It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/28/14

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.

Last Week’s Books:

paperboyPaperboy by Vince Vawter was on my reading list this week. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old boy in Memphis in 1959. Point of view and voice are so strong in this novel–and I can’t imagine how the story could be told any other way. The boy (whose name we do not learn until the very end, for good reason) recounts a couple of weeks in his life when he took over his best friend’s paper route. Doing so took great courage, as the boy’s stuttering is a challenge that makes him nervous around new people–well, in truth, all people. I love how his eyes are opened up to the world when he meets the wonderful Mr. Spiro who treats him with great respect and is always patient when the words do not come easily. The boy also recounts how he and “Mam,” his African-American nanny, are forever changed by conflict with the old junk man, Ara T. Woven into the tale is a look at life in the South during that time and the boy’s just becoming aware of racial discrimination and its affect on someone he cares about. To find out that the book is somewhat of a memoir is not at all surprising. It feels “lived.” I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my readers this fall.

thefaultinourstarsFINALLY I have read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (thank you, CORL 2014). In part, I had not read it because all copies were continuously checked out from my school library. In part, I was a little apprehensive about the emotions it has evoked in so many. John Green’s prose is quite beautiful, and I found myself rereading lines just to “hear” them again. The story of Hazel and Augustus is as heart-wrenching as everyone says, and although I am not often a “book cryer,” this one did get me. After I finished reading (in almost one sitting), I poked around Goodreads. I have to say that I can see the point of those who maintain that Augustus and Hazel just don’t sound like real teenagers. And I’m trying to decide if that bothers me. I think maybe not, since I got so sucked into what they were saying and what that made me think about. And who am I to say that an intelligent, thoughtful teen who knows his/her time on earth is limited would not speak a bit differently than most? In all, I can definitely see why so many of my students loved it. And that’s an important part of what makes it a great book. Hmmm, now do I see the movie?


My adult book of the week was The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. My son and I have been watching The Strain TV series, and this book is the second in the trilogy, so I had to read it. Since I am simultaneously viewing and reading, it is an interesting exercise in how a book is translated into the television program. Although many of the events of the show are still from early in book one, there are some ideas/background information that have already been revealed on TV that clearly did not happen until book two. It allows me to ponder why those choices were made and where the TV series might be headed next.

Currently Reading:

twerp   On Deck:

onecamehome 14thgoldfish


2015 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: Almost Home by Joan Bauer

almosthomeMy, but the world would be a more  beautiful place to live in if there were more people like Sugar Mae Cole in it. As a sixth grader, she experiences more hardships than most of us will ever know: the death of her beloved grandfather, eviction, homelessness, a mother who mentally shuts down, a gambler of a father who only comes around when he needs something, the foster care system, and more. Throughout it all, Sugar shares her love and her pain, her triumphs and her darkest moments through amazing poetry and emails to the inspiring teacher whose class she had to leave. The care she takes of Shush, an abused puppy who needs Sugar as much as she needs him, is further proof that Sugar is one amazing young lady. What a heartprint book–Bauer hits a home run with this one.

IMG_7069Speaking of home runs, some sixth-graders at my school experienced a grand-slam morning when Joan Bauer paid us a visit during her tour of Illinois last April. In only an hour, she was able to share not only portions of her books and her writing process, but also so much of herself. Her visit was truly a conversation with the students, as she asked them to define courage and helped the group create a character “out of thin air.”

ilreadsIllinois friends: if you would like to meet Joan Bauer in person soon, she will be at the Illinois Reads tent of the Illinois State Fair in Springfield on Saturday, August 9 from 11:00-1:00. Bauer’s book Rules of the Road–another great title–appeared on the 2013 Illinois Reads list for grades 6-8. Other Illinois Reads’ authors will be visiting the tent throughout the duration of the Fair, too.

RCYRBA FUN FACT: Joan Bauer is the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award’s most decorated author of all time, receiving nominations for seven of her books over the years. She has not yet won the award.

