as it does if I wasn't thinking about our local teen. There are similarities in that both situations involve popular kids that seemingly "have it all." This story is a reminder to me that no matter how someone appears on the outside, it may conflict with what's happening on the inside.

The very last chapter gives a summation to the story. I think the reader needs this.

So, overall, the book was too long for me compared to the character development and action of the story.  It wasn't as much of a mystery read as it was a relationship story. It probably won't be a book I recommend to my teens.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Hatmaker, Jen. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. B and H Publishing, 2012.

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My Thoughts
I'd heard some friends talking about this book, so I put it on my pile. It's funny to me when I have books on a pile for over a year, but when I finally get to it, it is EXACTLY the time I'm supposed to read it.

Jen Hatmaker is real. She doesn't seem to censor the reality of her life and how this experiment really played out. She talks about the success as well as the struggles. There were some very funny moments in this experiment. I laughed out loud when she wrote about the backyard garden (both times). I chuckled at her commentary.  I connected to many of the things that she strives for as a mom.

The experiment is 7 months, 7 areas, 7 simple choices to eliminate waste and "create space for God's kingdom to break through" (Hatmaker 4). She compares this experiment to a fast. She must "repent of greed, ungratefulness, ruined opportunities, and irresponsibility" (Hatmaker 5). She enlists the help of six friends (The Council). These ladies help keep Hatmaker accountable. Hatmaker writes in a journal/diary/confessional format to show the reader her experiences while trying to fulfill the experiment. She is so funny!

The areas that Hatmaker focuses on: foods, clothing, excess stuff, media, waste, spending, stress.
Month one is food. She decides to eat only 7 things for an entire month. There obviously are many challenges with this. I'm not sure I could have done it.

She writes about her kids and members of her church going to feed the homeless in Austin every week. That honestly frightened me. I want to think of myself as a helper, but I don't think I could do that.

When she got to the money month, she writes about three shifts that we could all do:  1. non consumption 2. redirect all that money saved 3. become wiser consumers (Hatmaker 168). "We can simply stop spending so much, use what we have, borrow what we need, repurpose possessions instead of replacing them, and live with less" (Hatmaker 169). PREACH! As much as I try to live by this, there are times when I don't.

In month seven, she is working on stress. To do this, she decides to pause and pray seven times a day and actually observe the Sabbath. Again, I'm not sure I could do this. I applaud Hatmaker. I think some of the stress of my world is due to me not pausing.

In the last chapter, Hatmaker writes that this was HER experiment and results might vary for others. However, she does remind the reader of the "baseline as a faith community:

Love God most. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.
If we say we love God, then we will care about the poor.
This earth is God's and everything in it. We should live like we believe this.
What we treasure reveals what we love.
Money and stuff have the power to ruin us.
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. This is what is required." (Hatmaker 218)

I thought about this book at various times. I thought about what I might create for my own 7 experiment.  I paused. I needed to read this book at this time. Thanks God for inspiring Jen to write this book so I could read it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Witches

Schiff, Stacy. The Witches: Salem, 1692. Blackstone Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from
Author Schiff seeks to portray the historical figures involved in the Salem witch trials as the real people they were. Narrator Eliza Foss makes them come alive for the listener. Foss resists the urge to cackle or to sound incredulous during this objective examination of the so-called witches. While her voice suits the tone of the work, her reading is not dry. She modulates her intonations nicely, making listening easier on the ear and saving the long passages of historical and religious background from becoming tedious.

My Thoughts

This audiobook was 21 parts! It took several long trips in the car and stealing moments hear and there to finish listening to this book. It was full of great information about the Salem Witch Trials. Some of it I knew, but some was new.

I liked how well researched the book was and the audiobook included the footnotes. Part 20 was when I learned about what happened to many of the "players" of the trials.

As I listened, I kept thinking about movies I showed my English III students. "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" and "The Crucible." I would picture those actors when the actual witch trial participants were discussed in this book.

I bought this book for our library. I think it will be a great resource for students.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Stradal, J. Ryan. Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Viking, 2015.
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Summary (from
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation. It was selected as a best book of the year by Amazon, BookPage, LibraryReads, and NPR. 

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

My Thoughts
I started this book before going on vacation, so it stayed on my nightstand a little too long. The story was interesting, but when I picked it up again, I had to really think about who these characters are and what had happened to this point.

Eva carries the story. There is a interweaving of food throughout her life. The summary from Amazon here really does tell the story, but the reader must "taste" the story (pun intended).

I liked how realistic the relationships were and how the story represented that some people are in your life for a season and some are there for a lifetime.

Some things I marked:
"She had overhead people calling her parents 'white trash,' and she had quickly figured out that no one protects or stands up for white trash, and no one on the outside world ever world. To be called white trash is to be told that you're on your own" (Stradal 55). Sadly, I think this hits the mark.

