Thursday, October 22, 2020

This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

Thanks to Quirk Books for sending me an ARC of this book! It will be released on February 2, 2021, and you won't want to miss it. 

“At once thought-provoking and hilarious, This Is Not the Jess Show is a timely, incisive book so masterfully-plotted you won't want to put it down.”—Tahereh Mafi, New York Times best-selling author of the Shatter Me series and A Very Large Expanse of Sea

I have a love/hate relationship with social media (as I’m sure most of us do), and I love taking a step back to try and understand how it affects everyone in different ways. For example, I cannot WAIT for the wave of memoirs written by influencer kids that is sure to come in 10-15 years! Until then, this book is as close as you can get, and I’ll take it!

Jess starts noticing things that are slightly off in her world, but no one else seems to see. Actually, others seem to see the problems, but they try to redirect Jess when she brings it up, so she starts to feel crazy. But when Jess realizes that her whole life has been faked for a TV show, she doesn’t know how to feel or what to believe. Now her mom making sure she always looks great makes total sense, and she sees how a bunch of drama in her life was created just for ratings. But this life is all Jess has ever known - can she escape? Does she even want to?

Whether you scoff at seeing moms on Instagram pose their kids in a pumpkin patch just for pics, or you think the kids are really getting something out of the experience, this book will make you think critically about reality vs social media. 

This book is billed as a “thriller”, which I don’t really agree with, but then again I read a lot of adult thrillers, so maybe I’m biased. It’s also described as having a hint of Black Mirror, which I totally agree with. It’s twisted in the best way, and the 90s references make me think readers in their 30s and 40s will love this just as much as the young adult audience it’s intended for!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I absolutely love parallel universe/alternate timeline type stories, and this one hit the spot - and even had a nice little twist. I liked the concept that all of Nora’s alternate lives could only be picked up from the current moment and lived on from there. There was no watching her past and being caught up with all that self had experienced, so that made it seem more immersive - Nora was just as new as the reader to these alternate lives.

I also like how this book handled depression at the beginning, and even the ending was deftly handled so it wasn’t hitting you over the head with its preachiness.

See more of my favorite parallel universe books here! Note that I need to update that post to include Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore, which is absolutely amazing.


(Did you stop reading if you don't want to be spoiled?)

I go back and forth, even now, well after finishing the book, on the actual ending. The idea that Nora, who has battled depression all her life, would want to live in the end seems a bit obvious. But then I balance that with some other lives where she died (presumably, since she couldn't experience a life that wasn't current), and figure it all worked out ok. I keep waffling though, so if you've read this book I'd love to hear your thoughts on that!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary

The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary is by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Melanie Demmer.

This book is a must-have for any fans of The Office, whether you have kids or not.

My son is too young to watch The Office with me, but he loved this book! It has a lot of inside jokes for fans, but still works as a stand-alone school story for kids.

Michael is chosen to be line leader for Ms. Levinson’s class, and he wants to be the best he can be! He won’t accept help from anyone, but he soon realizes he can’t handle everything on his own.

This book has callbacks to the show hidden in every illustration, so there’s an extra engaging aspect (for kids and their parents!). There’s also a fun bulletin board beneath the dust jacket, and the endpapers are super cute!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Pretty Funny for a Girl by Rebecca Elliot

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @peachtreepublishing for a review copy of Pretty Funny for a Girl by @rebecca_elliot_author, which is out TODAY! Grab a copy if you’re ready to kick back with a hilarious YA novel.

Haylah has always been a huge comedy nerd. She watches stand-up every night before bed, and writes down anything funny she can think of. She’s a pro at laughing off anyone who tries to put her down, which happens a LOT because Haylah is fat. So fat, everyone (even her friends) calls her Pig. But Haylah laughs it off and channels all her energy into her comedy. When Leo, a student a few years ahead of her, performs a stand-up routine in the school’s talent show, Haylah is smitten. She starts slipping funny notes into Leo’s locker, and is thrilled to be writing his jokes. Except Leo doesn’t acknowledge her in the halls at school, because he doesn’t want anyone to know he doesn’t write his own jokes. Haylah’s friends think she’s being taken advantage of, but Haylah just wants to write comedy! And kiss the boy, but hey, she doesn’t have to admit that part.

