Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Reading Challenges

I have to admit that I like to do Reading Challenges... just because. I'm the type of person who writes every little thing down on a To Do list just so I can mark it off. So even though reading is something I do every day (um, mostly...), I like being able to tick some boxes with my yearly reading habits.

The Goodreads challenge is one I've been doing the longest. Even before I had a Goodreads account, I had a Notepad document with all the titles I'd read each year. I actually used to also write down the page numbers of each book and do that math too, just because I liked seeing the numbers representing how much I'd read.

Now I don't care so much about page numbers, but I do still like setting a goal for myself and then reaching it. Or exceeding it. I've been participating since 2012, and only didn't reach my goal once, in 2013. It's nice to have a long streak going, and it feels pretty good to log in to Goodreads and see the challenge progress on the sidebar.

I read 134 out of 125 books. I'm going to keep my goal the same for 2021 just because I feel like it's attainable with a bit of work, but not so far out I blaze through books just to reach the goal.

This was my first full year of Book of the Month membership, so of course, I got swept up in their challenge as well! It's more limited since it focuses on BOTM choices, but it was fun to try and review all the books I got, as well as read one from each genre.

This year, my son read 285 out of 225 books. I'm changing his goal for next year because, though I'll still read to him, and we'll still read picture books, I want to start reading chapter books with him. Those will take more time to read, so while we'll still be reading together every night, we won't be checking books off as quickly. I also hope that most of the pictures read will actually be by him, but that happened a few times this year and I made notes in the reviews. 

Speaking of reviews, I'm hoping to get more of his input on the books starting in 2021. I usually just write about his reactions to the story and illustrations, but I think I'm going to explain Goodreads to him and get him more involved in the reviews. He's had a Goodreads account since he was a baby because I thought it'd be cool to keep track of every book he's ever read, but now I think it's time he's more active in the process.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Best Middle Grade Fiction Read in 2020

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar (2020). This book came out right as the pandemic hit the US, so the title alone made it seem perfect. I loved Wayside School as a kid, and have read it with book clubs and school groups a lot recently. I was so excited to see a new title being released but was also a little nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as the originals after so long. I was so surprised when it was better than I remembered the others being! It’s so humorous and dry and I loved it so much, I can’t wait to read it again! Re-reading this whole series might be a 2021 goal...

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling (2020). Nora and her father go on a hike for Nora’s birthday. They’re trying to get away from it all, to forget what happened last year on Nora’s birthday, when her mother died. The whole family has always loved hiking and rock climbing, and Nora wants them to keep it up even though they’re a family of two instead of three. After climbing down into a slot canyon, Nora and her father are caught in a flash flood. Her father pushes her to safety, but as Nora watches, her father and all their supplies are swept away.
    This is a verse novel bookended by a straightforward narrative, which totally immerses the reader into the action. Nora is impressive in her fight for survival, but the book is very realistic about her situation, which adds some great suspense. This is so powerful and so emotional, and I can’t recommend it enough for middle-grade readers and up.

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O'Shaughnessy (2020). Maybelle Lane uses a tape recorder as a journal. She records quiet sounds that other people don't notice, sounds that say a lot to Maybelle. Maybelle's momma is a musician and is about to go away on tour for one long month. Mrs. Boggs, a neighbor in the trailer park, will be watching Maybelle while her mother's away. But Mrs. Boggs doesn't realize that Maybelle has plans to travel from Louisiana to Nashville.
    There's a singing contest in Nashville, and Maybelle not only entered but is determined to win. She hasn't sung for a long time, but she wants to impress the judges. One of them is her father, a man she's never met. A man she only recognizes by his laugh, which she heard on the radio one day, just by chance.
    Maybelle's momma told her not to go looking for her dad because she'd only end up getting her heart broken. But when Maybelle listens to him on the radio, he sounds kind, and Maybelle already has a lot in common with him. She knows if she can make it to Nashville and meet him, he'll want to be involved in her life.
    Mrs. Boggs is surprisingly eager to take Maybelle on a road trip. The trip is full of trouble and adventure, and even a stowaway! Maybelle learns a lot about herself and her travel companions along the way, but she can't stop worrying about what's at stake when she gets to Nashville.
    This book was beautifully written and very touching. The details about sounds Maybelle noticed and recorded inspired me to start listening more than I typically do. I love the idea of keeping a journal of sounds, and I love the library activities this brings to mind! This book is great for middle-grade readers and up, and I think it would be an excellent book club pick for small groups in classes.

Rick by Alex Gino (2020). Rick is starting middle school with one friend, but he’s starting to realize Jeff might not be the best friend. Jeff is judgmental and teases Rick for everything he is or isn’t. But when Rick decides he wants to join the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club to figure out who he really is, he realizes that Jeff is flat-out hateful. While Rick learns to accept others as they are, his relationship with his grandfather blossoms in a beautiful way. This is a wonderful middle-grade book about acceptance, questioning who you are, and finding yourself.