As they are driving to one of Eva's dinners, they passed "signs for something called Wall Drug." I laughed because I've been there (at least twice!). It is a place to stop and visit in South Dakota.

I'm not sure teens will enjoy the book, but I think adults will. I liked the inclusion of recipes that connected to the story.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Innovator's Mindset

Couros, George. The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of
     Creativity. Dave Burgess, 2015.
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My Thoughts
George Couros came to Stephenville! I was hoping to get this book read between vacation and his visit, but I didn't get it done. However, I did finish reading this book and have made lots of notes about things I agree with and want to do as librarian and as a leader on my campus.

The book is a little over 200 pages in length. One of the things I enjoyed were the questions at the end of each chapter for me to think about what I've read or apply what I learned and how I might use this knowledge. Some things that Couros writes about, I's just nice to have the reminder (or validation). I loved the whack a mole analogy in education (Couros 125)! I also liked when he wrote that "school should not be a place where answers go to die but questions come to life" (Couros 189).

The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 of the book starts with a definition of "innovation." It is "a way of thinking that creates something new and better" (Couros 19). It's not just a buzzword (oh, how I've heard this term overused!), nor is it a "thing, task or even technology" (Couros 20). It's a way of thinking. It's a way of starting with a question, asking why we do what we do and what is best for the learner? (Couros 21).

When I saw Figure 2, I searched through my photos. I'd save a screenshot of this in August of 2015! This is how long these ideas have been swimming in my head.

I think Couros likes the number 8, as he lists several things in the book and explains what each means.
There are 8 characteristics of an Innovator's Mindset (p. 49):

  • empathetic
  • problem finders
  • risk takers
  • networked
  • observant
  • creators
  • resilient
  • reflective

There are 8 characteristics of the Innovative Leader (p. 88):

  • visionary
  • empathetic
  • models learning
  • open risk-taker
  • networked
  • observant
  • team builder
  • always focused on relationships
There are 8 things to look for in a classroom (p. 111):
  • voice
  • choice
  • time for reflection
  • opportunities for innovation
  • critical thinkers
  • problem solvers/finders
  • self-assessment
  • connected learning
I'm listing them here so I'll have them for quick reference.  

I think I could read this book every summer and see something new and relevant. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Ballantine Books, 1953.
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Summary (from Shmoop)

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Fahrenheit 451 Summary." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

My Thoughts
My daughter had to read this for her Pre-Ap English class. As I've never read it, I thought I'd read it with her. That was fun. We decided to try for 13 pages per night so we could finish it by the end of June. We did.

I know that Bradbury was commenting on how societies try to limit people's intellectual thoughts. I know this is a book about censorship. I know it's a classic. I know it's a book set in a dystopia. But, I DID NOT LIKE IT! The text just went on and on and on. I was bored, and so was my daughter. I kept notes as I was reading because I just didn't care to commit it to memory. I also didn't feel engaged with the story. I did see many things that reflect our current society, which made me smirk to think was Bradbury prophetic? But, overall, it's forgettable. I will remember a fireman who burns books. I will think about how a girl helped him question his beliefs. I will not remember much else.

After we finished reading the book, my daughter and I watched the movie (made in 1966). I'd seen the movie years ago and so after reading the book, the movie made sense, but for being "futuristic" this version was dated. I hope for future students, if this book is continued to be studied, a newer movie version will be made.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Anderson, M. T. Feed. Listening Library. 2003.
image from;

Summary (from
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon—a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world—and a smart, savage satire that will captivate listeners with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

My Thoughts
OH MY GOODNESS! This was such a timely story! The idea that we have a constant "feed" of information in our brains and how this influences our decisions is spot on! The feed tells them what they want, what they should do and even matches to the personality type. It reinforces the idea the "we deserve it!" The book was futuristic, but is the book prophetic? The book was published in 2002, and much has happened in society since then. We do have a "feed" at our fingertips all of the time--our phones. We are constantly hit with ads/banners. I think this book represents today's generation.

I think this could be a great book for Upward Bound, but there is a bunch of cussing (the main characters are teenagers).

I laughed at many of the abbreviations used in the book. They are funny and telling. Another funny thing I laughed at was when they referred to a certain computer language as a "dead language."

The fear of missing out and the shallowness, vainness of the society is evident in this book.
Violet says, "Because of the feed, we're raising a nation of a bunch of idiots" (Anderson). OH YES!

Schools are run by a corporation. It makes me think about how education is turning. Legislatures dictate policy without having been in the classroom.  The story involved politics that mirror today.

I'd like to see a sequel to this book to delve more into how the characters' lesions fit into the environmental issues raised in the book.

This is a great listen and a story I will recommend to many.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Naxos AudioBooks, 2009. 
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Summary (from
Oscar Wilde’s enduring masterpiece, this fable of innocence and corruption, purity and decay has become a true classic. The beautiful, narcissistic Dorian Gray, torn between the influence of cynical hedonist Lord Henry Wotton and tortured artist Basil Hallward, sells the beauty of his soul in exchange for external perfection. Ultimately, he cannot escape the disfigurement of sin. Wilde’s remarkable wit and memorable, epigrammatic lines dazzle in audiobook form!