This was a quick, funny read that I really enjoyed. As something of a comedy nerd myself, I especially loved that Elliot actually wrote the stand-up bits in the book! One thing I wasn’t completely sold on was Haylah’s body image - she spends the first ¾ of the book focused on her weight, and everything implies that she is pretty big. I am ALL. FOR. THIS. I love seeing fat girls own it in YA books - I think this is so important for teens. But in the last ¼ of the book, it’s almost like Haylah’s weight melts off. She starts being described as “curvy” where the words previously used definitely implied she was bigger than that. I can understand her focusing more on a comedy show than her weight, but it was such a major part of the book that it seems disingenuous to just drop it like that. As an adult woman who still struggles with body image, I don’t buy that a teen would just shrug it off all of a sudden after it being such a major part of her life - and her comedy act! So one small strike against the overall story for me, but it was a funny book and I absolutely loved that a bigger girl who loves being funny is being spotlighted in a YA book - I wish I had this when I was younger!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @simonandschuster and @barbaradeebooks for a review copy of My Life in the Fish Tank - out now! Barbara Dee is killing it with her poignant middle-grade novels, so you won't want to miss this one.

Zinny is used to her home life being pretty wild since she has three siblings, but when her older brother, Gabriel, is in a car accident, things at home completely change. Gabriel is admitted to a hospital to get his bipolar disorder under control, and Zinny feels horrible that she told an adult about Gabriel's strange behaviors. But now her parents don't want Zinny to tell anyone about Gabriel, so Zinny doesn't know what to talk to her friends about. They keep talking about boys they have crushes on, but Zinny isn't interested in that. She loves science, so she starts spending her lunch period in the science lab with Ms. Molina, her favorite teacher. Zinny starts using science as her outlet, to help her stay as calm as she possibly can, considering both her family life AND social life are in shambles. Zinny just wants Gabriel to come home, for her parents to understand, and to make it into the summer science camp her teacher nominates her for; but all of that seems like too big of a miracle.

Barbara Dee also wrote "Maybe He Just Likes You", about a middle-grade girl not liking the male attention she is getting. That book handled this age and this struggle so realistically, and "My Life in the Fish Tank" is written with that same level of reliability. Tackling the tough issues of mental health, family relationships, and changing friendships, this is a must-read for any middle-grade reader (and up!).

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar is out now! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @daphnekalmar, and #feiwelandfriends for the ARC.

Nell's dad is fascinated by Mt Rushmore; he even wanted to name his children George, Thomas, Teddy, and Abe. But after Tom came a girl, who was named after Susan B. Anthony, called Nell for short. So her dad never got his Abe, but he's determined to take the whole family to see Mt Rushmore in person. When he goes to find his stash of vacation cash, he realizes it has been stolen... kinda. Nell's mom took it when she left the family that spring. Nell has been struggling with how her family seems to be falling apart, but having the trip taken from them is the straw that broke the camel's back. Nell is determined to earn money so the family can go on the trip, even if she can't track down her mom.

I loved reading about Nell as she adjusted to everyone around her changing. Her friend Maya is becoming interested in boys, which makes Nell think of her as an alien. The family dynamics in this book are so powerful, especially with the historical context of being set in 1974. Many chapters begin with actual headlines from a Boston newspaper in July 1974, so I love that this can be paired with history/social studies/political lessons in the classroom or library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh

It's been too long since I posted about an adult book, and just for fun. I recently read The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh and had to share some thoughts.

First off, the premise is what hooked me. A machine is installed in a grocery store in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana. This machine reads your DNA and gives you a printout telling you what you're capable of in this life. Sit down, feed it $2, swab your cheek with a Q-tip, and get instant results. The whole town lines up to see their potential.

Of course, some people don't buy what the machine is selling, but even those few are tempted to give it a try. Wouldn't you be? Some people find out that they're doing exactly what they were destined to do. Some people realize they're on the wrong path, and they quit their jobs and go in a whole new direction. The book itself follows Douglas Hubbard, his wife Cherilyn, high school student Jacob, and the Catholic school's priest, Father Pete. Since it's set in a small town, there are a lot of other secondary characters that shine in their roles and round out the whole story. 

Also, the "twist" of the story is so slick, so slight, so hidden in the last little bit of the book, that I read it, kept on, then stopped in my (reading) tracks. It's so good. SO good. Seriously. I'd say the slow parts of the book are worth it JUST for the twist. The overall resolution to the book is good too, but wow, that twist...

I "accidentally" read a 1- or 2-star review of this when I added it to my "Currently Reading" shelf on GoodReads. The reviewer said the book had a lot of potential but was pretty slow and didn't dive as deep as it could have into the story. I was kind of bummed about that, but since the premise itself really interested me, I stuck with it. It did get a little slow in some parts, but I kind of liked that it was more about the lives in the small town and how they were affected by this machine, than the machine and how that played out for individuals. It was funny enough to just hear about how people turned their lives upside down and went a little crazy based on their DNA reading; I actually think focusing more on this would have been boring because it would read more like a short story collection of everyone's options.

