August 31, 2017

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:04 pm by suebe2

One of Us Is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press

As the story opens, five students are serving detention. They are a varied group with one thing in common – they are all in detention because a tech-hating teacher found a cell phone in each of their packs.  He has a no phones in class rule and all of them observe it but each was caught with a cheap phone that didn’t belong to them. Who could have set them up and why bother?

Bronwyn is the school brain.  She’s heading straight for an early acceptance from Yale.

Cooper is a jock with an amazing fast ball. He’s already being scouted by a variety of schools.

Addy dates the school quarterback. She’s sweet and pretty enough to be on the homecoming court.

Nate is the outlier.  A known drug dealer, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  He’s focused on convincing his probation officer that he’s doing everything right.

This question seems all important at the beginning of detention but it is quickly driven from one of their minds.  Simon, the outcast of the group, begins to cough.  Soon he is on the ground, red-faced and choking.  Nate realizes Simon is having a severe allergic reaction to something but can’t find the other boy’s epipen.  Cooper, star pitcher on the school baseball team, sprints to the nurses office but the epipens she keeps there are gone.

Now the police are looking at this group and trying to figure out who wanted Simon dead.  The problem is that Simon had only one friend in school.  So it could have been just about anyone.  Simon ran a gossip ap that he used to “out” whoever did anything they wouldn’t want someone else to know about.  Cheating on a boyfriend, casual sex, drunken anarchy.  All could be punished by a post by Simon.

These four students are the prime suspects simply because they were in the room.  The mystery deepens as the posts continue even after Simon’s death.  A post goes lives that implicates everyone who had been in detention.  In spite of the fact that their lawyers have advised them to avoid each other, the four start working together to figure out who really did it and why.

If you’re over a certain age, this will immediately remind you of The Breakfast Club but it’s the BC with a serious edge.  One of the students doesn’t make it out alive.

Because the author switches points of view, allowing each character to speak for him or herself, the reader gets the experience of seeing things from each character’s perspective.  This is an engaging technique that helps the reader identify with the characters.  Not that they need a lot of help.  With this array of characters, there is a great variety.  But this does make it easy to get into their heads.

Readers will find themselves debating, who did it?  Is one of them lying?

Warning.  Here comes a big spoiler alert.

Seriously.  Don’t read on because I may give something away.

In some ways this book is a lot like 13 Reasons Why.  So now you know.  It deals with suicide and mental illness. Because of this, it can be a tough read as the characters figure out what happened and why.  They are to blame but not in the “they drove poor Simon to suicide” way.  “It is a lot more like Simon was a bit unhinged but didn’t use a gun.”

But I think it is a really important read.  It shows how one persons actions impact another.  But it also shows how students can cross boundaries and reach out to help each other.  There is definitely a lot to love about this book.  That said, it is definitely a read for teens, not tweens.



August 29, 2017

Let Me Finish! by Minh Le, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:15 pm by suebe2

Let Me Finish!
by Minh Le
illustrated by Isabel Roxas

When our young hero sits down to read a long-awaited book, he is just getting started when someone comes along and tells him the ending. Time and time again, his reading is spoiled by someone who just can’t resist telling him all about it.  So he sets off in search of a quiet place to read.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you know how much I hate commenting on something that is going to spoil a book for the reader.  More than once, probably more than a dozen times, I’ve told you that you are going to have to go read the book for yourself to find out how it ends.

Guess what?  That’s the case with this one too because the author has created a fun twist for the ending.

The text is short and would make a great read aloud.  But be prepared for a lengthy discussion of the many ways that reading time can be ruined as well as what the boy should do to assure that both his time and his reading experience are respected.

Roxas illustrations are brightly colored and fanciful, adding a layer of silliness and fun to the story.  From the young reader clutching his new book to the birds and other animals swooping in to tell him all about it, the characters are both silly and expressive.

Anyone who has ever had their reading ruined by a plot spoiler is going to identify with this young character.  So will the reader who sits down to enjoy a book only to be interrupted, and interrupted, and again interrupted.  This book will make a great gift item for book lovers of all ages who consider their reading time special even if they have a hard time squeezing it in.