My Thoughts
This audiobook kept me awake on the drive to Phoenix. The story is 20 chapters long. I don't think I would have kept listening (in fact, I did think about deleting the book and moving on to a different title) if I didn't have that long drive. It is a classic story, one full of those British characteristics that I loathe--but...the basic story intrigued me. The mirror in the story is the conscience. I liked the idea that as Dorian aged, the painting did not. I liked the twisted ending.  I did not like the droning on and on to say something simply. I did not like trying to keep up with the characters (there are three main ones, and the author tried to use different voices, but at times I would lose track of who was speaking--that could also be due to driving late at night).

Disrupting Thinking

Beers, Kylene and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting Thinking. Scholastic, 2017.

image from: personal photo

Summary (from

In their hit books Notice and Note and Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst showed teachers how to help students become close readers. Now, in Disrupting Thinking they take teachers a step further and discuss an on-going problem: lack of engagement with reading. They explain that all too often, no matter the strategy shared with students, too many students remain disengaged and reluctant readers. The problem, they suggest, is that we have misrepresented to students why we read and how we ought to approach any text - fiction or nonfiction.

With their hallmark humor and their appreciated practicality, Beers and Probst present a vision of what reading and what education across all the grades could be. Hands-on-strategies make it applicable right away for the classroom teacher, and turn-and-talk discussion points make it a guidebook for school-wide conversations. In particular, they share new strategies and ideas for helping classroom teachers:

--Create engagement and relevance
--Encourage responsive and responsible reading
--Deepen comprehension
--Develop lifelong reading habits

“We think it’s time we finally do become a nation of readers, and we know it’s time students learn to tell fake news from real news. It’s time we help students understand why how they read is so important,” explain Beers and Probst. “Disrupting Thinking is, at its heart, an exploration of how we help students become the reader who does so much more than decode, recall, or choose the correct answer from a multiple-choice list. This book shows us how to help students become the critical thinkers our nation needs them to be."

My Thoughts
This was the PD book provided in the Book Love Foundation Summer Reading Book Club.

The reading of this book fell during the time I was on vacation, so I brought it with me and hoped I could get it read. It was great! The chapters are manageable to read in the schedule of fun, walking, eating and just enjoying vacation. I wrote several pages of notes. While I wasn't able to participate in the discussion with the book club, (no WiFi), once I got home, I read through the posts as well as watched the supplemental videos that are included with each chapter. At the end of each chapter are some "Turn and Talk" questions the authors include to get the reader to think about issues raised in the chapter or how the ideas might be applied.

Beers and Probst talk about using a BHH framework with reading (especially for beginners). I intuitively do this (which is why I even keep a blog about the books I read). They discuss it, and then give the reader an opportunity to practice it (LOVED that inclusion!).

I liked that what I'm reading in this book correlates to what I'm learning in other areas. I just had a 3 day training that talked about students having CHOICES in their learning. This book promotes the idea of CHOICES in reading!

Within 20 pages of the book, I made a note that I wanted to share this book with the English Dept. This will be one of my goals this year--get them to read it. But, I also made a note that I needed to share these ideas with my own daughter!

Some key points: there should be 3 big questions asked when reading

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What did the author think I already know?
  3. What changed, challenged or confirmed my thinking?
I'm going to use these as a librarian to help reinforce thinking while reading. 

I liked the concept of NEXT practices, not best. We can always make things better, including incredible lessons. 

I liked the idea that "we have confused the words interest and relevance....Something that is relevant is inherently interesting, but something that is interesting isn't always relevant" (Beers and Probst 114). Hmm...

I liked the comment when discussing the whole class novel approach to teaching. "Neither of us can think of one novel we want to read for eight weeks" (Beers and Probst 142). Ouch! I've done this in the classroom thinking I was great in giving students time to read. I never really thought about it from this perspective. I was breaking up the novel into manageable pieces, not thinking about the kids who would devour it and need to move on or the kids who struggle through and needed more support.  

I've said before, "As Maya Angelou says, 'when you know better, you do better.'" Well, this book has challenged me to do better. I have the opportunity in the library as well as with my Upward Bound kids. I'm very excited to try what I've learned from this book. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

In Our Backyard

Belles, Nita. In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do To Stop It. Read by Nicol Zanzarella. Oasis Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from
Modern slavery is happening all around you . . . and you can be part of the solution.
Human trafficking is not just something that happens in other countries. Nor is it something that just happens to “other people,” such as runaways or the disenfranchised. Even kids in your own neighborhood can fall victim. But they don’t have to.
Through true stories and expertise from her many years of boots-on-the-ground experience, anti-trafficking expert Nita Belles teaches you everything you need to know about human trafficking in the United States, helping you identify risk factors, take practical steps to keep your loved ones and neighbors safe from predators, and recognize trafficking around you, so that you can help fight it.

