Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Reading Challenge

In 2019, I challenged myself to read 120 books, and I read 125. In 2018, I read 134 of 115; in 2017 I read 127 of 104; in 2016 I read 140 of 100; in 2015 I read 141 of 100; in 2014 I read 110 of 100; in 2012 I read 124 of 120. Apparently I skipped 2013, and didn't use Goodreads in 2011. I think I started keeping a Notepad doc of books read in 2006... I’ll have to find those and input my books!

For 2020, I challenge myself to read 125 - not a huge jump, but 120 seemed pretty daunting at times so I don't want to go too high over, but I do still want to push myself. This year I hope to keep monthly records on how many nonfiction, fiction, YA, and MG books I read. I'm a fan of bloggers and bookstagrammers who post stats with their reading wrap-ups, like subject matter, gender of author, pages read, etc. I'm not sure to what extent I'll track all of this, but I like the idea. Not enough to go back and do it for 2019 books, mind you.

I challenged my son to read 222 books, and together we read 227. In 2018, we read 214 of 200; in 2017 we read 250 of 250; in 2016 we read 272 of 200; in 2015 we read 174 of 100.
For 2020, I challenge him to read 225 books - not a huge jump, but enough to keep us accountable. There were many busy nights or late nights when we had to skip bedtime stories, but he's learning to read on his own so I hope to have many more Goodreads reviews that say he read the book to himself!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Best Picture Books Read in 2019

I always enjoy looking back over the books I read in a year and grouping them into genre categories, and then ranking them. I use the star ratings on Goodreads for each individual review, but when it comes to picking my favorites, I typically just go for the ones that stuck out in my mind. These books are especially memorable because I read them aloud to students during school library time. I love picking wonderful books to share with them, so I hope you'll consider sharing these with your kids and/or students. Or, honestly, just enjoy them yourself, because they are quality (and sometimes silly!) books.

There are so many amazing picture books being published that it seems hard to keep up with them all. I'm pretty proud that 3/5 of these books were published this year, and 2/5 are from 2018.

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (2019). I cannot properly express my love for this trilogy. I'll admit, when Triangle first came out I read it and thought "Hm, ok..." It was funny and my kid and I really enjoyed it, but that's where it ended for me. Then came Square, and things started to fill out in my mind, to the extent that we were crazy excited for Circle and had to get it the day it was released! I can't count how many times we've read the whole trilogy... and I even have a tattoo in honor of it! Something about these books is just so fun to me, but the writing and illustrations are so sparse that I feel like it really allows your imagination to step in and round out these characters, and they're realistic and relatable in a way you don't think a shape could be!

Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party by Kimberly Dean and James Dean (2019). This one was a huge hit at home, so I knew I needed to take it to school to read aloud to the Early Childhood students. It's fun to read aloud because there is so much tone and inflection necessary to really pull the kids into the story. Add in the alliteration and it's just a blast to share with enthusiastic readers! I read it once, and the next class, after our planned reading was done, the children asked to hear it again! I can't count how many times I read this book in the span of a week.

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018). I found this book right before school started, so of course it's what I read aloud to every class once we started back! Everyone loved it because it's so silly and fun to read, but it also does remind students (especially the youngest) how they should act at school and with friends. It's not a "moral" exactly, but the lesson is there in a fun way, so it's relevant. I kept laughing at how many people sent this book to me - friends from the public library who knew I love picture books/am at a school now sent it to me on hold, parents recommended it to me, and my mom even tried to buy me a copy of it to read because she thought I'd love it! And none of them were wrong. Read this one if you haven't yet.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (2018). I got this from the library in May to read to my kid because he calls his grandmother "Oma" and we thought it was a funny coincidence. It's a very touching story, and I won't lie - I teared up at the end when reading it to him! Then it was chosen as this year's Read for the Record book, so on November 7th I had elementary students read it aloud to small groups of younger kids. Everyone really loved the book and the spirit of kindness and giving that it embodies.

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox (2019). This is another book my son and I found at the public library, read together, and then knew I had to read it at the school library. This book is so silly, with a gluttonous Llama stuffing himself silly with cake and eventually ripping a black hole in the universe. It's a great jumping off point for conversations about outer space and black holes, which the Early Childhood students were surprisingly knowledgeable about. Super fun to read aloud, so definitely check it out.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Best YA Fiction Read in 2019

I always enjoy looking back over the books I read in a year and grouping them into genre categories, and then ranking them. I use the star ratings on Goodreads for each individual review, but when it comes to picking my favorites, I typically just go for the ones that stuck out in my mind. Too often I hear a title or see a cover and try to remember if I read it or not, because it seems vaguely familiar but I have no clue what the story was about. Well, these are not those books. These are the books that I loved reading and that I have recommended to many others as soon as I finished the last page, and now I'm recommending them to you.