August 21, 2017

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:38 am by suebe2

by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar Straus and Giroux

When eleven year-old Charlie Reese gets shipped off, she has no idea what to expect.  The family services woman says these folks are her aunt and uncle but Charlie has never even heard of them. So she shows up with a fiery hot temper. She’s sure she gets it from her daddy who goes by Scrappy.  His temper may very well be why he’s in the local correctional facility. Again.

Charlie hates school because she is surrounded by kids with real families.  There are kids whose brothers and sisters go to the school.  Kids whose mamas slip notes in their lunch boxes.  All Charlie has is a backpack buddy – Howard.

Charlie doesn’t understand Howard.  He rather read or do a cross word puzzle than run or explore.  But maybe that makes sense since one leg is shorter than the other, giving him an odd up and down walk. Aunt Bertha describes Howard and his kin as good-hearted but Charlie doesn’t get it.  Why doesn’t he get mad when the other kids make fun of his walk?  He doesn’t even seem happy when she stands up for him and even gets in a fight.


But maybe his heart is a good thing.  Cause he doesn’t get mad when Charlie lashes out.  He spends all kinds of time helping her catch a stray hound that she’s nicknamed Wishbone.  In fact, every one seems to be helping.  Howard helps her build a huge box trap.  Bertha gives her meatloaf for bait.  Uncle Gus brings home a collar.  It’s like they all believe in her.

But Charlie only has faith in one thing. That if she wishes every day for long enough her wish will come true.  She’s been wishing for years and it is bound to happen sooner or later.  And when it does, she’ll finally have someplace to belong.

I seem to have stumbled across a number of books lately that explore family and home (see Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk and Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski). Although the themes may be similar, the books are as different as different can be.  Wish is a contemporary novel set in rural North Carolina.  It isn’t as dark as Beyond the Bright Sea sometimes feels although both are for a middle grade audience.  That said, I think Wish is for slightly younger readers than Beyond the Bright Sea. 

It isn’t surprising that the first one Charlie bounds with is a stray dog.  After all, she doesn’t feel like she belongs and this feeling will  resonate with young readers whether they are struggling to fit in at home or at school.

Read it and get ready for some powerful discussions about what it means to fit in and the best definition of family.


August 15, 2017

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:09 pm by suebe2

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep
by Leslie Helakoski
Sterling Children’s Books

High winds blow and two eggs are blown out of two very different nests.  Mama Goose and Mama Owl each retrieve an egg and return to their nests.

When Hoot hatches among the goslings, it is clear something is different.  Hoot doesn’t like the bugs and seeds the others relish.  When they go to sleep at night, he’s ready for adventure.

Mama owl finds Hoot playing with the other owlets and they all return to the owl’s nest.  And that’s where Honk hatches.

Poor Honk is just as out-of-place as Hoot was.  Little mice for dinner? Yuck!  When they others go to sleep, he wonders off to see what is what. Not too worry.  He too finds his family.

The book ends with a neat little summary:

Night and day.
Wake or doze?
Some eyes open.
Some eyes close.

Neither way is right or wrong.  They are simply different.

I first came across this book in a discussion of STEM reading.  For those of you who may not know the term, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  It is a tag used to label books and curriculum that can help young learners understand science.  How can a fictional book do that?

A lot of people mistakenly think that STEM books are always nonfiction.  But fiction like Hoot and Honk can be an excellent jumping off point for discussing STEM topics.  In this cast, the book sets up a world of comparisons and contrasts.  What do the two types of birds eat?  When do they sleep?  Where are their nests?

It is also a beautiful book.  Helakoski’s art work, done in pastels, is richly colored.  The pastels create a look of slightly furred edges that make the chicks look fluffy and fuzzy  – like chicks.

This book is super short and rhymes which will make it a great read aloud for either an individual child or a group.  Use it to spark discussions of comparison and contrast, fitting in, and more.


August 11, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

Beyond the Bright SeaBeyond the Bright Sea
by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Children’s Books

Twelve-year-old Crow has grown up one island over from Cuttyhunk, one of  Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Islands.  She landed on this tiny island in a battered boat when she was just a baby.