My Thoughts
I've studied this topic through United Methodist Women. As much as I didn't want to hear these heartbreaking stories, I felt compelled to keep listening. How can I help if I don't know?  Human trafficking exists in every state and nearly every city. It's "in our backyard." By doing nothing, the slavery continues. We must speak up and try to end it.

The book is ten chapters long, each chapter with a different theme or aspect of trafficking (not all is sexual in nature). The first chapter stopped me. It hit too close to home--a girl who is loved & comes from a "good" family is lured into "dating" older men for money. It made me fearful for my own daughter.

The chapter about restaurant workers made me starting looking at where I eat differently.

Many of the chapters are about human trafficking that is related to sex. For example, one chapter is devoted to the Super Bowl.  There's another chapter discussing why victims stay.

I want to help fight slavery! It is easier to not get involved, but I have to think about my daughter, her friends and the thousands of kids I've taught over the years. Just how many eyes have I looked into without any idea of what kind of life they were leading?

I kept thinking about Ellen Hopkins' novels, especially Tricks. According to Belles, "The US Department of  Justice named Las Vegas as one of 17 most likely destinations for sex trafficking victims." Hopkins' characters often find themselves in Vegas.

It astonished me that the list of sexual perpetrators included EVERYONE--from all walks of life, all levels of education, all salary points.

It was interesting to me to learn about TAT--Truckers Against Trafficking. I really assumed that truckers would be part of the problem, not part of the solution. This reversal of my understanding gives me hope.

How do we stop human trafficking? One "bite at a time"--do something. Each step we take to combat this issue is a step to ending human trafficking!

Now, I will say there were times that I thought the writer was trying to manipulate my emotions and perhaps some details of the stories were simplified or glossed over, but there were other times that the stories were quite graphic.

In the About the Author section at the end of the audio, Belles tell the reader that this book is designed as a "sampling" of human trafficking. Specific organizations are not endorsed, but the author does give some resources, including 1-888-373-7888 or text help to 233-733.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2014.
image from: personal photo

Summary (from
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Thoughts
I'm reading this for the Book Love Foundation summer book club.  I was excited to see this one on the list because I wanted to read it (I've seen the author at TLA), but since the main character is 13 years old, I don't have it in my library. (I'm not sure high school students want to read about younger kids).

The book club gave me a deadline to reading it instead of letting it pile on my "one day" list. The book club discussion points gave me some interesting things to look at with Alexander's writing style as well as some ideas if I were to use this book in the classroom.

Now that I've read it, I can say that I enjoyed it, and I might put it in my library after all.  This is a basketball story, but it's also a "life lessons" story. I like the novel in verse format that Alexander uses. I could visually see the ball bouncing on the court through the word placement. I felt the intensity of the game clock counting down to the last seconds. The emotions of the narrator are visual on the page. I also felt the story was honest.

I like the basketball lessons sprinkled throughout the book. Narrator Josh titled them Basketball, but they really are the life lessons or affirmations that his dad tries to teach. I also liked that Alexander uses words or expressions that might not be familiar to a 13 year old, defines it and uses it in the next poem.

I enjoyed the musical connections (and took time to listen to Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" song and Beethoven's "5th").

I smiled when I saw how the title was used in three different ways in the story. It is a basketball term, an explanation of life and in the very last line of the book (no spoilers here---but the moment is poignant).

Several times, Alexander uses a split poem, meaning that you can read it all together or you can read down one column and then read down the next column. When I came to pages like this, I read it both ways.

The book is divided by quarters, like a basketball game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Story

The Story, NIV : The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. Zondervan, 2011.

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Summary (from
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD” IS MORE THAN JUST A CLICHÉ. God goes to great lengths to rescue lost and hurting people. That is what The Story is all about: the story of the Bible, God’s great love affair with humanity. Condensed into 31 accessible chapters, The Story sweeps you into the unfolding progression of Bible characters and events from Genesis to Revelation. Using the clear, accessible text of the NIV Bible, it allows the stories, poems, and teachings of the Bible to read like a novel. And like any good story, The Story is filled with intrigue, drama, conflict, romance, and redemption; and this story’s true! From the foreword by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee: “This book tells the grandest, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity. Each story in these 31 chapters reveals the God of grace---the God who speaks; the God who acts; the God who listens; the God whose love for his people culminated in his sacrifice of Jesus, his only Son, to atone for the sins of humanity.” Learn more about this whole-church experience at

My Thoughts
It's taken me almost a year to read this book. I left it on the night stand and would try to read in it every night, but that didn't always happen. Before I opened the book, it stayed on my nightstand probably two years. This was a gift from a dear friend, so each time I did open and read, I thought of her special gift and friendship.