I'm including publication years because I am not one of those hip book bloggers who limits "Best of 2019" to books that were actually published in 2019 - I'm not sure I read enough of those. These are just books I happened to read in 2019. They're fairly recent, with 4/5 being from 2018 and one (already timeless story) from 2017. In YA, I know that might be a little "old", but I think these books are amazing and worth reading.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017). Viv is sick of the way boys in her high school seem to get away with everything, but she doesn't know how she can push back against it, since it's so ingrained in her small town. Inspired by her mom's Riot Grrrl history, Viv creates and anonymously distributes a feminist zine that starts a buzz in her high school.
     I cannot rave about this book enough. I keep thinking “I wish I had this when I was in high school” but honestly, it seems just as important to me as an adult. It’s inspirational, moving, and will make you feel empowered. Beautiful writing, wonderful story. Highly recommend for EVERYONE to read.
     I was thrilled to meet Mathieu at the YALSA Symposium in November. I got a signed copy of Moxie and raved about her book to her and how much it meant to me, even as an adult.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding (2018). This was recommended to me because I loved What If It’s Us so much, and I loved Jordi Perez even more! The story was very interesting and unique - a girl with a fashion blog and a photographer are sharing an internship at a local fashion boutique. Everything was pretty happy, even when there were problems, so I’d say it’s more of a fluff read, but it’s so easy to get into and obviously it's stuck with me since I read it, so I think it's a really good book. I thought the stuff with the sister could have been developed a bit more, and the ending felt pretty rushed, but I enjoyed it and definitely recommend it as a fun read.

The Alcatraz Escape (Book Scavenger #3) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (2018). My history with these books goes back to reading the first one in 2016 and it blowing me away. I was heavily engrossed in in children's and YA lit from my MLS and my public library job, and this just hit me as fresh and intriguing and engaging. I've re-read it each time a new book comes out, so I've read the first one thrice, the second one twice, and Alcatraz just once - but I can't wait to re-read the entire series (so far???) in 2020. This was seriously my go-to recommendation for kids in the public library who wanted adventure or mystery, and they always came back to tell me they loved it. I used Book Scavenger as the pick for the Upper Elementary Family Book Club this April, and everyone loved it - students and parents! I created a library scavenger hunt and the winner got a copy of book two, but I think we need to add two and three to our school library. But I digress!
     I absolutely loved this third book. Sometimes sequels and trilogies can get tired, or you can tell the author is running out of ideas. Not the case with Bertman. This book was AMAZING, and might even be my favorite of the Book Scavenger trilogy yet! I love the Alcatraz history and that twist, my goodness! PERFECTION. The best part is, the delight and satisfaction of a good book has stuck with me, but I don't remember exactly what happened, so I can't wait to read it again.

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (2018). Arthur and Ben meet randomly at the post office, but neither is sure if the other is flirting, and neither thinks to get contact information so they can try to find out. When they find each other again, it's got to be "meant to be", right? Except each date seems to be a disaster in a different way, and they can't seem to get on the same page.
     I loved this story about chance meetings and finding again. I loved how distinct each character was - it can be hard to remember who’s who in multiple viewpoint books, but this worked great. I’m adding the other books by these authors to my TBR, and you should too.
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (2018). Mara and Owen are twins and best friends who understand each other better than anyone else. But when Owen is accused of raping his girlfriend, who also happens to be one of Mara's closest friends, Mara feels ripped apart. How could her brother do that? How could she turn her back on him because of it? Because she believes her friend - she has to - but everyone seems to expect something different from her, and she can't seem to win. But she has to stay true to herself and find out what really happened.
     I wanted to read this book because it was nominated as a YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten title, and I’m so glad I did. This book is important and powerful and emotional. I was totally weeping by the end of it. I wish I had books like this when I was a preteen and teenager, but I’m so glad they’re available for teens now. I think everyone should read this to understand things that are going on, and know they can speak up and have empathy for others.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Best Adult Nonfiction Read in 2019

I typically make the disclaimer that these are books I read in 2019, not necessarily books that were published in 2019. But for adult nonfiction, 4/5 books were actually published this year, and one was from 2018, so I feel pretty on top of my game right now. ALSO - please note ALL OF THESE BOOKS WERE WRITTEN BY WOMEN!!! WHOOHOO!

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty (2019). I’ve loved Doughty since I read her first book, and was so excited to see she had a new one out. Her first was interesting and engaging, her second was incredibly informative, and this one is fascinating. I love that it’s written based off questions from children, and I suppose it could be read by children, but I don’t know if it’s being marketed that way. The questions are interesting, though - surely we’ve all wondered about some of them at one point or another. Doughty’s answers are well-researched but also understandable even without extensive knowledge of death science. She also displays her excellent sense of humor in pretty much every answer. I want to be her friend. Also, the illustrations are AMAZING.

Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg (2018). I read this at the perfect time in my life. When you're going through a relationship ending, reading about others experiencing the same can really make you feel like you have a support system, even if you don't, or can't be this open with others around you. (Although I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, because it's just a great book all-around.) It was recommended by a friend, and I would in turn recommend it to pretty much anyone. Sundberg is so open and honest about her relationship history, her marriage, and being a mother. Her prose is beautiful and emotional and touching. Many sections had me nodding in agreement, others had me biting my nails, and others had me weeping. A must-read.

