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2017 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The challenge here is to think of what to say that has not already been said about The Crossover, winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal. It is a delicious novel in verse that’s chock full of beautiful language, basketball scenes that spring to life, and rich family dynamics. It has captured the hearts of both reluctant and voracious middle grade readers. It allows teachers and librarians to hook kids just by reading the first few pages. (all of which has already been said, but is also worth repeating)

It has also given the kid lit world an amazing ambassador in author Kwame Alexander. If you haven’t already, you should really follow him on Twitter. And you should listen to him read from The Crossover here and watch his interview with Time for Kids Magazine. And then put the book in some kids’ hands and watch the magic.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/18/16

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:

I said that I would savor Neil Gaiman’s latest and savor it I did. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction is a whopping 500+ pages of articles, speeches, introductions to books, etc. Loosely divided into themed sections, these selections give readers a look into Gaiman’s views on comics, fantasy, music, film, the arts, and more. As an avid fan, I will always be fascinated by how Gaiman says what he says as well as what he is saying. As an avid reader, I found myself adding book upon book to my to-read list. Not only do I want to read many works he described, but I also want to go back and re-read the essays about them afterwards. This book counts for my Read Harder Challenge 2016 (category 3–a collection of essays).


In October, I will be moderating a panel at the Illinois Reading Council Annual Conference. The panel will be comprised of authors of Illinois Reads 2016 selections for grades 9-12. One of the authors/books is Tempest by Julie Cross. This first book in a series is about 19-year-old Jackson Meyer, who has recently learned he has the ability to travel back in time. He and good friend Adam devise a series of experiments to test how and whether he can control this power. Then one day, Jackson and his girlfriend Holly are attacked by a group of official-looking men and women. As Holly is shot, probably fatally, Jackson panics and feels himself “jumping” away. He then finds himself stuck in 2007, his only aim being to try to get back to Holly and prevent her death. When I first saw the cover of this book, I suspected it would be more romance novel than science fiction, but I was very pleased that that was not the case. I found it interesting that Cross chose for Jackson not to be able to change the future when he jumped to the past and that those he encountered would not remember any interaction with him. Of course, this is true to only to a point, and it will be interesting to see in following books how he will be able to save Holly from certain death.  I could see my 8th graders, as well as high school students, finding a lot to like about this book.

Currently Reading/Listening To:

On Deck:

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/11/16

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:

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives is the memoir of two friends: Caitlin, an American middle schooler, and Martin, a young Zimbabwean student, who met through a school pen pal program. At first their letters are quite casual, but the two become close through sharing their lives and hopes for the future. At first Caitlin imagines Martin’s life is very similar to her own, but when she learns of the terrible poverty he and his family are suffering, she becomes determined to help them, especially in funding Martin’s education. This book will be quite eye-opening for middle schoolers, who will learn not only about the living conditions of children in other parts of the world but also about how one person can really make a difference. They will enjoy seeing the actual letters and photographs that the two friends exchanged over many years and will cheer when the two finally meet in person. An engaging and inspiring memoir.


Blind by Rachel DeWoskin is an Illinois Reads 2016 selection for students in grades 6-8.  The book opens as high school sophomore Emma Silver is preparing to start up at her local school after a year of absence. As the story unfolds, readers learn about the accident which led to her blindness and her year-long period of recovery in the hospital, at home, and at a school for the blind. At the same time, Emma is adjusting to life back with her peers, she and the community at large are reeling from the recent suicide of a popular high school girl. Struggling to understand this tragic event helps Emma to also confront her feelings about her blindness and relationships with her best friend, Logan, and her large family. I think this is best for the upper end of the 6-8 range.


Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself is an amazing and fun graphic novel by Jeremy Whitley, who wanted to write a comic about a fierce and confident young woman that he would be proud to hand to his 2-year-old daughter one day. Sixteen-year-old Princess Adrienne has been imprisoned in a tower guarded by a dragon (just like her other sisters) because that’s how her parents intend to find princes for them to marry. One day, Adrienne decides she has had enough, and she and Sparky, the dragon who has become her close companion, secretly break out and go on a quest to save her youngest sister, Apple. It is not long before Adrienne meets a female teenage blacksmith who joins her (and who makes amazing armor for her). There is a great exchange between the two about why females need real armor instead of the skimpy costumes most female heroes wear.