This is a chronological narrative version of the Bible. Included are time lines (helpful!), maps and of course, the Bible stories. At times, I felt I understood my Bible better and then other times, I felt like something was left out, even though actual passages from the NIV version of the Bible are included. This is not a substitute Bible.

The chapters varied in length, but they were usually about 13 pages long. I didn't want to stop mid-chapter, so that's one reason it took me a year to read it. If I couldn't complete an entire chapter in one evening, I wouldn't start it.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter regarding Revelation, as it reminded me of the Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins book I read back in the late summer entitled John's Story.

At the end of the book, there are discussion questions for each chapter, a list of characters (in chronological order, so I think that wouldn't help me), and a chart of references for each chapter. At the beginning of the book, there's a preface and a timeline.

Some passages I marked:

"Love the Lord your God with all your hear and with all your soul and with all your strength" (85). I love this verse!

"Dispatches were sent...with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews...on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month" (280).  This made me think of what Hitler tried to do in modern times. It also made me wonder about how many times over the course of human history attempts to get rid of the Jews have been made.

I also marked the place where Paul begins his letters to Timothy, as my Bible study this summer is is over 1 Timothy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Museum of Heartbreak

Leder. Meg. The Museum of Heartbreak. Simon Pulse, 2016.
image from: personal photo

Summary (from 
When it comes to finding her true love, Penelope Marx knows it will happen just like in a book. And when Pen meets Keats, a suave, literary cool guy, her book-loving heart is sure she's found the real thing. This is huge, since she has only two friends, Audrey and Eph. While they are her whole world, they exist beyond her. Audrey's other best friend is rude to Pen, and Eph is always dating a different beautiful girl. Pen and Audrey have an argument, and Pen throws herself into a relationship with Keats. But her conscience knows that he is not perfect, or even perfect for her. Making new friends at the literary magazine helps the protagonist expand her narrow circle. This is a sweet look at first love and the lessons we learn from it. New York City provides the perfect backdrop for the narrative: making out in the stacks at the Strand, having a fight on the subway platform. While heavy foreshadowing (heartbreak is in the title) will all but tell what will eventually happen, the journey is the point. The large cast of characters are varied, and each figure is easily discernible from the others. VERDICT Not required reading, but absolutely an enjoyable ride for fans of NYC and first love.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ 

My Thoughts
This was a cute story with a museum twist on the "artifacts" of the narrator's heartbreak. There are lots of literary references and some funny allusions to "Twin Peaks"--a show that is having a revival this year!

Penelope thinks she wants Keats. Little does she realize that her best, good friend Eph is really the one she should love. The story takes some twists and turns, and I'm glad that Pen realizes the fantasy of Keats isn't the reality of Keats.

Cherisse is awful (fake) but people think she's so great. Like the narrator, I really didn't like her.

I loved the idea of the Nevermore journal and think the Dead Poets Phone idea was hilarious! There were several times while reading I thought the author and/or the narrator was me. We have similar experiences and reading habits and nervousness in social situations.

There was also a part in the book that talked about people leaving notes in books. This reminded me of Words in Deep Blue.

This book was a funny read and one I'll add to the SHS collection.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Book of Unknown Americans

Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel.  Read by Christine Avila, Ozzie Rodriguez, Yareli Arizmendi, Gustavo Res, Gabriel Romero, Jesse Corti . 2014.

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Summary (from
This captivating story of America's "simultaneously conspicuous and invisible" population is powerfully rendered by an ensemble of narrators representing voices from all over Latin America. Like families before them, the Riveras immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life for their daughter, Maribel. Though Maribel is the catalyst, it is Alma, her mother, and Mayor, her friend, who lure listeners in during alternating chapters. Their voices shift with emotion as the narrators deftly use pitch and pacing to maintain an intimate atmosphere amid the shifting perspectives. Periodically, new voices and new accents claim a chapter to share their own immigrant experiences. Each is captured with sensitivity, lending an immediacy to the story and providing a larger context to the Riveras's experience. A.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine [Published: JUNE 2014]

My Thoughts
This is a collection of stories, but they are connected. Alma and Mayor tell most of the narrative. I could related to Alma's worries for her daughter and hoping that coming to America would help her daughter.

Maribel's story (really, her mother's truth) is heartbreaking.
I liked Mayor and that he liked Maribel and demonstrates his love for her.

As I listened to this book, I wished I could see some of the Spanish words. It took me a little while to understand the accent on some of the narrators.

We hear stories from other tenants in the building like Quisqueya Solis and Gustavo Milhojas and Benny Quinto. It just reminded me of how everyone has a story.

As I neared the end of the book, I was in tears. I can't believe that the story spans only 7 months (but really it is several lifetimes). The last chapter, Arturo Rivera's, was a surprise. Even though we see him through the other characters, it's the only chapter he has in the book.

The title reference is in Micho Alvarez' chapter, over 80% into the book.

I think these characters will stay in my conscience, especially when I look at my students and wonder, "What's their story?"

