Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

I don’t really do animal books.  As anyone who has heard me tell the tale of how The One and Only Ivan was selected for GRA 2012, they will know that when a book features an animal I tend to take a very long time to even pick it up.  If a book gets a lot of hype, it sometimes takes me much longer.  So when Pax by Sara Pennypacker, yes, the Sara Pennypacker of Clementine amazingness, was brought to my attention I gladly put it in my to-be-read pile.  And then promptly avoided it for a month.  After all, a book about a fox and boy –  wasn’t that just a new version of Where the Red Fern Grows?

Yet last night, after finishing Touching Spirit Bear, I figured I may as well keep this animal trend going and I settled in to this tale of a boy and his fox and the world that separates them.  And I read for 3 hours.  And I stayed up too late.  And this morning I slipped it in my school bag so I could read during my prep, and then I read during my lunch, and then I read after school.  And tonight, I finished it and it is so wonderful. So magical. So heart-wrenching. So deep.  And all I want to do is to talk about others with it.

And that is why this book is the newest contender for the Global Read Aloud 2016.  This book is meant to be read aloud.  This book is meant to be shared, to be discussed, to be read to a silent room where students just want you to read just one more page.  This book is magic, pure and simple.

So order it now, it comes out February 2, 2016.  Read it, hold it close, and then pass it on to as many people as you can.  While this is a book that asks you to reflect, it is also a book that begs to be shared.  For 4th grade and up, I have a feeling Pax will be a book we remember for a long time to come.


Review Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

You know you have to read a book when you get the following email, “I am very proud to say I bought the book “Illuminae” from Barnes and Nobles and finished it in one night! I started at 8pm and finished at 1 am. It is my new favorite book and I actually finished a book! ”

And so I purchased it as well, and then promptly forgot all about it.  After all, I had had enough of dystopian thrillers for a while.  Yet, my student’s email kept haunting me, drawing me back in.  If this book had finally made her finish a book, then it had to be worth my time, right?

Illuminae does not disappoint. The whole format is inspired, with deleted files being the whole book as the story is told under a directive to uncover all information.  The characters make you care about them.  The story is action packed and yet understandable.  But the violence, oh the violence.  The thing is this is like a science fiction almost zombie like book, think Walking Dead type of violence.  So yes, I will place it in my 7th grade library but not until I book talk it and let kids know what to expect when it comes to maturity level.  For some students this will be a selling point, for others it will make them steer clear, but the violence is graphic at times.

From Amazon:

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
      The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.
     But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Review Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has been haunting my Amazon account for a long time.  Every time I went in to order another book, an occurrence that happens a lot, there it was being suggested as my very next read, as the one book I should not be missing out on.  When I was awarded a $25 gift card I knew it was the universe aligning telling me to read this book.

The first night I picked it up, I didn’t get what the fuss was about. I found the different story lines confusing and all of the random new nouns.  A lot of them had Dutch and Danish origins so my Danish brain kept wanting to translate them.  But then the second night, it happened.  I was totally sucked into the pages, having to read until 12:30 AM just to see how it would end and now anxiously waiting its sequel.  I gave this book 5 stars.

Yes, this book is violent – the eye ball incident made me gasp, and yes, this book is confusing in the beginning.  But it is so good.  And for once it doesn’t remind me too terribly much of all of those other books I have read.  So for some 7th graders and up for sure.

From Amazon:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.

Review – Booked by Kwame Alexander

I was one of the incredibly lucky people to receive an advanced review copy of the new Kwame Alexander book Booked at NCTE.  I loved The Crossover.  My students love The Crossover.  In fact, The Crossover was a Global Read Aloud finalist last year.  So I knew that the very first book I had to read upon arriving home was Booked.

And I was not disappointed, it is hard to be when it is Kwame Alexander, but I did not love it as much as The Crossover.  Perhaps it was the slightly repetitive nature of the story (family problems, sports references, a crush on a girl) or perhaps my heart doesn’t gravitate toward soccer references as much as it does basketball.  Whatever the case, I liked it, just that, but my students love it.  So if you are looking for a book to add that you know will be read by many.  If you are looking for a book to give next year  for students 4th grade and up, I would recommend this book.  It will be read and loved by many students.

Review – Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

I have loved Neal Shusterman since my colleague told me to read Unwind, one of his many incredible series that my students have since devoured.  While I had heard of Challenger Deep it was not until I saw it win the National Book award for YA that I knew I needed to read it.  So for the past 4 days I have.  I have drudged through the pages trying to make sense of it all and slowly, ever so slowly, has the story of  a boy and his mental illness dragged me in.  This is a hard story to love for me, yet one that I am so thankful that I have read.  One that I will book talk to my students in the hope that one kid will find solace within the pages.  But it is a hard book to read, it is confusing at times, and yet it all makes sense.

Challenger Deep is an unflinching, behind the scenes look at what mental illness may be like for a child.  Based on Shusterman’s experiences through his son, it is a deep look at what can happen when the confines of reality start to change.  It is hard.  It is terrifying.  It is beautiful.

This book is not inappropriate but it is probably better geared for older students.  Students who have stamina to read through the confusing parts and understand that they are confusing for a reason.  Students who, like me in the past 4 days, had to read on to see what would happen and will feel deeply satisfied yet still pondering the story after it ends.  That is who this book is for.