In fact, there is a short story collection with a similar premise! If you like the idea of a machine telling you something and changing your whole life, check out This Is How You Die

THIS IS HOW YOU DIE is a new short fiction anthology, filled with stories and comics about a world in which a machine can predict how you die.

It just takes a drop of blood from a finger. Then it spits out a sliver of paper upon which are printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.”

Nothing else. No dates, no details. And it’s always — always — correct.

 Anyway, all of this is to say that if the premise of a machine determining your future interests you, read BOTH of these books!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt is out TODAY! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @chroniclekidsbooks, and @kari_anne_holt for an ARC of this book.

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 in 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!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Mootilda's Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Kirsti Call, ill. by Claudia Ranucci

Mootilda's Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, is out now from Little Bee Books/Simon and Schuster.

Mootilda wakes up in a bad mooood, and the day goes downhill from there. Her bad mood is catching - lambs, pigs, chickens, and more grow grumpy after they encounter Mootilda. Then one small thing changes the entire course of the day.

This book is a fun way to talk with kids about moods in general, but also to show them that bad moods are ok, they happen to the best of us, they can easily affect others around us, but they don't last forever. The book has the signature rhymes and puns of Rosen Schwartz's other books, so kids will love it (and it's super fun to read aloud as an adult)! Also, at a time when I feel like I'm in a bad mood almost every day for one reason or another, this book was a really lighthearted way to help me step back and realize I don't need to stay in that funk!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing an ARC of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by @onewpc. This book is out November 10, 2020; add it to your list now so you don’t forget to grab a copy!

Anna is used to being in charge of everything; as the oldest sister, she naturally takes care of her younger brother and sister. Her dad works long hours at his restaurant, often spending the night in his office, so Anna also cooks dinner and makes sure her siblings do their homework. She even picks her little brother up from school. Anna does all this because her mother can’t - or won’t - Anna’s not entirely sure which. She just knows her mom stays in bed most of the time, and if she’s not in bed, she’s yelling at Anna for being a horrible daughter. Anna knows there’s some sort of mental illness making her mom unable to perform everyday tasks, but she doesn’t know what it is, or how to get help. She tries to lose herself in working in her father’s restaurant, where she loves to help cook… and watch Rory, the cute new delivery boy. As she gets to know Rory, Anna realizes that everyone has some sort of problem, and maybe she should ask for help with her mother. But that task seems impossible, until something happens that forces the family to take action.

This is a powerful book about mental illness and how it might be addressed and handled. I liked how Anna’s mother’s condition was discussed, but wished there was more about Rory - his illness fell a little flat for me, and I wish it had been explored more. I think it would help teens a lot more to see Anna not only dealing with her mother, but with a friend’s situation as well. Besides that, it was an interesting read, touching on typical YA tropes in a unique way and deftly balancing mental illness.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @littlebrownyr, and @dustibowling for an ARC of The Canyon’s Edge (by Dusti Bowling), which is out TODAY - you have GOT to get a copy of this one!

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 straight-forward 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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing an ARC of @bkonigsberg's The Bridge, which is out TODAY, so go ahead and grab your copy!

Aaron and Tillie "meet" when they lock eyes on the George Washington Bridge. Both teens are straddling the guardrail, ready to jump. The story is told in four different ways: Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn't, Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn't, they both jump, and neither jump. Each option is realistically fleshed out, showing how everyone even remotely involved with the teen reacted to the news.

This book is so heavy, so real, and so necessary. I hope it gets into as many hands as possible. I think showing the finality of suicide, and the reality of how it impacts others is so important. Teens (and honestly probably any age) need to see this, and it's even more powerful coming from someone who has been there. (Konigsberg has a moving explanation at the beginning of the book.) This is a hard read, depending on your mental state - aka hard for me during the pandemic, but this is probably a very crucial time for it to be read! I can't recommend this enough, and hope you recommend it to anyone you know who might be struggling, or who might need it to help those around them.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Reeni's Turn by Carol Coven Grannick

Reeni's Turn by Carol Coven Grannick

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Fitzroy Books for sharing an ARC of this title! The book releases on September 13, 2020.