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stars Above

Meyer, Marissa. Stars Above: A Lunar Chronicles Collection. Feiwel and Friends, 2016.
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My Thoughts
I've finally completed everything  in The Lunar Chronicles. I've read the four major books, the novella, and now this collection of short stories. Again, Meyer layers more and more about the world of Earth and Luna, the many characters and those "back stories" of how things came to be.

CONTENTS (from Marissa Meyer's website) 
The Keeper: A prequel to the Lunar Chronicles, showing a young Scarlet and how Princess Selene came into the care of Michelle Benoit.

Glitches: In this prequel to Cinder, we see the results of the plague play out, and the emotional toll it takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch….

The Queen’s Army: In this prequel to Scarlet, we’re introduced to the army Queen Levana is building, and one soldier in particular who will do anything to keep from becoming the monster they want him to be.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Thirteen-year-old Carswell Thorne has big plans involving a Rampion spaceship and a no-return trip out of Los Angeles.

After Sunshine Passes By: In this prequel to Cress, we see how a nine-year-old Cress ended up alone on a satellite, spying on Earth for Luna.

The Princess and the Guard: In this prequel to Winter, we see a young Winter and Jacin playing a game called the Princess and the Guard…

The Little Android: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

The Mechanic: In this prequel to Cinder, we see Kai and Cinder’s first meeting from Kai’s perspective.

Something Old, Something New: In this epilogue to Winter, friends gather for the wedding of the century…

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Crown

Cass, Kiera. The Crown. Harper Teen, 2016.
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Summary (from
Prepare to be swept off your feet by The Crown—the eagerly awaited, wonderfully romantic fifth and final book in the Selection series. Eadlyn didn’t think she would find a real partner among the Selection’s thirty-five suitors, let alone true love. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and now Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more difficult—and more important—than she ever expected.

My Thoughts
So satisfying! This entire series is great! I enjoyed that the story held my attention, and I was transplanted into this world with America, Maxon and then Eadlyn and her Selection. I won't give away which of the men get to become Eady's husband. Cass keeps you guessing until the second to last chapter!

Since it's been awhile between my reading The Heir and this title, I had a little bit of a hard time remembering which guy was which. Cass puts some details to help refresh the reader's memory, but even when I didn't quite remember, I kept reading.

I liked seeing Eadlyn's growth in this book. She's young, but she begins to make decisions that aren't selfish. She begins to see situations from a world view. She becomes less rash and more pensive. She is smart always (even when she messes up). Cass created flawed characters who aren't perfect because even in this fairy tale, readers can see themselves.

I'm glad I bought these books with the pretty covers and then took a chance on reading them!


Meyer, Marissa. Fairest. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.

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Summary (from


Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story—a story that has never been told … until now.
Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from WINTER, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.
My Thoughts
If you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles yet, do NOT read this post! I protect some things, but there are some spoilers to the Chronicles as a whole. 

This novella is Queen Levana's back story. Some sources say read this before Winter. However, I think since I read it right after finishing Winter, events were still fresh in my mind.

I liked seeing that Levana wasn't as evil as her sister (who I think is portrayed as beautiful in the previous books, but not much else--at least not to my memory). It's Levana's story, but it's also her sister's and her husband's and even her parents' tale. It sets some things up for all four other books. Princess Selene (Cinder) has her back story (a bit) in here, too. Make no mistake, though. Levana is evil. She's made decisions and justified them in her own mind. This book offers some understanding as to how and why and what helped shape her personality.

"Come here, baby sister. I want to show you something" is repeated in the book. It's Channary luring (and controlling) her sister. I'm glad Levana's glamour is explained and her love to her husband Evret. All very interesting. I was surprised (although  maybe I shouldn't have been) to find out about Winter's parents. I also learned about the strained relationship between Earth and Luna.

So, could you read the 4 major books and not this one and still have a story? Sure. But...reading this one gives more spice to the fairy tales. I've now started reading Stars Above, a collection of stories from the Lunar Chronicles world. I've enjoyed my time on Luna and Earth with these characters and look forward to reading the story collection to complete the world of the Lunar Chronicles.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Words in Deep Blue

Crowley, Cath. Words in Deep Blue. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
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Summary (from back cover)
"Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family's bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.
Now Rachel has returned to the city--and to the bookshop--to work alongside the boy she'd rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can't feel anything anymore. She can't see her future.
Henry's future isn't looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.
As Henry and Rachel work side by side--surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages--they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it's possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough."

My Thoughts
The booktalk I heard about this book doesn't quite match up to what happens in the book, but I enjoyed it anyway.

The premise is Rachel & Henry work in a bookstore. Inside this bookstore is a Letter Library where people can (and are encouraged to) write in the books or leave notes in the book or mark passages in the book. Rachel's job is to catalog these notes. There are some touching notes!  Even the author of the book includes a note in this book for the reader, which I thought was clever.