Other 2015 Rebecca Caudill Reading Roundup Posts

Review: Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

welcometothedarkhouseI have always been a fan of the horror genre–books, movies, TV shows–and my motto (mantra?) is the gorier, the better. And so I was delighted that my request to read Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz had been accepted. Although I am aware of the Blue is for Nightmares  and Touch series, this is the first of Stolarz’s books I have read.

Note to potential readers: spoilers ahead….

When Ivy Jensen was twelve years old, her parents were brutally murdered by a serial killer who then visited her bedroom but left her (physically) unharmed that fateful night. At 18, Ivy has a new name, a new home, and a new loving family, but despite intensive therapy she still has the same old nightmare about the killer coming back for her. After receiving some contest emails from “The Nightmare Elf,” the newsletter of a popular horror franchise, Ivy puts her nightmare into writing, even though she is not a fan of director Justin Blake or horror movies in general. Of course, she is one of the seven contest winners, and the group is assembled at Blake’s mansion for an unforgettable weekend–or so they think. The mansion is filled with homages to Blake’s films, and  the servants are dressed as iconic characters. The winners’ first night of getting to know each other turns into a night of terror, with missing persons and cryptic messages, but none of the teens witnesses any crimes, so they think it might all be part of the act while they wait to meet the master of horror.

The next day, the group is driven to a remote location, where an amusement park has been set up to honor Blake’s work. There are themed rides for each of his films, as well as a ride for each winner–tailor-made to match his or her worst nightmare. It is not long before Ivy and the others figure out that it is not Justin Blake that is behind this contest, but a madman who is filming everything and has designed the rides to kill. To survive, the teens must not only remain alive until morning, but each must conquer his or her uniquely-designed attraction.

The plot of the novel will be familiar ground for fans of the genre. Teens are assembled for a weekend and picked off one by one by a calculating killer in a variety of gruesome ways. Stolarz spends time building the background of Justin Blake, his catalog of films, and his creepy characters–so much so that it seems like a true horror franchise. The mansion and elaborate theme park are richly drawn, providing a great backdrop for terror. The rides at the park are diabolical, not only because they focus on each teen’s fear, but also because readers won’t be able to stop nervously thinking about and wishing for a way out, even though it’s obvious that won’t happen.

Although the novel is told from the multiple perspectives of the contest winners, Ivy is clearly the main character, narrating the bulk of the book. The development of the other characters varies. For example, Shayla Belmont and Garth Vader are the stereotypical rich girl and goth guy, respectively, and don’t receive much depth of treatment. Even Ivy’s love-interest, Parker Bradley, who faked his nightmare and wants to be a film director, receives little embellishment–although his chapters are written in an interesting screenplay style. Natalie Sorrento, on the other hand, is not only a huge fan of Blake’s (with the tattoos to prove it) but also a very troubled girl who pulls out her hair and talks to her dead brother, and readers get to know her very well. This type of character development is not surprising for the genre–many horror books and films rely on building up the character who survives at the end, while the other victims serve as an end to the killer’s (and author’s) means. It puts me in mind of my husband’s requirements for an action movie: guns, explosions, cheesy one-liners, intensity–he’s not expecting Gone With the Wind.

And that brings us to the ending. Ivy and Parker are the only ones to (barely) survive their theme park rides. After their sadistic captor shows them footage of their friends’ demises, the two struggle, exhausted and bleeding, to make it to the front gates in the ten seconds allotted by their captor.  Ivy makes it out; Parker doesn’t.  After he begs for her to leave him behind and go for help, she does so reluctantly and, of course, when help arrives Parker and the bodies of the others are nowhere to be found. What happened to them? Who is the killer? We never find out. A small part of me wants to believe it is Parker–he wanted to be a director after all–but I wonder how a teen could bankroll such an endeavor let alone pull it off. The good news is that Welcome to the Dark House is book one of a series, so maybe we’ll find out in the next installment….