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan (2019). The summary of this book screamed that it was perfect for me. Spoiler alert: IT WAS. I want to be Jessica’s best friend but as a fellow shintrovert, I know we will never hang out. Twitter friendship it is. Jess takes a year to set goals to push herself out of her comfort zone and try to become an extrovert. She tells a story in front of an audience for The Moth, she takes stand up and improv classes and performs at clubs, she goes to networking events and actually networks, she speaks to strangers. It all gave me small anxiety attacks (which made me feel alive!) and also had me laughing out loud in so many sections. I loved relating so hard to this person and her year. It also reminded me of the year I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to go to grad school in DC, where I also spoke to strangers and took comedy classes. But here I am, shintrovert for life, reading as much as possible and living vicariously through those books. I have since loaned out my copy to others, and recommended the title to even more.

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis (2019). I liked American Housewife, but this blew it away in my mind. I loved the style of lists and “How To” articles for obscure things. I loved pretty much every essay in this book. Can’t get enough of Ellis’ style! It was a fun, entertaining, but interesting read right when I needed it. Definitely one you should check out and either read a bit at a time, or all the way through in one sitting.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (2019). The idea of going on tour as part of an orchestra that doesn’t actually play grabbed my attention, but Hindman’s writing made this book more than that. The whole thing seemed so surreal, but Hindman put enough personality into it where you felt like you were also trapped in this strange situation. (Literally - much of the book is written in second person, which is very immersive and interesting.) Who wouldn't pretend to play an instrument for good money?! If you like strange stories, you should check this out. And then google to find out who The Composer is, and then watch tons of his videos on YouTube and see if you can tell if the musicians are really playing or not. Don't forget to check out the CONSTANT SMILES! And also fall down the rabbit hole of Threatin, if you haven’t already.

Have you read any of these nonfiction books? What did you think of them? What nonfiction books would you recommend to me?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Best Adult Fiction Read in 2019

I always enjoy looking back over the books I read in a year and grouping them into genre categories, and then ranking them. I use the star ratings on Goodreads for each individual review, but when it comes to picking my favorites, I typically just go for the ones that stuck out in my mind. Too often I hear a title or see a cover and try to remember if I read it or not, because it seems vaguely familiar but I have no clue what the story was about. Well, these are not those books. These are the books that I loved reading and that I have recommended to many others as soon as I finished the last page, and now I'm recommending them to you.

I'm including publication years because I am not one of those hip book bloggers who limits "Best of 2019" to books that were actually published in 2019 - I'm not sure I read enough of those. These are just books I happened to read in 2019, but this year it's interesting that 2/5 were published this year, and 2/5 were published last year. How very contemporary of me.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015). If I could have picked all of Kent Haruf's books for this list, I would have. And yes, I know it's my list and I can do whatever I please, but 5 is such a delightful number for a round-up list. Anyway, I discovered Haruf this year thanks to a bookstagram/librarian friend, and I am forever in his debt. I later found out that my dad loves this author but never recommended him to me, and I'm trying to not harbor anger about that. (Joking, kind of.) Anyway, something about Haruf's writing is so simple and beautiful and powerful. If I had to compare him to anyone, it would be Steinbeck, and I love me some Steinbeck, but I think Haruf beats him overall.
     Our Souls at Night was Haruf's last book, published after his death, but it's a great final book. It's not part of his trilogy, but it is set in the same town. Some of the dialogue makes vague references to Haruf's previous work, which might seem like he's full of himself, but it's actually so amazing and self-aware and really made the book, in my opinion. The story itself is wonderful - an elderly widow and an elderly widower are neighbors and begin a relationship, kind of out of the blue. They are honest and to the point and everything about it makes you want to strip your life down to the necessities and forget the rest, which is a good way to look at Haruf's other works. He only has 5 novels, so do yourself a favor and read them all. If you only read one, read this one. If you're reading them all, please read them in publication order.
     Our Souls at Night was made into a movie on Netflix, but I'm debating watching it. I always love the book more than the movie, but this book was SO GOOD that I'm not sure if the movie would ruin it for me, even if it's decent.

Alice Isn't Dead by Joseph Fink (2018). I love the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, so when Alice Isn't Dead started as a podcast, I downloaded all the episodes. I never got a chance to listen, due to time constraints, having a small child around, etc. So when the book came out, I was excited to get to experience the story in some way. The book is AMAZING. Such a great mystery, such creepy circumstances, and the writing really portrays the suspense. I still haven't listen to the podcast, but I think I'll re-read the book next year and then make time to start listening. Have you listened to the podcast and/or read the book?