Reeni has been practicing ballet for years, but when her teacher picks Reeni to do a solo, everything changes. Reeni's sixth grade classmates are obsessed with looks, and when Reeni looks at herself, she feels too big to be a ballerina. Her friends convince her to diet, which leaves Reeni feeling emptier inside than she could have imagined. Her mother is against dieting, so hiding her eating habits has Reeni living a double life. Jules, Reeni's older sister, is a high school senior, but to Reeni, it feels like Jules is already gone. She feels alone and adrift and doesn't know who to turn to or how to act, torn between becoming who she wants to be or staying true to herself.

This novel in verse is concisely told to share what preteen girls (and often younger and older females, as well) go through as their bodies change and they try to accept who they are compared to who society wants them to be. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando

 Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Tara Altebrando for sharing an ARC of this book! It released 6/23/2020, and I know I've been in quarantine for too long when I see that date and think "Oh good, I'll be able to review it before it's released!" ... It's mid-August, people. I need to look at a calendar.

This book is a page-turner! Four students who hardly know each other are summoned to an empty classroom after school, and no one knows why. Until they see a strange device on the teacher's desk. It's almost like an Alexa, except... it's not. When the students try to leave the room, the device says that they must take it with them. Then more rules are revealed, often after one of the teens does something wrong. The consequences seem steep, and they're scared into doing what the device asks. Meanwhile, the device is also trying to figure out its purpose, and it needs help from the four teens it has under its control.

The suspense in this book had me flying through the first 200 pages, but as soon as an explanation about the device started to come to light, it lost me. I know I'm an adult reading a YA book, but even for teen readers, I don't think the surface-level resolution will be enough. There was potential to really explore this resolution and push it to the limit, while also wrapping things up nicely, but it fell flat and still feels unresolved to me.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Back to School: Favorites


These are just a few of my favorite Back to School books. There's something about the humor in these books that makes starting a new school year a little bit smoother for everyone involved, students and teachers alike!

First off, who doesn't love the Pigeon?! He's a well-known character sure to put students at ease because of his familiarity. He's so silly in The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems, resisting school because he's so scared, before realizing school is exactly what he needs! I don't know about you, but my favorite part is being as silly as possible when I read the "Whazza whazza WHAA?!" part.

Some students might already be familiar with Peanut Butter and Jelly from their other books, so I like to show those characters going back to school, too. In Peanut Butter's First Day of School by Terry Border, Peanut Butter is worried about what the first day of school will be like, and everyone gives different answers on how to prepare for the day. Peanut Butter just stays true to himself even though he was scared, and it all works out in the long run.

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is, if you ask me, the perfect back to school book for younger children. It's hilarious, but also is a good way to teach the rules and how to be kind to friends. There are a lot of jokes in the illustrations, too, which makes it a great book to read at the start of the year so these younger students will know how important it is to look at a book's pictures in addition to listening to the story.

I already consider School's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson a classic, because it's been in my life for four long years now, since my own kid's first day of school! I love reading this book every August because it's a fun way to show kids that they're not the only ones nervous about starting a new school year!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Back to School: For My Son


My son is starting first grade this year, so in addition to reading him all these books I'm sharing with you, I wanted to find some just for him, and some he could possibly read by himself.

On the First Day of First Grade by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Sarah Jennings, is a fun book set to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas. It goes over things students do during the first twelve days of first grade. Since we'll be doing remote learning from home for at least the first semester, I loved reading this book to my son to help explain how things will be different. Even if he was going to school in person, he wouldn't be doing the exact same things the first graders in this book were doing, so it was a jumping off point for a conversation about how the school year will be different than we expected, but also how school is different for everyone, everywhere - and I think that helped soften the blow of why his first grade year will be somewhat strange.

Dragons from Mars Go to School by Deborah Aronson, illustrated by Colin Jack, was the perfect book because my kid is hooked on dragons right now! It was just silly enough to be a fun read, while still teaching some lessons about being kind of new students and friends alike. The rhymes made it really run to read aloud, and it's been on repeat for several bedtime routines now!

School of Fish by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Moran, is, of course, the book I want my son to read aloud. It's a level one Ready to Read book, so it's just right for his age. It's a great book to instill confidence in younger students - both with their reading progress AND going back to school! There are mantras in the book like "I'm slick. I'm cool. I'm ready for school." that are fun and empowering for your student to say. There is also a great way about calming and centering yourself and counting to ten.