I really like the concept of the Letter Library. I've had students leave notes to future readers in books before (thankfully, just notes--not passages marked in the book). As I read this book, it got me thinking about something I did in the classroom that I may start in the library next year.

I loved the many literary references in this book!  I also loved this description: "I'm fond of Derek Walcott. I could eat his poem 'Love After Love.' Just peel the words off the page and stuff them in my mouth" (Crowley 25). I feel this way about words sometime.  I had to look up "Derek Walcott" to see if he is real. He is.

There's a love story, a break up story and a growing up story all included. There's grief, healing and learning. There's a theme to not judge a book by its cover. (And the actual cover of this book is cute!).
We are the books we read and the things we love (Crowley 258). 
This quote sums up life.

I don't know if I'll remember the entire story line years from now, but I will think about "a book I read once" where people left notes in the books.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Meyer, Marissa. Winter. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.
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This is the fourth installment of the Lunar Chronicles. I realized it's been over a year since I finished Cress (I'm seeing that I'm horrible about finishing series, as this isn't the only one I've stalled out reading).

It took me several weeks to steal moments away to finish this installment, as it is over 800 pages in length (so, it's like reading more than one book. Well, Meyer actually divides it into 5 books)!

There is so much happening in this book. I'm glad that Meyer puts in reminders of how things came to pass or why something is a way because it's been awhile since reading the first three books. I felt my heart rate increase as I read. I didn't want to stop, but I also didn't want to continue. I've enjoyed my time with these characters.

One thing I really liked about these stories is that everything isn't forced into a "happily ever after" ending.

What you will get from this book (as well as the entire series):

  • humor
  • romance
  • action
  • space travel
  • violence
  • social issues 
  • friendships
  • questions of right vs. wrong
After I finished this book, I immediately started reading Fairest, the novella of Queen Levana. It's a great backstory! 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pennies for Hitler

French, Jackie. Pennies for Hitler. Read by Humphrey Bower. Bolinda Audio, 2012.

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Summary (from
Narrator Humphrey Bower brings Georg Mark’s childhood in Nazi Germany to life with precise German accents and phrases. As Georg becomes George to escape Nazi persecution, first in England and later in Australia, Bower presents realistic characterizations with English and Australian accents. The voices Bower creates for Georg’s Australian foster family, the Peaslakes, make them a memorable example of the indomitable will of ordinary citizens in wartime. Steady, appealing narration enhances this slowly building story of home and identity. Bower’s ability to capture the history and setting of Georg’s story makes French’s novel ideal for use in school as well as for general reading. C.A. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: JANUARY 2015]

My Thoughts
This book is fine for middle grades and up. It is a Holocaust story, and there are some gut wrenching moments, but the story is softened for a non-adult reader.

I was reading Salt to the Sea (another WWII story) when I started listening to this, (interesting how that happens sometimes), so I had to stop listening so that the two stories didn't blend together.

This is a story about a German boy who has an English father, so he is sent to England to live with an aunt. When London gets bombed, the aunt sends Georg to Australia to a foster home. Honestly, this was the first time I'd ever heard about this. I didn't know that several boats of children left England to sail to Canada or Australia.

In Australia, Georg finds a home with the very loving and caring Peaslakes. I was so glad to hear that this couple was kind and treated Georg as their own son (who was away at war). His new friend/cousin is named Mud. It was nice that they had each other.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Memory Book

Avery, Lara. The Memory Book. Little, Brown, and Company, 2016.
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Plot Summary (from book jacket)
     "Sammie McCoy is a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as possible. Nothing will stand in her way--not even the rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly steal her memories and then her health.
     So the memory book is born: a journal written to Sammie's future self, so she can remember everything from where she stashed her study guides to just how great it feels to have a best friend again. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime-crush Stuart, a gifted young writer home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood friend Cooper and the ridiculous lengths he will go to make her laugh. The memory book will ensure Sammie never forgets the most important parts of her life--the people who have broken her heart, those who have mended it--and most of all, that if she's going to die, she going to die living."

My Thoughts
I can't remember (ironic) how this book got on my pile...did I read something about it? Was the author going to be at NTTBF or TLA this year? Was there some Twitter buzz? Anyway, I spent the weekend with The Memory Book.

Sammie McCoy has a plan and a life threatening illness is NOT part of it! I haven't heard of Niemann-Pick Disease (NPC) before reading this book (I've since done some research). I don't have NPC, but I do keep this blog as my own recording of books read, so I could relate to the character in that way.

The story was cute, the idea is creative, but the thing I enjoyed most about it was finding the literary allusions. There were at least 10 of them (mostly overt), as I made a list. Some references I probably didn't catch.

I flagged the chapter where Sammie predicts what will happen at the National Debate Tournament. I'm going to show that to our debate coach.

Avery's story is believable (wonder if she was a debater in school?), but I really didn't like Stuart. He seemed too...unrealistic...maybe there are people like Stuart in the world, but for me, he could have been left out and still had the story line of Cooper and Sammie's renewed friendship (the jealous fight scene would be rewritten).