This One Book

On Sunday night, I cried in my airplane seat.  I held the book in my hands and cried not because it was sad, but because it was so true.  Because the words I had just finished reading made me think about my own privilege, about the conversations Brandon and I will never have to have with our son, Oskar.  About the thousands of boys whose everyday life can be changed in a single second.  And how I have no idea what to do about it other than continue to ask questions, continue to have the conversations in our classroom, and continue to place books like this in the hands of my students even if they make me feel so incredibly uncomfortable.  Because this book should do exactly that.  And not only that, it should make us weep at the society that we live in and the ways that we perceive each other.  It should make us angry and ashamed.

So today, I handed the book to another teacher and then promptly ordered another copy.  I know that for some of my students it is too mature, but for others it will be the book that they pass on from kid to kid.  It will be the book that makes them question the society that we live in, and for that I am so grateful.  We need books like this.  We need to cry in our airplane seats more often at the injustice that we participate in.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s masterpiece All American Boys is a Global Read Aloud contender for 2016 because the world needs to be in on this conversation.  Go read it.  Please.

Why You Should Add “Jackaby” by William Ritter to Your Classroom Library

I used to watch Sherlock Holmes with my mother as a young girl growing up in Denmark.  We would settle in, wait for the theme music to come on and be whisked away into the strange mind of a genius detective who seemed to always figure it out.  On good nights we would Hercule Poirot as well.

I started reading Sherlock Holmes as a child as well, lying terrified under the covers as I wondered whether it was the Baskerville Hound I could hear outside my window.  Sherlock Holmes seems to have been a part of my life for a long time and while I have introduced the stories to my students, they can be hard to read, even for the most resilient reader.  I have always felt that we needed a great series similar to Sherlock Holmes but with its own unique story and main characters.  WIlliam Ritter in his Jackaby series gives us just that.

Yet, I hate to even compare it to Sherlock Holmes because I feel like Jackaby has its own place in the world, not as a substitution for another series, but as a must-add series to our libraries.  With great characters, a story that keeps unfolding between books (I read Beastly Bones as an ARC and hate that I now have to wait for the next book), and a captive page turning mystery, this book is one that I will be recommending to as many students and educators as possible.  In fact, I have recommended it to three different people already in the last two days.

Bottom line:  A page turner, with supernatural whimsy that all around just makes for a really great read.  Absolutely appropriate and enthralling for 4th grade and up but my 7th graders will love it as well and so would high school.

From Amazon:

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local authorities–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–seem adamant to deny.

Need by Joelle Charbonneau #BookADay

I had the longest day yesterday, one of those days that exhausts you to the bone, so when I logged into Netgalley (I hope you use Netgalley) and saw that I had been approved to read the ARC of Need by Joelle Charbonneau, I know I would only read a few pages.  Just to get started until my heavy eyes gave up.  It was 9:30 – perfect time to fall asleep.

12:45 AM – I finished the book.

It’s a page turner.  It is mature, there are some macabre events in it, not graphic, but violent.   It’s not science fiction which is what made it so scary.  And I can’t give that much away.  It doesn’t come out until November, so until then I will just have to tell my 7th graders about this amazing book that I cannot wait for them to read.  It is worth it if you teach middle school or high school.

From Amazon:

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises.

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands #BookADay

It is completely appropriate that The Blackthorn Key is released the very same day that I go back to school.  Why?  Because this is the book to give to students to read.  This is a book for anyone who loves a good mystery, fantasy, action, and hopefully something that will turn into a series.  This book, which again was an ARC given to me by Scholastic, will be a great book to hand to those students that loved Harry Potter or The False Prince.  And it will be one that I cannot wait to read aloud.

Bottom-line: 5th grade (or mature 4th graders due to the murders in it) and up.

From Amazon:

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

MiNRs by Kevin Sylvester #BookADay

My To-Be-Read pile finally got placed firmly in the corner of my bedroom, so now it only mocks me when I enter the room rather than all the time.  However, its mocking has made me pick up more books every day, swiftly falling in love or abandoning them as I try to reclaim my corner.  I therefore do not have a system right now, but only a movement of my hand as I pick up the next book in the pile and start to read it.  It has been rather freeing actually.

So yesterday’s choice was the ARC MiNRs by Kevin Sylvester.  I had grabbed it at ILA due to its cover but was still slightly skeptical upon looking at it further.  Yet it was on top of the pile so I started to read.  I loved it.  I finished it in 24 hours, thankful for the 30 minute drive to our local zoo because I have trained myself to read in the car again – hallelujah.  I also skipped a movie with my husband so that I could finish the book.  And that ending.  Urgh.  Now I have to patiently wait for the next book to come out because there better be a next book and who knows when that will hapen.  So why is this book so good?  It is a page turner, it is science fiction, and it didn’t remind me of a billion other books.  It is completely accessible to elementary students, 4th grade or so and up but will also suck in my middle school readers.  Bottomline:  I can’t wait to get this book into the hands of my readers.

From Amazon: 

Twelve-year-old Christopher Nichols lives on an asteroid. Earth has been mined to the edge of extinction. Dozen of families, including Christopher’s, have relocated to space to work as miners for terraforming companies.

Then a Blackout hits and the colonists lose communication with Earth. Which means they are on their own when they are ruthlessly attacked.

Now in a race against time, Christopher, along with a small group of survivors, are forced into the maze of mining tunnels. The kids run. They hide. But can they survive?