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson (2019). I would have chosen this one on the anticipation alone. Kevin Wilson has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read his story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth years ago. Every time I find out he has a new book being released, I get incredibly excited, because he does surrealism so... realistically. I had this book on my "To Read" Goodreads shelf ever since it was announced, and then it was an October Book of the Month choice, so I got to read it before it was officially released! Waiting from when I chose my book to when it was delivered was almost unbearable, but of course worth it.
     Kevin Wilson is one of my favorite authors for the way he can make you laugh and make you cry with straightforward words, not trying too hard. When I saw this book was about spontaneous human combustion, I was worried it might be a little too out there for me to really be interested in (or believe) the subject matter. But Kevin Wilson is the king of taking slightly strange or unrealistic aspects and making them understandable and palatable for any reader. As always, his stories are about the characters more than what’s actually happening to them, and he presents some amazing, realistic characters in this book.   

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019). I know this book has already won awards and is on so many "Best of" lists, but I think it's earned, and not just hype.
     This book blew me away. I love classic rock and the band lifestyle of that era, and this is a great interpretation of that time. I loved the style of the writing. I have to admit that I'm a huge Aerosmith fan, and when I was in 8th grade I got a copy of their autobiography, Walk This Way. It's told as interviews with band members, and I read it so many times I probably still have parts memorized. This book reminded me so much of that, so it rang true to me. I loved the approach, the rock stories, the music. I have to say, it's hard for me to get into "music" in books, as in the lyrics written out. I couldn't hear it in my head so I mostly just skimmed. Also, the “twist” didn’t do much for me, but I can see how it affects the story overall, so I’ll take it, but I felt like it was presented in a strange way, and meant to be a big reveal, but it just didn’t work for me. Overall I loved the book though, and am reading more by the author already. I haven't listened to it myself, but I've heard the audiobook is told with many different actors doing voices, and I love how that must bring the story to life.

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (2018). I wasn't sure what to expect when I checked this book out just because I was seeing it everywhere, but this book blew me away. There was a lot of drama, which kept it interesting and had be turning the pages. Even with that being said, it was so real, so well developed, and so intriguing. Many of the characters made me think of real people, which was both good and bad considering the main male character was a psychopath. I could hardly put this down.

Have you read any of these adult fiction books from my top five? Which ones? What are your top five books read in 2019?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Furious Thing by Jenny Downham

Lex and her mother used to be close. The banded together and made the most of what they had, which wasn’t much. Until John came along. John was rich and said he loved Lex’s mom, “even though” she had a child. John himself had an older son with his wife, whom he eventually left for Lex’s mom, but not before playing a bunch of headgames. The games don’t stop once John proposes to Lex’s mom, years after they started their affair. The two even have a 6 year old daughter together, whom John dotes on. But John can hardly stand Lex, and he doesn’t hide his feelings. He treats her more like he treats her mother, the woman he is supposed to love. His abuse isn’t physical, but he lies, twists his words, withholds his affection, and is hot and cold. He starts gaslighting Lex to the extent her teachers agree she is unstable and needs medication. But Lex just wants them to see who John truly is, instead of seeing the successful architect, the brave man who took on a poor woman and her angry daughter.

This book made me angry in many ways - not because of the writing or the plot, but how realistic it was and how unfair it all is. I thought John was very realistic and his type of abuse needs to be brought to light as much as possible so people, especially teen girls who will be reading this book, are aware of the possibilities. I do hope books like this continue to be written for YA audiences so they are informed.

That being said, I  wish some of the storyline was a little clearer so the important aspects could stand out more. BEWARE OF LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU INTEND TO READ THIS BOOK! Lex most often acted out in anger when John was arguing with her mom, so I thought it was because she was trying to get his attention away from her mother. But she acted out a time or two in school, so maybe it wasn’t that. And if it wasn’t, that’s fine, but I was unsure about why she acted out. (Please note that statement is extremely generalized - I realize mental illness was part of this story, and Downham did a wonderful job explaining how ADHD can present differently in females.) I know it could just be something mentally making Lex act that way, but the pattern almost made it seem like she was sticking up for her mom, so it was a little misleading. Then she started on medication and seemed ok? Or was she just tired of fighting? That was unclear to me as well. And the relatively happy ending didn’t sit too well for me, because the anger from earlier in the book seemed abruptly gone, even though John was still in the picture (though apparently “harmless” now?), and Lex was off medication, so I’m unsure about how that ending came about.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold by Maureen Fergus and Cale Atkinson

This is such a fun story about what happens when Santa starts doubting that a child is real. He thinks the Mom writes the letter to him, and the dad puts out the cookies. Sure, Harold sat on Santa's lap last year, but that kid didn't even look like the Harold Santa remembers!

At the same time, Harold isn't sure he believes in Santa anymore, He decides to hide on Christmas Eve to catch Santa in the act of leaving presents. Santa decides that he will also hide in Harold's living room, to see if Harold runs out on Christmas morning, excited to open his presents. While both of these sound like good plans, something is bound to go wrong...