The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna is one we have to read every year. We discovered Pout-Pout Fish when my son was about six months old, and we've loved every book since! His school book is especially fun because it has a signature Pout-Pout rhyme that kids will start saying along with you after they hear it a couple times! It's a great book about understanding where you are now and how you will learn and grow in time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Back to School: For Younger Readers

Younger kids can be scared about starting school, too! They might be going to daycare or preschool for the first time, and it can be scary and unfamiliar, especially if they're used to being home or with family. Here are some great books I've found for younger readers, specifically toddler to pre-kindergarten, but of course I think that these books are fun (and can be adapted) for kids of any age! 

It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Claire Messer, is about Busy Bus being nervous as he prepares for his first day of school. This book gives great opportunities for physical engagement and movement, which is so important for younger readers! When Busy Bus tries out his new stop sign, wipers, and horn, I use some of the motions from Wheels on the Bus. It helps those younger kids (potentially unfamiliar with school, and almost always not fans of sitting still!) really engage with and stay interested in the story.

Choo-Choo School by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Mike Yamada, is a fun rhyming book about seven train cars going to school. The illustrations are bright and engaging, and what the trains learn are great jumping off points to relate back to the young students' new classroom rules and lessons. For example, the trains learn the classroom rules, how to be kind, how to count, and more. 

So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka is a great book to use to talk about what's happening in the story and what emotions the characters are feeling. There are very few words - mostly just "so big" used in different ways to portray how Bear feels, or how the school looks to him. This is a book that can get readers involved in telling the story by asking them what they see on each page, how that makes Bear feel, how they feel, and more.

Bear's Big Day by Salina Yoon is a a sweet book about how young kids don't need to feel like they have to be "big" when they start school. Bear misses his stuffed bunny, Floppy, but thinks he's too big to take a stuffed animal to school. He feels alone and doesn't engage in any of the classroom activities because he misses Floppy too much. Bear talks to his teacher and together they work out the perfect solution! This is a nice jumping off point to ask students about stuffed animals or comfort objects they have at home (or at school, if they are allowed to bring them for nap). Salina Yoon's books are always adorably illustrated, too, though I'm slightly biased because she is one of the first authors my son would request when he was just learning to speak!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Back to School: Round Two

I'm back with more back to school books to share with a variety of ages! Starting tomorrow, my back to school book posts will have more specific scopes, but for now, I hope you enjoy the random round-up!

Tool School by Joan Holub, pictures by James Dean (creator of Pete the Cat!), is a fun rhyming book about an assortment of tools going to school (on the TOOL BUS, hah!). They learn the rules before they're free to start their own project, but quickly learn that their strengths aren't that great all on their own - they have to work together! It's a fun book to read aloud, but also teaches a lesson about collaboration and respecting differences in those around you. 

First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John, illustrated by Liz Climo, is a cute book about different animals nervous about the first day of school for various reasons. Once the animals find out that their teacher is also nervous, everyone starts to feel better and comes together to work as a team. By the end of the day, they realize their worries weren't really anything to worry about! This would be a fun book to talk about with students as you read it - have them identify the animal, share what they know about the animal, and try to relate that to what the animal might be nervous about - THEN read the page and see if you were right!

Chicken in School by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Shahar Kober, follows Zoey, an adventurous chicken, as she creates a school for her friend Sam the pig. Zoey invites all the farm animals to come to school, and what they learn, and how, is so much fun to see! Children will love getting a peek into this silly school that is so different from their own. The way Zoey presents books as for "building imagination" and crayons as for "creating adventures" will spawn a lot of extension activities for students too, depending on if you're in the library, classroom, or MakerSpace/STEM lab.

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Will Terry, is a story about Bonaparte, a skeleton so worried about starting school that he keeps losing his bones! His monster friends try to find solutions that will keep Bonaparte together, but nothing seems to work! This book is a great jumping off point for finding solutions that might help keep a skeleton together, especially after talking over what is tried in the book and shown in the illustrations.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Back to School: Round One

Going back to school will look different for everyone this year. Some schools pushed back the start date, some are doing hybrid schedules, some are fully remote. But the best thing about back to school books is that they're all different, none of them looked exactly like your school day even in the best of times, so there's no need to skimp on these great books this August (or September, or via Zoom, or whatever)!

I think reading back to school books will still help put students at ease because they're a good way to let kids know they're not weird to be nervous, anxious, or scared to start school. This year these books can be a great way to compare and contrast what different school days look like, talk about how your school days will look, and try to normalize that type of anxiety, also.

Hello School! by Priscilla Burris is a book told in short sentences and dialogue, making it a great book to start the year with. It gives you jumping off points to go over your own school and classroom rules. In fact, you could read the book as-is, and then go over your specific rules in the same way - by giving the rules and letting students speak up and share thoughts or examples, as they do in the story.