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt (2020). I love K.A. Holt's verse novels, but this one is a whole new ball game! Four students, Ben B, Ben Y, Jordan J, and Javier, are in summer school because they failed their state assessment, and Ms. J is the teacher who's tasked with bringing them up to speed. These four students don't know it at first, but they have a lot in common. They hate to read. They have never finished reading a book on their own. And, most importantly, they all love the game Sandbox. After making an agreement with Ms. J, the students are allowed to read a Sandbox-themed Choose Your Own Adventure-type book, and even earn time to play Sandbox at school if they meet their time quota for reading aloud. The four students start to become friends as they open up about their struggles in the Sandbox game, along with their real lives.
    This is billed as a verse novel, but I'm excited at how many students it will appeal to because one character's chapter is told in drawings. I've known many students like this - hate reading, hate writing, but have so much to express if you let them draw. I think most middle-grade readers will be able to see themselves in at least one of these four characters while feeling empathy for them all. The characters and their struggles are real, relatable, and most of all - incredibly interesting to read about! This is definitely one to get for your home, classroom, school library, or middle-grade section of the public library - it's going to be a hit!

I can't let a middle-grade post go by without also recommending some graphic novels. These two series were big hits in the school library this year - including the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. The Mr. Wolf series is set in a classroom with diverse students and is a quick and engaging read. Like the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, the Baby-Sitters Little Sister series is a graphic novel adaptation of the chapter books, so it's a great way to hook readers and then transition them into chapter books if they want to read "ahead" of when the graphic versions are released.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Best Young Adult Fiction Read in 2020

This looks like I picked more than 5 books, but two choices are the book and the sequel, and one is an amazing series. Since I think they should all be read together, even though each book can stand alone, I'm counting the sequels and series as one choice.

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas (2019). 
I think I loved this even more than The Hate U Give! Angie Thomas is brilliant at creating realistic characters that draw you into their world, and Bri is no different. I heard her raps in my head and fell in love with how her mind made rhymes from one random word jumping out at her from a train of thought. Can’t recommend this one enough!

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (2020). This book is AMAZING. So powerful, so necessary, and such a unique verse novel. But unfortunately, the story told is not unique - a black teenager imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I love that YA novels are being written about situations like this so our teens will grow (or hopefully continue) to be empathetic people and anti-racists.

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds: Ghost (2016), Patina (2017), Sunny (2018), Lu (2018).
    Since I am not the sportiest person, I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of a book about a kid joining a track team, but I should have known that Jason Reynolds would always win me over with his words. I don’t think he can write a bad book, and if you’re not reading him, you gotta pick some up.
    After Ghost, I was totally hooked by the Track series. Patina is so well-done, with characters going through things you don’t typically see in fiction, but do see in real life. It’s so refreshing to see real struggles represented in fiction.
    I think Sunny has been my favorite of the Track series so far, and that’s saying a lot. Sunny has such a distinct style, and the way everything sounded like music to him is an infectious way of thinking. Since I finished this book, I’ve been hearing beats and rhymes everywhere I go, and it’s just what I need to bring a smile to my face. Can’t wait yet am sad to finish the Track series soon...
    I’m so sad to end the Track series, so it seemed appropriate that I cried through the last few pages. This book was so good, and the whole series is so good. I love how the characters had truly unique voices and situations and experiences. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

How It Went Down and Light It Up by Kekla Magoon (2014 and 2019). Loved How It Went Down! Written years before Dear Martin and The Hate U Give but tackling a similar subject of a black teen being killed by a white man. The great part of this book is that it’s so real - no one knows for sure if the teen was armed, if he threatened someone, if he was a thief - we hear from everyone involved with the main character and his city block, and nothing is certain.
    Reread 2020:  I read this book two and a half years ago and thought about it so often that I knew it was time to re-read it. It’s sadly still relevant, telling an all too familiar story of a young black man being killed by a white man who gets off unscathed. The most fascinating thing about this book is how it’s told - so many different characters who saw what happened and/or knew the main players are telling what they saw and what they know. Which, of course, is a whole bunch of conflicting information. I can’t say enough good things about this book, I’m just pushing you to read it yourself. And let’s talk about it.
    I loved How It Went Down for how concise it was in telling the same story from the points of view of a whole neighborhood. The sequel, Light It Up, tells a story about another shooting incident that is too timely - a cop somehow finds a 13yo Black girl a threat and shoots her in the back. This takes place in the same neighborhood as Tariq’s shooting, so the same characters are back. It’s nice to see what they’ve been up to, and I love how this book selves a bit more into their lives.

Dear Martin and Dear Justyce by Nic Stone (2017 and 2020). Dear Martin was phenomenal. I loved The Hate U Give and this is a great book to read along with it. I felt like this one had a bit more depth and exploration, but that might be because Justyce, the main character, was more immersed in different situations that rounded out his character quite a bit.
    I had to re-read this one so I’d be in the right frame of mind to read Dear Justyce. I think I loved it even more the second time around, though maybe that was due to the current climate? I’ve also been reading more Nic Stone books since I first read this one, and I absolutely LOVE her writing style. Her characters are always so realistic, which makes it a more emotional book than you might be expecting.
    I have to admit I went into Dear Justyce thinking “Ok, another companion novel that won’t be as good as the first.” But DAMN this one blew my mind. I absolutely loved how it was from Quan’s point of view, and the use of flashbacks was so powerful. Nic Stone is an amazing writer and her foreword and afterword absolutely made this book 10x more powerful and emotional than the story was on its own. I can’t recommend both Dear Martin and Dear Justyce enough - for teens, sure, but also I think it should be required reading for adults to (hopefully??) help us change how we see things.