This book is fun for children of all ages - and the adults reading it aloud! It's a nice twist on a Santa story, very humorous, and Atkinson's illustrations are amazing as always.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale

We've had this book for a few years, so I'm surprised I haven't featured it before. As someone who isn't the biggest fan of Christmas music (several radio stations here start playing it 24/7 before Thanksgiving), having a fresh, silly twist on a classic is a delight to read aloud - and then get stuck in your head!

This is a tech-y, robotic take on the Twelve Days of Christmas featuring a Robo-Santa giving, among other things, a cartridge in a gear tree. The words fit perfectly to the original tune, and the detailed illustrations give you and your kid a lot to look at on each page. I can't recommend this one enough if you're looking for a fun, silly spoof of a Christmas book.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

STEAM Sunday: The Great Santa Stakeout

When I was a joint MakerSpace teacher + librarian, I loved using books as my jumping off points for MakerSpace lessons. Books are my comfort zone, and reading a book aloud to start a lesson is a great way to introduce a concept and get everyone on topic. These "lessons" don't have to be done for an entire classroom, and don't even have to be done the way I outline them here, but I thought it would be something fun to share.

To start it all off, considering this time of year, I knew I should use The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird, illustrated by Dan Santat. I read it with my son and reviewed it recently, and it inspired a lot of STEM-y thoughts for me.

First off, the front endpapers are blueprints of Freddy's plans to take a selfie with Santa. Looking over the blueprints is a great way to get a hint of what's going to happen in the story, but also a way to start a conversation about ideas. Lots of ideas can come to you and then float away if you don't do anything about them. But writing them down and drawing them out can help make them a reality.

The story itself breaks Freddy's plot down into steps. After looking at the front endpapers and reading the story, kids will have a plan for how they can make their idea seem more manageable by breaking it into bite-sized pieces. The back endpapers have [SPOILER ALERT!] more blueprints of Freddy's next idea, so kids can see how, if something doesn't work the first time, they can go back to it, tweak a few things, and try again.

This is, of course, the way scientists do experiments, but since it's demonstrated in such a fun way, with an entertaining story to go along with it, it might seem more inviting than a full-scale science project. Also, I think introducing the concept via a picture book will help younger readers with this skill.

With this foundation, there are so many ways to continue this on into STEM lessons. For example:

  • students could pick their favorite celebrity/public figure and try to plot how they'd get a selfie. (I can see this being a great choice for my 4th-7th graders.)
  • students can plot how they would sneak a peek at Santa. (This might be best for home lessons, unless your school or library allows Christmas/Santa books and programs. Or, if this is for older kids who don't believe anymore, it could possibly be allowed.)
  • students can map out a building concept. My students always loved building challenges involving marshmallows and toothpicks. You could ask them to draw a blueprint of a building using # of marshmallows and # of toothpicks (limits always make it more challenging!). Have them pitch their drawings, then let them build what they planned. Set an additional challenge, like the structure has to stand on its own for 10 seconds. If they do it, hurrah! If not, have them go back to the drawing board and draft another set of blueprints. This could also be done as partners or small groups. NOTE: While the marshmallows and toothpicks are fun and look snowy to go along with the book's theme, you could always use blocks, Legos, paper, or any building material!
I also think that blueprints and diabolical plots automatically lend themselves to Rube Goldberg machines. Have students draw a blueprint of their own custom Rube Goldberg design, even if it's not something they can actually build with materials you have (or even materials that actually exist!). Start brainstorming with the end goal - for example, I want slime to land on the head of the next person who comes into the room. How do I accomplish this? Maybe by putting a bucket of slime on the door, but how would it balance without plopping down? How else could I get slime onto someone's head? Start with the end goal and work backwards. If you're using this for a lesson, give students a certain number of steps or actions they need to use. For example, if I need to have 5 actions in my machine, I can't just prop a bucket of slime on top of the door - I need four more actions to make this happen. That's a great way to get imaginations going.

Friday, December 20, 2019

TRUE TO YOUR SELFIE by Megan McCafferty

I love the Jessica Darling series, so I was excited to read something by McCafferty for younger readers. True to Your Selfie is a great book for middle graders and tweens about friendship and finding what matters.

Ella plays ukelele and sings harmonies with Morgan for their YouTube channel, which has a ton of followers and is on the verge of blowing up. At least, Morgan is determined to make it blow up. She wants to be famous, and she’s grooming Ella to make sure she fits their “brand”. But Ella is tired of always being “on” for fans and selfies and doing multiple takes of drinking a smoothie. She finally finds something she’s good at, but when Morgan won’t let her pursue that passion, Ella has to assess if she wants to be true to herself or be famous.

This is a fairly quick read, but has many layers in terms of relationship complexities between both family members and friends. I think so many students will be able to see themselves in this book, and it will help them practice empathy towards their classmates and others.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Great Santa Stakeout by Betsy Bird, illustrated by Dan Santat

I'm biased since he's one of my favorites, but nothing beats Dan Santat's illustrations. Here, his work is perfectly paired with a whimsical story by Betsy Bird about Freddy, who is Santa's biggest fan. Freddy has all the Santa merchandise and Christmas paraphernalia you could think of, but he's desperate for a selfie with the man himself. He hatches a devious plot and draws up plans to delay Santa and make sure he gets a picture.