Butterflies on the First Day of School by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Dream Chen, is a beautiful book about Rosie, a girl so excited to start school that she practices how she will act before the day comes. The morning of her first day of school, Rosie feels sick, and doesn't want to go to school anymore. Her mother assures Rosie that it's just butterflies in her belly, so Rosie gets on the school bus. Soon a girl sits next to her and starts talking, and when Rosie introduces herself, she's surprised to see butterflies escape from her mouth! This happens throughout the day, and when Rosie sees it happen to another girl, she knows just how to reassure her new friend. This is a fun way to talk about being nervous for the first day of school, but could also branch into a brief lesson about figurative language, depending on the age of your students.

The Class by Boni Ashburn and Kimberly Gee follows twenty children on their first morning of school. It shows how different everyone is, from how they get dressed to what they eat for breakfast. They all come together in their classroom, and this is a great jumping off point to let students talk about their first morning of school. Learning how different everyone's lives are at home can help these students practice empathy and understanding, as well as get to know their new classmates.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song, is like a version of The Class for older students. The six voices are students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and their stories are told in poems about The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School. The characters are diverse and have different living situations, so this is another great book for students to read to hit home the point that everyone is different, and you should be kind and understanding to them. I like making copies of the poems and asking students to read them aloud. This can work in different ways - having students read one character's poems aloud in chronological order, or having students read the points of view of all different students according to each time frame. (I used it in different ways last year and had great results!)

Monday, July 6, 2020

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Thanks to KidLitExchange, Rebecca Stead, Random House Kids, and Wendy Lamb Books for providing a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.

Bea’s parents have been divorced for two years when her father announces he’s marrying his partner, Jesse. Bea is thrilled because after ten years of being an only child, she’s getting a sister!

Sonia, her soon-to-be-sister, is also ten. She’s not used to dividing time between parents like Bea is, and Sonia’s mother lives across the country. Bea knows she needs to be understanding, but her excitement overcomes her.

Bea also struggles to keep her excitement under wraps around her mother, who still loves Bea’s father “in a way”. Bea thinks everyone should be excited to celebrate love, but she’s finding out the hard way that it’s not always the case.

Stead has the power to make the simplest statements incredibly emotional. All the pieces of Bea’s life come together to make a beautiful, powerful book.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How to Be a Girl in the World by Caela Carter

How to Be a Girl in the World by Caela Carter publishes August 11, 2020 from Harper Collins Childrens Books. Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @caelacarter, and @harpercollinsch for sharing this ARC!

Lydia wears long sleeves and long pants even though it's summer. She's tired of the comments boys were making about her body, and covering it is the only way she knows how to get them to stop. Lydia can't tell anyone how she feels, because her friends think she should be flattered by male attention. Even her telling her mom isn't an option, because Lydia feels weird when her mom's boyfriend hugs her a little too long.

It's enough to make Lydia think she's crazy, or wrong, or making it up. When her mom surprises her with a fixer-upper house after living in apartments for so long, Lydia feels a glimmer of hope, that this change will set others in motion. Once she actually visits the house, Lydia feels even better - there's magic in that house, and she's determined to harness it to keep her - and her body - safe.

Reading this book was pretty tough, because it's very real, and I think all women have stories like Lydia's. I know I do, and I never shared them with anyone because I also thought maybe I was overreacting, or wrong. It makes me hopeful that books like this exist for girls now, so they can read a story and know what they're feeling is legitimate and they should speak up and have the right to feel safe and secure wherever they are. I think this is a necessary read for everyone, especially young girls and anyone who works with them, around them, or raises them. Let's empower our youth

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Rick by Alex Gino

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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @simonkids for providing a review copy of 
We Could Be Heroes by @finneganbegin.

Hank hates the book his teacher is reading to the class. It's really emotional and sad and Hank can't handle it. So he steals the book and sets it on fire in the boys' bathroom. He gets in trouble, of course, but also captures the attention of his classmate, Maisie. Maisie sees strength in Hank, and sees that he's willing to stand up for what he believes in. So she introduces him to Booler, the sweet pit bull next door who is always tied to a tree. Maisie wants Hank to help her free Booler, and as he gets swept up in her plan, Hank learns a lot about himself and friendship.

I love how this book addresses disabilities without shining a spotlight on them. Hank has autism and it's just matter of fact and handled very realistically.Maisie also has a somewhat rare condition that is hidden for much of the book, but is also handled in a realistic manner as it comes out. I think it's important for all kids to have books like this - so they can see themselves in fiction and so they can learn empathy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly releases May 5, 2020. Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @greenwillowbooks for providing a review copy.

