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.