This story is so silly to read aloud, and as I said, I always love Santat's illustrations. I can't wait to read more picture books by Bird.

As a former public librarian and current school librarian, I'm pretty thoughtful about what holiday books I read to children. I don't want to highlight one holiday and ignore another, so a careful balance is necessary. This book should definitely be added in to any rotation of winter holiday stories, because whether the listeners celebrate Christmas or not, they can enjoy the details of Freddy's Santa-catching plan and relate to loving a famous figure so much, you'll do anything to meet them!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

This verse novel tells about a budding friendship that has the potential for so much more. Kate is used to being perfect - a great student, cheerleader on the path for captain, and always does exactly what her mother wants her to do. It’s all Kate can do to make things easier on her mom since Kate’s older sister joined the Navy four years ago and hasn’t visited since. Tam, on the other hand, is surrounded by diverse friends and neighbors, and her mom accepts her as she is.

The verse novel structure is perfect for this story because it heightens the emotions Kate and Tam feel for each other and the people surrounding them, but also leaves enough room for the reader to experience their own perceptions. I love that books like this for tweens who need to see themselves in stories to really understand themselves and others.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

NAT ENOUGH by Maria Scrivan

Thanks to the KidLitExchange network and Scholastic for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan releases on April 7, 2020.

This graphic novel is about Natalie, who starts middle school to find her best friend has dumped her to be part of the popular crowd. Natalie tries to get Lily back, but while trying, she meets new classmates who show her she might not have been experiencing friendship before. Natalie has a lot to learn about being herself and finding true friends.

This book reminded me of Terri Libenson books, and also maybe a bit of the comic strip Luann? Something about the cat and dog jokes on the new chapter pages made me think of comic strips, but I liked it, and that humor and style definitely worked for this book. I can’t wait to get a copy for the school library - these kids LOVE graphic novels, and when these characters go through the same problems the students face, those books don’t stay on the shelf. I think this will be a hit.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Swirl of Ocean by Melissa Sarno

Lindy found Summer on the beach, alone, when Summer was just two years old. For ten years since, they’ve built a comfortable life together at the beach. When Lindy wants her boyfriend to move in with them, Summer feels unsettled and wants to find out more about her roots. After accidentally swallowing ocean water, Summer starts having incredibly vivid dreams. A little detective work has her finding elements from her dreams in her real life, so she drinks more ocean to try and learn her truth.

The magical elements in this book are so subtle and well done, and add a beautiful layer of mystique to the story. The characters are realistic and well-developed, and showcase Sarno’s ability to craft a story you’re going to become wrapped up and invested in. I also highly recommend reading her first novel, Just Under the Clouds.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Beginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Harper Books for sharing Beginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin. This book publishes on February 11, 2020, so go ahead and add it to your wishlist! You won’t want to miss out on this touching, inspiring story.

Annie Lee’s home life hasn’t been the same since her daddy died, and that’s not just because it seems like his spirit is still lingering in the apartment. Annie Lee’s mom works long hours, and since Annie Lee’s friends didn’t know how to relate after her dad’s death, Annie Lee finds herself alone, wrapped in her invisibility cloak. While she searches for things to keep her busy after school, she meets someone who might help her rekindle the love of music that faded after her dad died. Add into the mix a girl who reaches out to her at school, and Annie Lee finds herself wondering if she should let people in again, even if she’s worried about getting hurt again.

The magical realism aspects of this book are faint, so I wouldn’t push it into the fantasy genre, but I do think they added an interesting layer to this story.

Monday, November 11, 2019


Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing TAKE THE MIC, edited by Bethany Morrow. This book is out now (released October 1, 2019!) so you can get your own copy. I’m getting one for my school library, since this one is getting passed on down the line.

These short stories of resistance are fiction, but they are incredibly realistic and could happen to anyone. The characters are diverse, in regards to skin color, religion, gender, and more. They all have some adversity in life and react in different ways, whether they quietly stand up for themselves or the underdog, or protest and push for change on a large scale. Because of the scope of the diversity and the reactions, I think all readers will feel empowered to make a difference in their daily lives, however they can. This is definitely a must-read for tweens and teens, but I think adults need to read it, too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Arabella and the Magic Pencil by Stephanie Ward and Shaney Hyde

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and EK Books for Kids for sharing Arabella and the Magic Pencil by Stephanie Ward and Shaney Hyde. All opinions are my own. 

It’s always tough to welcome a new sibling into the family, and unique book addresses the changes in a creative way. Arabella is used to being the center of her parents’ world, and gets one wish every year. She wishes for wonderful things, but not once does she wish for a little brother.