Bird loves outer space and dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander. She’s totally obsessed with the upcoming Challenger launch, and all the lessons her science teacher is using to get the class involved. Fitch, her twin brother, would rather play video games. Cash is the twins’ older brother, who failed and is in their grade, and is also in danger of failing again.

All three siblings and their parents are realistic and compelling characters, and the Challenger launch provides an interesting and suspenseful plot point in this beautiful, emotional story about family, friendship, and the difference between dreams and reality.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Flash Writing: Digital Plays

I'm a fan of all this "you don't have to do all the things" support being posted during this time. It's been hard to push myself to even read at night; after working so hard during the day (at my job and "teaching"/parenting), I just want to zone out before I fall to sleep at 1am.

But also, I am a person who thrives with deadlines. I am the person who had a few weeks to write an outline for her book, and did it in a couple of days. I had almost a year to write the book, but just worked on it here and there until it was down to the wire. I pulled all-nighters before college papers and presentations were due. It's just how I work best, so I'm excited that Playhouse on the Square is doing Flash Writing: A Digital Play Festival. This is a weekly themed writing contest with very brief requirements and very short deadlines, aka right up my alley. At the end of the week, submissions are read by actors on video posted to the Playhouse Facebook page. Then it starts all over again.

Week One's theme was "I dreamed that I..." Click below to view my submission, read (a million times better than I heard it in my head when I wrote it) by Eileen Peterson.
I dreamed that I

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger

Happy book birthday to Lila and Hadley by @kodykeplinger! The book comes out TODAY, 4/7/2020, from @scholasticinc. Thank you to the publisher and @kidlitexchange for sharing an ARC.

This is a great book about family struggles, coming out of your shell, and includes realistic portrayal of disabilities you don’t often see addressed in fiction. It’s an #ownvoices book, and you need to read it. 

Once Hadley’s mom is arrested, Hadley is sent across state lines to live with her older sister, Beth. Their relationship is strained because Beth left years ago and Hadley never understood why - she just felt abandoned. Add to the mix Beth being a dog trainer and Hadley not being a dog person, but stuck spending time in the animal shelter anyway.

When Lila, a hard-to-reach dog begins interacting with Hadley, she lets herself be convinced to foster and train the dog for the summer. She seems a lot of similarities between herself and the stubborn dog, but agrees to make an effort of Lila does. That includes acknowledging her declining vision and taking mobility classes, as well as putting herself out there to make friends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Space Between Lost and Found by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

The Space Between Lost and Found by Sandy Stark-McGinnis. Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Bloomsbury Publishing for sharing this powerful book, which publishes April 28, 2020.

Cassie’s life has changed a lot lately, as she adapts tomorrow her mom’s early onset Alzheimer’s. Cassie has to watch her mom often, but even when the caregiver is around, Cassie feels too sad and distracted to do the things she used to, like make art or be a good friend.

When Cassie realizes how much her mom is really slipping away from her, she’s determined to give her mother one last epic memory. But Cassie knows she can’t do it alone, so she has to try and reach out to her former BFF, and bridge the gap that has developed while Cassie has been preoccupied with her changing family.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs by Mike Lowery

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs by @mikelowerystudio.

My kid loves dinosaurs, and of course I encourage all types of reading, but some of the dinosaur books he brings home from school are a little bland, or too dense for his age. He wants something fun to read, but full of facts - and that can be a tough order for a 5yo! I was relieved to see this book because I knew it would have the information my son wants, and I personally love Lowery’s drawing style and humor - win-win!

Since my son is young, we look at the pictures and read the large, handwritten facts together. Sometimes I’ll read the smaller typewritten facts aloud, but sometimes he’s ready to move on and soak up more information on the next page. I love that, because as he gets older, he’ll be able to keep coming back to this book and learn new things!

As a parent reading it aloud, I especially appreciate the pronunciation key for all of these dinosaurs and other creatures! I definitely stumble over dinosaur names if left to my own devices, so it’s nice to have right under the pictures in this book. I also love Lowery’s trademark humor and random jokes, which help make this book amazing for all ages!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King

Liberty’s whole life changes when her parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Liberty turns to the stars for guidance, like she always has, but she’s not able to map out new constellations like she used to. She reads these constellations like a horoscope, so she’s lost without them. Her connection with the stars feels severed, which is how she feels about her dad, who moved out and hasn’t called or visited in months. But still, Liberty asks the skies for answers, and when they reply by sending a meteorite, she’s determined to crack the universe’s code.