In all, Welcome to the Dark House will make an excellent addition to my school libraries this fall and will be thoroughly enjoyed by horror fans in junior high–and in high school as well.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/21/14

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.

Well, my reading has certainly slowed down this month compared to June. I decided that #bookaday is not really for me–if I were a picture book reader, it would work, but I felt like I was rushing through some novels and choosing some because they were short–not the way I usually operate. So this month’s pace could be a little faster, but, I am reading every day, and that’s satisfying me right now.

Last Week’s Books:

escapefrommrlemoncellosWhen Escape from Mr. Lemencello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein first surfaced, it enjoyed a huge amount of buzz. And I can see why. After reading it, I almost feel like I need to review it twice.

First, from a book lover and library lover’s perspective: What a bundle of fun this book was! Twelve-year-old me would have swooned to spend a night in a library competing in the mother of all scavenger hunts–heck, I would love to do that now. I enjoyed following the clues, rooting for Kyle’s team, and imaging what it would be like to visit (or work at–GASP!) such a phenomenal library. I felt smart and proud when I caught the literary references that Mr. Lemoncello made every time he spoke, especially since I have read nearly all of those titles. You can tell that Grabenstein is a lover of children’s literature.

Now, from a middle school librarian’s perspective: I know a lot of students who love to read, but I do not think this book will appeal to all of them–because readers also have to invest themselves in the puzzle solving and appreciate the wackiness of it all. And students who don’t love reading and libraries will not be drawn to this book from the start. In addition, I felt like I got to know Kyle very well, but there was not much development of the other characters. Novels with strong character relationships are a key draw for middle school readers, and so they might not be as satisfied with this one. When I think of my small budget and all of the others books out there, I’m not sure this one will make the cut. But I still am sure glad I read it :-)

welcometothedarkhouseI finished the e-galley for Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz early in the week, but life got in the way of my writing a review of it. The book will be published tomorrow (7/22), so my goal is to post the review then. In fact, I’ll probably start writing it almost immediately after this post.




Currently Reading:


The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro is book #2 in The Strain series. I watched the series pilot episode a week ago, and I must say that it is filling the horror gap left by The Walking Dead‘s summer hiatus. Plus it is interesting to think about some changes from book to series that have already come to light and to speculate about more of them.

On Deck:

thefaultinourstars paperboy

I know, I know, I am probably one of a handful of middle school librarians who have not read The Fault in our Stars, and AMAZINGLY, I have remained relatively spoiler-free. How about that?


2015 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: The One and Only Ivan

theoneandonlyivanNearly every year, one of the 20 “spots” on the master list of the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award goes to a previous year’s Newbery  medal winner–not surprising since the foremost criterion for inclusion is that the book have literary merit. The 2015 list is no exception, as Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is a nominee.

I am going to assume that most readers of this blog have some familiarity with the book’s characters and story, even if they have not yet read it themselves. That said, if any of you would like to read an un-review by Donalynn Miller on the Nerdy Book Club Blog, a joyful testimony on the power of sharing this book with students, I’ll wait right here…. Back now? Want to read it now?  Or re-read it? Or read it aloud as soon as you get back to your students? To say that this book could be the Wonder (or Hunger Games or Harry Potter) of this year’s list would not be an exaggeration.

So why feature this book this week ? (aside from my goal to feature all 20 nominees)

ivanBecause this week, book guru Mr. Schu, who has his copy of the book autographed not only by Katherine Applegate but also by the real Ivan, had the honor (his word) of sharing the debut of the book trailer for Applegate’s newest work, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Watching the trailer is a good thing, but reading Mr. Schu’s introduction is even better. Ivan will be released on October 7, 2014. And I’m going to make sure each of my libraries has multiple copies of this sure-to-be-wonderful companion to the 2013 Newbery winner.

Other 2015 Rebecca Caudill Reading Roundup Posts