She gets one anyway. And he’s loud, and messes with Arabella’s stuff, and keeps bugging her. When Arabella wishes for a magic pencil that brings anything she draws to life, she realizes she could use it to erase her little brother. But should she?

This is a cute story with beautiful illustrations that sweep you right into Arabella’s vibrant world.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

Three Cheers for Kid McGear by Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Chronicle Kids for sharing Three Cheers for Kid McGear by Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford. All opinions are my own.

My son and I have loved all the construction site books so far, and he was so excited to see a new book with a new character! Kid McGear is small, and the other trucks don’t think she can help. Kid isn’t discouraged, just offers to work with them another day. But when there’s an emergency, Kid is the only one who can help.

Like the previous books in the series, this book has a good story, cute rhymes, and gorgeous illustrations. It’s a must-read!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan

The summary of this book screamed that it was perfect for me.
What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year? If she knowingly and willingly put herself in perilous social situations that she’d normally avoid at all costs? Jessica Pan is going to find out.
When she found herself jobless and friendless, sitting in the familiar Jess-shaped crease on her sofa, she couldn't help but wonder what life might have looked like if she had been a little more open to new experiences and new people, a little less attached to going home instead of going to the pub.
So, she made a vow: to push herself to live the life of an extrovert for a year. She wrote a list: improv, a solo holiday and... talking to strangers on the tube. She regretted it instantly.
Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come follows Jess's hilarious and painful year of misadventures in extroverting, reporting back from the frontlines for all the introverts out there.
But is life actually better or easier for the extroverts? Or is it the nightmare Jess always thought it would be?
Spoiler alert: IT WAS. I want to be Jessica’s best friend but as a fellow shintrovert, I know we will never hang out. Twitter friendship it is.

Jess takes a year to set goals to push herself out of her comfort zone and try to become an extrovert. She tells a story in front of an audience for The Moth, she takes stand up and improv classes and performs at clubs, she goes to networking events and actually networks, she speaks to strangers. It all gave me small anxiety attacks (which made me feel alive!) and also had me laughing out loud in so many sections.

I loved relating so hard to this person and her year. It also reminded me of the year I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to go to grad school in DC, where I also spoke to strangers and took comedy classes. But here I am, shintrovert for life, reading as much as possible and living vicariously through those books.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Chronicle Kids for sharing Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby. All opinions are my own. 

This book is beautiful and touching. Rabbit has lived vicariously through his friend Dog, who travels extensively and brings stories home to share with Rabbit. When Dog no longer has stories to share, Rabbit’s world grows smaller. But Dog has left his motorbike to Rabbit, and though Rabbit is scared, he knows he wants to be as brave as Dog and get out to explore the world. 

Dog’s death is very delicately handled in this book, which makes it a great opportunity to gently talk with children about grief they have experienced without being obvious and making them feel like it’s being forced out of them. For children who haven’t yet experienced grief, the light handling of Rabbit’s gives a jumping off point to talk about death and loss. Deftly handled all around, which is a wonderful feat for a children’s book.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Reading Beauty by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Chronicle Kids for sharing Reading Beauty by Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt. All opinions are my own. 

I love a good fairy tale retelling or fractured fairy tale, and this book delivers. Lex is a space princess who loves to read, but wakes up on her 15th birthday to find all her books missing! Her parents tell her that she was cursed at birth: she’d get a paper cut from a book and fall to sleep until her true love kisses her. They took away all her books to keep her safe. 

Lex takes things into her own hands and tracks down the fairy who cursed her. The solution to the curse AND to true love’s kids are both delightful twists that thankfully stay away from the “poor little princess” fairy tale. That, along with Lex being 15 years old, make this a picture book all ages can enjoy. I’m already thinking of ways to use it with my older elementary students for Picture Book Month in November. Check this out now so you can use it, too!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Happy book birthday to Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee - the book is out TODAY so you better get your copy! Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Simon Kids for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. 

With the #metoo movement pushing sexual harassment and consent into the spotlight, this book is the perfect way to introduce the topic to middle grade students. Mila is dealing with unwanted physical contact at school - behaviors her teachers brush off as "teasing" and her friends write off as "flirting". But Mila doesn't like it, and when she asks the boys to stop, they don't. She doesn't feel comfortable going to the male principal or male guidance counselor, who coaches all these boys on the basketball team. Since no one else will shield her from this harassment, Mila changes how she dresses and tries to never be alone in the hallways. The abuse continues, and Mila's other relationships suffer as a result. She doesn't know how to stop the harassment, but knows she can't take much more. Who can help? Who can she trust?

This book is too real, and sadly I'm sure every tween (and adult...) reading it will have had experiences similar to Mila's. The subject is wonderfully handled, with a practical resolution that will definitely stick in my mind in case I ever need to use it. I think this would be a great book club book for girls in 4th-8th grades, to give them a safe space to talk about things that have happened or might happen to them and an opportunity to understand what they should do about it.