Last school year, I purchased the first three volumes of this series, and my middle school girls, particularly 6th graders, couldn’t get enough of reading and recommending them to friends. I definitely see why, and between this series and Lumberjanes, I hope that comic companies will further recognize the need for more works like this, which feature not only independent and inspiring young women, but also young women of color. Oh, and I just grabbed volumes two and three from school so I can keep up with Adrienne’s adventures–she rocks! :-)

Currently Reading/Listening To:

On Deck:

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2017 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Stella by Starlight is an excellent work of historical fiction for middle graders. Set in 1932 in Bumblebee, North Carolina, it tells Stella’s experiences growing up in the segregated South. Recent Ku Klux Klan activity in the area both frightens and challenges the African American community, but it doesn’t keep Stella’s father and two other men from registering to vote, despite the obstacles and threats they face. The support for the community supports and augments the courage of these men.

Stella is also struggling with a challenge of her own. She feels she is a poor writer who needs lots of practice, but the pieces she writes for her teacher and self-published newsletter show otherwise, and middle graders will pick up on that right away. Draper has once again given readers the gift of an engaging and meaty story, and one that is expertly told.

Now, a little about the book covers:

The cover above was the one for the original release of the book in January 2015.

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The cover to the left is the one used by Scholastic for both hardcover and paperback copies of the book. To me, Stella looks like a modern girl, not one from the 1930s. In fact, there is nothing about this cover that leads me to believe this is a work of historical fiction.

I know that covers are changed for a variety of reasons, but I wonder about Scholastic’s choice here and can’t find any information about it (not that cover choices are widely discussed by publishers). It is certainly an attractive cover, but one that conveys much less of the story and setting than the original, with its powerful burning cross image. Perhaps Scholastic felt young readers might be more inclined to pick up a book with a more “realistic fiction” feel to the cover.  Perhaps the burning cross was the motivation for the change. Whatever the reason, I have to say that I much prefer the original cover, and the more I think about it the more I wish I had made sure to purchase all of my copies with that cover. I will make this a “teachable moment” for myself and try to consider variations of book covers when making purchasing decisions in the future.

Anyone else have an example to share?

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/4/16

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.

Happy Independence Day! We are having gloomier and cooler than usual weather here, so I spent the morning reading and kind of watching the Tour De France. We are getting out to a local festival in a bit, and I’m hoping the park won’t be that muddy.

Last Week’s Books:

Adult: Mort(e) by Robert Repino was a book that caught my eye at Barnes and Noble, and then I saw that it was a book recommended by one of my favorite booksellers. It is a post-apocalyptic novel, the premise being that the ants spent centuries preparing to rise up against mankind and developed something for the water supply that would allow/force the other animals to help them. Mort(e) is a former house cat named Sebastian who was surprised to find one day that the fur on his hands had fallen away, he could walk upright, had grown to a size bigger than humans and could understand their language. The animals are able to overthrow most of their human oppressors in a short amount of time. Mort(e) joined the Red Sphinx militia, but what he most desperately wants is to find his best friend from before the change, Sheba was the dog next door, and Mort(e) believes that she must have survived. On his quest to find her, Mort(e) stumbles upon a human resistance group that believes he fulfills a prophecy. This is fine satire from an author I hope to hear more from in the future.


Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey  is an engaging memoir by Ozge Samanci. She recounts her childhood days, when her parents stressed that the only way she could get ahead in life was to study hard to get into better and better schools and eventually obtain a college degree from a prestigious university so she could support herself. Ozge was a dreamer who longed to become an explorer like Jacques Cousteau, but who turned away from her dreams because studying math or engineering would be better for her future. It is not until she has continually struggled in college that Ozge “dared to disappoint” her parents, particularly her father, and pursue her own goals. Samanci’s drawings are supplemented with collage images, stamps, and more, making them a vibrant and inspiring look into her life. This book counts for my Panels Challenge 2016 (category 14–a slice-of-life comic not set in the U.S.)

Currently Reading:

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