I liked that different people in Sammie's life were able to write/type in her memory book. (Sign of the times--journals are digital).

I should have expected the ending, but the setup was so sweet I was lulled.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Myers, Walter Dean. Juba! Read by Brandon Gill. Harper Audio, 2015.
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Summary (from

Myers's posthumously published novel, set in the 1840s, tells the story of William Henry Lane, a free black dancer known as Master Juba. Incorporating the Irish step dancing he saw around him as a child in Brooklyn with African and minstrel styles, Juba developed what came to be known as tap dancing and was celebrated in London, as well as New York, until his early death at 27. Sadly, the ambiance of the times and the exuberance of Juba's dancing don't translate well to audio, despite the efforts of narrator Brandon Gill. Listeners unfamiliar with old minstrel shows will miss the historical pictures in the print edition, and, though Juba and his friends are mostly well realized by Gill, the challenge of the Irish accents makes it sometimes problematic to determine which character is speaking. S.G. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: DECEMBER 2015]

My Thoughts
I have liked everything I've read by Walter Dean Myers, so I was happy this was an audiobook selection. Even though the above review slams the narration, I felt it was fine. I could follow along (but now I do want to see the historical pictures included in the print version).

This story didn't grab me like Monster, but I stuck with it so see what would happen to Juba.

The Hate U Give

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer + Bray, 2017.
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Summary (from
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

My Thoughts
When I first started hearing about this book, the plot synopsis did not appeal to me. I just didn't think I needed this book in my conservative, rural library. However, after hearing Angie Thomas at NTTBF17 discuss this book (and even read a bit from it!), I was glad I ordered it. As soon as it arrived in my library, I checked it out to read. I was not disappointed. This is not a fluffy read due to language and violence, which is part of what makes the story believable. The characters make the story relevant.

The title reference is on page 17 (which I didn't "see" until it was pointed out to me). There are pop culture references too, like the use of Tumblr.

The book is divided into five parts.  I wasn't sure I wanted to finish the book because I didn't know how I'd react to the outcome of the trial. I hoped that Thomas would make it end "happily ever after," but I also knew I didn't want her to manipulate the story to make that happen. I honestly wasn't sure how it would go.

I felt for Starr when she said realizes that what she thought she's do in a situation turns out to be the opposite of what she does. "I always said that if I saw it [a black person getting killed just for being black] happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak" (Thomas 35).  Starr had to find her voice and use it as her most powerful weapon.

There is humor in this book. For example, Starr's dad, a former gang member,--it's explained how he got out of "the life"--claims  Harry Potter is about gang theory. He makes good points. Some of Starr's descriptions of her neighbors are hilarious. Her neighbors also made me think about how communities come together at times. The description of herself at school versus the Garden Heights neighborhood Starr are funny (and realistic).

I thought it was ironic that I read this book the week of prom because there is prom episode in Starr's story.

This book made me think about a lot of things---which is what I think it is supposed to do. We often prejudge a person, situation, even a story line. As I read, I would catch myself thinking about my own comments, thoughts, and even actions (or lack of action) of "real life."

The story has good timing and didn't feel like it was over 400 pages (Yes, it's 444!).

Some quotations from the book:
Hailey & Starr "rode the waves of grief together" (Thomas 79).

"Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right"  (Thomas 154).

"Somebody's going to turn Mr. Lewis into a meme. He's making a fool out of himself and doesn't even know it" (Thomas 189).

"You have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them" (Thomas 264).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Salt to the Sea

Sepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. Philomel Books, 2016.
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Summary (from
In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

My Thoughts
This is a well researched historical fiction book, but I felt like I was reading narrative nonfiction. Refugees are fleeing Germany during WWII. The story is told from the 4 characters (Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred) points of view, but there are other characters who hold a prominent place. Each story is not what it seems at first. I liked how the opening lines of each character was parallel ("_____ is a hunter" (Sepetys 1, 3, 5,7).  Each character had a different noun hunting them. Sepetys brought this noun hunter back around towards the end of the novel.

One of my favorite, non-main characters was the "shoemaker poet." He often said, "the shoes always tell the story." How wise he was about that.

At one point, I thought of how these refugees were almost like the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. We, as the reader, are traveling along and learning about their lives.

I did not like Alfred the more I learned of him. At first, I thought he was just imaginative.  Florian realizes that Alfred is "a sociapath in training" (Sepetys 280). Yes, I would agree!

The title reference is on page 357.

The ending chapters of this book are so vivid. I felt like I saw what the characters saw (I don't want to ruin it here, but it is full of emotion).

Sepetys includes an author's note at the back that explains to the reader how she came to write this story. It is not biographical, but she does honor her family's heritage by writing about this event. She also includes other sources for information.

ADDED 5/8/17--I got to meet Ruta Sepetys at TLA this year!