Monday, September 30, 2019

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Rebecca J. Gomez, and Hilary Leung

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Orchard Books for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Hilary Leung, released September 17th, which is great because my kid keeps asking to read it again and again, so we can already get our own copy!

This is a fun book about the first day of school, keeping an open mind, and making friends. Mack loves to drive fast, and easily conquers new things, while Rig is more cautious and reserved. Mack keeps showing off and leaving Rig in his dust, which frustrates both friends. When Mack finds something he's not so good at, he realizes he needs to slow down and be open to asking for help. Can Rig help him reach his goal?

My kid loves trucks, so the book was a hit based off the title alone. The illustrations are so vibrant and cute, and there is so much to see on each page spread. This is a must-read for any transportation lover, kid starting school, or kids working to make new friends.

Side note: How cute is the custom ISBN for this book? 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Worst Christmas Ever by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Guy Porfirio

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Flyaway Books for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. The Worst Christmas Ever, by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Guy Porfirio released September 17th, which gives you time to get your own copy before Christmas!

Matthew's family moves to California in the fall, and as they're getting ready for Christmas, Matthew is sad that there's not much changing of the seasons in their new state. The family gets a Christmas tree and volunteers to be in their church's nativity scene to feel the holiday spirit. Then Jasper, Matthew's beloved dog, goes missing! Matthew is upset about being in a new place that doesn't feel like home OR Christmas, and now he has to hope for a miracle to find his dog again.

This is a lot of story packed into a gorgeous picture book! Even though it's still hot and humid outside with Christmas several months away, my son loved reading this book and asked for it several nights in a row. It's not overly holiday-themed, so don't worry about reading it too early in the year and getting tired of it - this is one you won't mind reading over and over!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

ASTRONUTS by Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

I was so grateful to get this book from @ChronicleKidsBooks. I’ve been a fan of Jon Scieszka since falling in love with The Stinky Cheese Man in elementary school. I’ve read many of his other books over the years, and was so happy to see he’s continuing the silliness.

AstroNuts is a totally wacky book about four animals who were trained as astronauts to help find a new planet if/when humans wrecked Earth. Except there was a typo in the information, so instead of being skilled astronauts, the animals are AstroNUTS! They live up to their name and turn their adventure into a big crazy mess.

The writing style of this book was so fun and easy to read, and the art style is amazing - collage and sketch, with explanations at the back of the book about how illustrator Steven Weinberg made the art. I’ve already loaned my copy to one student, who read it in one night!

I have plans to use the book as a mentor text for creative writing lessons, because it shows that writing and art don’t have to be serious, and you don’t have to be “grown up” (no offense, Scieszka and Weinberg) to create a great book.

Monday, September 23, 2019

EVERY OTHER WEEKEND by Abigail Johnson

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Inkyard Press for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson releases January 7, 2020. Mark it on your calendars, because you don't want to miss this one.

Jolene and Adam both come from "broken" families. Jolene has never felt like her family unit was whole, while Adam's is in transition, struggling to repair itself instead of break apart completely. Adam's dad starts renting an apartment in the same building where Jolene's dad lives, and the teens meet by chance. Forget meet-cute - this is meet-strange, and it sets the tone for the friendship that develops between Adam and Jolene. 

The story is told in alternating points of view, which works nicely with the overall theme of every other weekend. You don't feel like you're missing out on the characters' "other lives", because the story is so well-developed during those precious weekends. 

There are so many beautiful quotes in this book, about family, relationships, and creating art which, for Jolene, is making movies. The situation with the film critic was so well done that I think it almost needs a trigger warning - it was too real, but the resolution couldn't have been any better.

Every Other Weekend is a great unique young adult read that perfectly balances reality with a dose of sweet romance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

THE CLASS by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network and Simon and Schuster for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own. The Class by Frances O’Roark Dowell releases on October 8, 2019, and you’ll definitely want to get your own copy then!

The Class is told by twenty different characters, all classmates in Mrs. Herrera’s class. Ellie is an aspiring author who needs an idea for her next book, so she starts taking notes about her classmates. She sees a student who used to be a goody-goody starting to turn bad. She sees boys labeled as “jocks” showing more depth and emotion than she would have expected. She watches everyone to see how they interact and what their relationships are like, because Ellie is struggling to find friends herself. When some of Mrs. Herrera’s special things go missing, all of the students have their suspicions of who took what, but all these students also have their own reasons why they might be the thief.

Because of the unique way of storytelling, the reader doesn’t get any foreshadowing, and can’t put all the pieces of the mystery together until the book is finished. Each character has a distinct voice that will make the reader think of students in their own classes - I know it did for me! I can’t stress the positivity of this enough - it makes you see things from other people’s points of view, including how and why they act the way they do. I think this is so important in building empathy, especially in a school setting when it’s so easy to dismiss others as “weird”, “loud”, “good”, or “bad”. I’m going to recommend this as a book club pick for the 6th and 7th graders at my school - or maybe even share as a group read-aloud. It’s very powerful and important, while still being an enjoyable book kids of all ages will want to read.