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. Another week of summer, another smorgasbord of reading 🙂 I will focus mainly on the middle grade titles, but also give a taste of my other reading this week.
Last Week’s Books: Helen Frost’s Hidden is a fascinating look into the lives of two girls that intersected in a unique way several years ago and then again at summer camp. When both girls were eight, Darra Monson’s dad stole a car without knowing that Wren Abbott was in the back seat. After Wren escapes the family’s garage, police arrest and imprison Darra’s dad. When the two encounter each other at camp, they must come to terms with their feelings. This is a novel in verse, with the girls taking turns telling the story, each in a different poetic form. What I found fascinating is that at the start, Darra has the stronger negative feelings toward Wren, because it is Wren’s fault that Darra’s father was taken away. This book is filled with such strong voice and will be a great one to share with students. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end to see if you pick up on a special technique she employed–I have to admit I missed it. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs was a fun romp at the CIA’s Academy of Espionage, which, astonishingly, 12-year-old Ben Ripley was recruited to attend. Not too long into his stay, Ben discovers that he is not a legitmate recruit, but I pawn in a plan to root out a mole at the school. Filled with twists and turns, explosives, paintball wars, a pretty girl, and absurdly funny yet dangerous situations, Spy School will appeal to middle grade lovers of action movies. This book is not high art, but not all things students read need to be. If you have been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks twitter campaign, you know that Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever is a book that is frequently mentioned. Nate Foster is an eighth grader from Jankburg, Pennsylvania whose true loves include musicals, singing, and recreating scenes with his best friend, Libby. This behavior is far from accepted by many boys at Nate’s school and his older brother, all of whom call him names such as “homo” and “freak” and “faggot.” When Nate learns of an audition for E.T.: The Musical in New York City, he and Libby hatch an elaborate plan to get Nick there. Nate’s ignorance of the audition process becomes painfully (and hilariously) obvious right away, but it’s just what endears him to the casting crew. But it is Nate’s persistence in a pursuing his dream and not let anyone hold him back that’s the true story. A couple of my favorite moments: when Nate meets his Aunt Heidi’s gay roommate and asks if he has a girlfriend and when Nate passes this nugget along to readers, “My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated. I am undecided. I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major, and frankly, I don’t want to declare anything other than “Hey jerks, I’m thirteen. leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food–how would I know who I want to hook up with?” Nate is an important character for middle graders to meet, and I am so glad there is already a sequel–especially since Federle left off with a big, juicy cliffhanger!
Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart follows the life of Olivia, a trivia junkie whose life goal is to get on Kids Week of Jeopardy! Her challenges include not only facing a severe deficit in her knowledge of geography but also dealing with her divorced parents, little brother, Mom’s live-in boyfriend, Neil, the boy next door who used to tease her but is now suddenly nice, and a best friend who moved away and will no longer speak to her. The family dynamics are what make this book a winner, particularly Olivia’s love for her dad despite his choosing gambling over regular Wednesday night calls and being the one who took away her best friend by leaving Olivia’s mom for her mom. The way Olivia handles (and sometimes doesn’t handle) the complex relationships in her life make this a spectacular middle grade book. And the Jeopardy! quest is engaging as well.
I also read a few adult books this week.
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro is the first in a trilogy about vampires that FX is turning into a TV series. I enjoyed this fresh take on the old monsters, and I have checked the other two installments out of the public library. I also read a graphic novel about vampire pirates, Sea of Red Vol. 1 No Grave But the SeaI, but I found the artwork much more engaging than the story so I am not planning on going further with that one. Last up was Kurt Vonnegut’s If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, transcripts of speeches given to graduates throughout the years. Several themes carried throughout, including Vonnegut’s assertion that we all ought to live by the tenets of the Sermon at the Mount rather than the Code of Hammurabi–and he was not, in fact, a Christian, but a Humanist. Fascinating, and often funny, and always important stuff from a master of American literature.
And finally I re-read Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s Dogs on Duty so that I could write about it for my new-ish Thursday feature, 2015 Rebecca Caudill Roundup. I have really enjoyed highlighting one nominee a week, and I hope it helps Illinois teachers and librarians (and everyone else) to better get to know the books on our award list.
My son just read Feed by Mira Grant after choosing it as a prize in our local public library’s teen summer reading program. He was very excited by it and told me several times that I MUST read it next, so how could I refuse? It is a zombie book (yay!) and nearly 600 pages long (hmmm) He is eager to make another trip to the library soon to see if the sequel is available for check-out.