Friday, July 31, 2020

My Life in the Fish Tank Review

Zinny is a seventh grader whose life begins to fall apart when her brother Gabriel is in an accident at college. Gabriel is diagnosed bipolar and is sent to a residential treatment facility and the family struggles to keep it together. Zinny and her siblings are directed by their parents to not tell anyone about Gabriel’s hospitalization and struggles. Zinny’s friendships suffer because of secret keeping.

This story is so important for middle grade students because it deals with the stigma associated with mental illness and how difficult it is for families to cope. Our students need to be informed about these issues to gain empathy and understanding. I think Barbara Dee did an amazing job humanizing both Zinny and Gabriel and portraying their family’s predicament. I look forward to getting feedback from my students on this one.

4 Stars

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez Review

This book was a pleasant surprise. I tend to enjoy mostly realistic fiction because that is what I grew up with. There are many realistic parts in this one, but there is also enough fantasy to attract my students who really prefer to stay away from stories based in the real world. Nestor is an army kid who has been all over the country as his father was sent from base to base. His mother and he move to a small town in Texas to join his Abuela while his father is deployed to Afghanistan.

Nestor does not even bother to unpack because he figures their stay New Haven will be short. He is rather jaded about moving around and developing friendships, after all he has had ten first days of school and he is only in the sixth grade. Despite his apprehension of making friends, he ends up becoming close with some classmates. There also are some mysterious happenings in the woods behind Abuela’s house and many pets from the town have gone missing. Most of the town is suspicious about Abuela’s involvement in the animal disappearances. Nestor also has a unique ability that he hides from everyone--he can talk to animals and they talk back! Without giving too much away, the animals and humans take on an evil witch.

This novel was fast paced and heartfelt. I have students that move often and have military parents, so they will be able to relate to Nestor and his life. Many of my kids will love the fantasy aspects of the story and who doesn’t love a battle with good versus evil? 

5 Stars

Monday, July 13, 2020

One Time Review

I was so excited to be able to review this ARC from Netgalley because Sharon Creech is one of my favorite middle grade authors. Unfortunately, this is probably my least favorite book I have ever read from her. It did not feel like the plot even developed until three quarters of the way through and even then there was not that much substance. Gina is an imaginative only child and when Antonio moves in next door and is in her same class you would think the story begins, but not much develops. When Antonio is not coming to school there is little information or plot development. My students will enjoy the short chapters, but other than that there is not much to appeal to them. I don’t even plan on buying this for my classroom; it was a miss.

2 Stars

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Closer to Home Review

Cal is living with his aunt’s family because his mother died of cancer and his father is in and out of prison. This means being in the same classroom with his cousin, Hannah, and feeling as if he is intruding into their family. He also suffers from PTSD due to the time he lived with his father which means he sometimes has explosive outbursts.

Ellen Hopkins has written many young adult novels in verse as Close to Nowhere is. She is so talented at capturing her character’s voices and struggles. I am quite pleased that she has finally moved into the middle grade realm with this thoughtful story.

4 Stars

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Sara and the Search for Normal Review

This is a prequel to OCDaniel--I have not read it, but I just ordered it because I have to know more about Sara and Daniel. I have been a teacher for many years and have dealt with students suffering from anxiety disorders, depression, trichotillomania, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and more. Wesley King explores several of these adversities through Sara’s perspective. The story is thoughtful and authentic as Sara tries to manage her thoughts and to achieve “normalcy.”

Unfortunately, there are not many middle grade books that deal with mental illness. I am so pleased to be able to share this book with my students. As a seventh grader, Sara attends public school, but is not mainstreamed due to her many issues. Most of the students refer to her as “Psycho Sara.” Sara wants nothing more than to be “normal.” She is medicated, attends weekly sessions with her psychiatrist, has supportive parents, and keeps a list of rules for being “normal.” She joins a weekly group therapy and makes a friend, Erin. Erin also suffers from anxiety disorders along with trichotillomania. While their friendship progresses, Sara gets to experience many life events including going to a birthday party, going to the movies with a friend, etc. Erin has a secret and Sara has to decide whether to risk their friendship by disclosing it and saving Erin…This book will resonate with many of my students and help them to understand and empathize with themselves and others.

5 Stars

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Dress Coded Review

I am so impressed with this debut middle grade novel. To begin, this book is current and timely with strong female characters that protest the injustices of their middle school’s inequitable dress code. Firestone incorporates podcasts, short-titled sections/chapters, and bullet lists to tell Molly’s story--this format will appeal to many readers and gives the book a modern feel. 

Molly is terribly bothered by the fact the many students (mostly female) are openly embarrassed and disciplined in the hallway of their middle school by their principal and dean, “Fingertips.” She is named “Fingertips” because most of her time is spent in the hallways questioning the length of the shorts worn--her actual name is not disclosed until the very end. Molly interviews students that have suffered because they are “dress coded” to publicly explain the situation and the emotional turmoil that results. She posts the interviews online as podcasts and documents dress code infractions on Instagram. Her podcasts and Instagrams gain followers and encourage others to speak up.

This book is progressive with some controversial topics intertwined including: same-sex crushes, tampons, bullying by students and school administrators, racism, vaping, addiction, etc. Although these themes are mature, they are handled expertly and are not explored graphically. This book will definitely appeal to many of my fifth graders who are starting to develop their own cultural and societal views and are looking for inspiration and encouragement in how to express them.

5 Stars

Friday, June 5, 2020

Stink & the Hairy Scary Spider Book Review

I have always been a fan of the Stink book series--I actually prefer Judy Moody’s little brother over her! Although the Stink books are below most of my student’s reading levels, I always make sure to have some on my shelf because they are quick reads and can build some reading confidence for my reluctant readers.

Stink suffers from arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. However, when he discovers a wayward tarantula in his backyard, he gets help from Webster to overcome his fear and rescue the tarantula. I think my students will appreciate the spider facts that are included and the origami especially the included instructions on how to make a creature or two.

4 Stars