This book deftly handles changing family dynamics, friendships, bullying, and depression in a way that reads like fiction but feels like therapy.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Disaster Days by Rebecca Behrens

Hannah is babysitting for the second time in her life. She's taken a safety course for babysitters with her friend, and she'll just be at her neighbor's house, but after forgetting her inhaler one too many times, Hannah's mom isn't sure Hannah's responsible enough to be in charge of other kids. Hannah is determined to prove her mother wrong, and is doing a good job until an earthquake shakes the Seattle area and Hannah and the kids are stranded in a damaged house with limited supplies without knowing when someone can come to help.

This book was billed as a cross between Hatchet (which I did not like at all) and The Baby-Sitters Club (which I loved and still love to this day!), so I knew I had to give it a try. I'm so glad I did! This book was fantastic - so realistic, eye-opening, and suspenseful. Though I'm biased because I'm not a Hatchet fan because it seemed too unbelievable, I would diplomatically more compare this book to the Life as We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which also deals with a natural disaster and coping with the aftermath in a realistic way. I had to keep myself from skipping forward to see how many days Hannah and the kids were stranded because the suspense was almost too much to bear!

I finished this book before bed one night, and storms raged all night - which I found peaceful. Little did I know, storms in my city meant a deadly tornado in Nashville, just a few hours to my east. This book plus that tornado made me realize how important it is to be prepared for anything - something Behrens helpfully addresses at the end of this book. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

STEAM Sunday: Monsters Love Colors

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.

Piggybacking off the last STEAM Sunday: Mix It Up! is another color mixing lesson with Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin. I used this with Early Childhood students, ages 3-6, because it's a bit sillier and younger than Mix It Up! I'm sure it could be adapted to be used with older students, but since Mix It Up! worked so well with older kids, I didn't worry about aging this title up.

Monsters Love Colors is a fun, silly way to incorporate a little movement ("Mix, dance, and wiggle!") into a read-aloud before you get your lesson started. Since we had done the Mix It Up! lesson with colored water the week before, students already knew color mixing basics. That's just one reason I loved that this title was more fun - they had a good time wiggling and sharing their knowledge, and it was also an engaging refresher course.

For this hands on activity, there was a plate of paint at each work station: red, blue, and yellow. I originally did this lesson in Fall, so the challenge was to take those three colors and paint "Five Little Pumpkins" (which we read in library that week - tying it all together!). This meant they had to make orange and green. It was a lot of fun to see students draw their own pumpkins and then color them in. 

There are a lot of challenges you can do with color mixing that don't depend on a season, so have fun thinking up things students can draw that require purple, orange, and green paint.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Dear Universe by Florence Gonsalves

Thanks to KidLitExchange and Little Brown Young Readers for sharing Dear Universe by Florence Gonsalves. This book publishes on 5/12/2020, and I love that it’s going to come out right around graduation season, since finishing high school is such a poignant plot in this book.

Chamomile is counting down the days to prom - and the window for her boyfriend to ask her is dwindling. She tries not to think about it too much, and it’s not hard, because all her friends are looking forward to the senior volunteer trip to Nicaragua. The trip isn’t really on Cham’s radar, because she hasn’t finished her college admissions essay, which is a requirement to go. Cham isn’t even sure she’ll go to college in the fall - she’s too worried about her dad, whose disease is progressing quicker than anyone thought it would.

Cham is determined to keep her home life separate from her school world. She’s constantly pleading with the universe to help her pull it off, but she knows she can’t keep it up forever.

This story makes the reader incredibly invested in Cham’s life - or lives, as she’d prefer to have it. Some of the sentences made me gasp because they capture being seventeen so perfectly - on the brink of a huge life transition, with the world ready for you, while also fearing what might come next.

Getting real for a minute: Sometimes I feel jaded when I read YA books because the romance is so hopeful and pure, it makes me roll my eyes - even though I remember that’s how it was. Or the teens have all the talent in the world if they just stand up to their parents to go after their dreams - but some real kids don’t have that, they’re just average and can’t recognize any outstanding skills in themselves. This book, on the other hand, is the most REAL YA book I’ve read in awhile, that reminds me of my (eons ago) high school self and my friends, and the teens I recently got to know at the library. There’s a bit of romance, but it’s not all happy. There’s a lot of struggle, but it’s real. There’s a lot of true uncertainty and emotion expressed honestly. And there is so much hopefulness and fear that you’ll remember being seventeen in the best way possible.