Osh rescued the tiny baby and it was only when she came into his life that he opened up to other islanders.  He too is a refugee although Crow never learns what it is he escaped.  That is in his past and the past, for some people, is best left alone.  Instead, Osh focuses on the now – fishing to feed them both, tending their garden and painting beautiful landscapes.

Miss Maggie, their friend and neighbor on Cuttyshank,  came to the islands for her own reason.  Sharp of tongue and wit, she is Crow’s  teacher because the school master won’t let Crow attend classes.

It isn’t because her skin is darker than his.  It is because everyone fears she came from a nearby island — home of a leper hospital.

Then one night Crow sees a mysterious fire on that island.  A bird sanctuary has taken the place of the leper colony.  Could the keeper be in need of help?  Crow’s curiosity may lead her to answers about who she is and where she came from but she will also be risking everything and everyone she knows and loves.

Wolk is also the author of Wolf Hollow and, like that book, Beyond the Bright Sea is an exploration of belonging and family.  It explores how our expectations can shape how we interpret the world and other people’s actions.  It is a story of love, trust and sacrifice and it is told in such a way that makes it fully accessible to middle grade audiences.

As always Wolk has done an exceptional job in pulling readers into the setting with details of island life in 1925.  The details are a part of the story without overwhelming it.

An excellent choice for the classroom or home library this is a book with depth and moral complexity.  Perfectly suitable for young readers, it trusts them to know and understand.


August 10, 2017

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jan Korase

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:36 pm by suebe2

Little OinkLittle Oink
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Jan Korase
Chronicle Books

I love picture books that contain surprises and this one did not disappoint.  Little Oink is, no surprise if you’ve looked at the cover, a pig.  He loves truffle hunting with his pig pals, going to school, and spending time with Mama and Papa.

What he doesn’t love is Mess Up Time.

You see Little Oink is anything but piggy.  He loves to keep his room neat and tidy – his clothes and his toys put away.  He makes his bed.  And his clothes are always spotless.

But he loves his Mama and Papa so after a bit of resistance he puts on a stained shirt and messes up his room.  Once he does this he’s free to climb up to his tree house and play.  So what does he play?  House!

Picture books about animal characters who want to be something other than their animal type are common enough.  Of course, I can’t think of any off the top of my head but I’m thinking about the tortoise who wants to be speedy fast or the hare that is slow and methodical.

That said, this is a must have because it is just so much fun.  Yes, you have the piggy who doesn’t want to be piggy.  But the irony of the Mama and Papa making the kiddo mess up his room will be appreciated by young readers and parents alike.   So will the fact that he wants to be just like his friends – his friends who clean their rooms!

Parents will also enjoy reading this one out loud.  “He dug playing with his pig pals” when they are rooting for truffles.  His room has to be a “total pigsty.”

Whether the young reader is a neat freak or neatness challenged, they will love the humor in this story.  Short and fast-paced it will make a fun read aloud as well as a jumping off point for discussions on individuality, respect, and more.


August 4, 2017

Simon’s New Bed by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Melissa van der Paardt

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:21 am by suebe2

simons-new-bed-9781481430197_hrSimon’s New Bed
by Christian Trimmer
illustrated by Melissa van der Paardt
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Simon was having a great day.  The boy had just given him a new bed and Simon was ready for a great nap, the best nap ever.  First he just has to go for a quick walk.

Unfortunately, while he’s gone, the cat makes herself at home.  Not surprisingly, Miss Adora Belle refuses to budge.  In fact, she ignores Simon completely.

She ignores him as he barks his displeasure.

She ignores him as he drags the new bed outside and back in.

She refuses to be lured away.

She doesn’t even wiggle an ear when he begs.

Simon has just about given up when he hits on an idea.  “… How about we share?”  It isn’t that Simon really wanted to share but he understood the importance of picking his battles.

Okay, I’ll admit that when I read that line about picking battles, I cringed.  It is Simon’s bed.  This was a character not meeting his goal.

But wait a minute.  His goal was getting to nap on his new bed.  No, he didn’t get to do it as planned, but he did get to do it.

And isn’t this an issue that as a society we really need to grasp?  Not everything deserves to be a huge battle.  In fact, some things aren’t important enough to bother with at all.  And yet, people fuss.  They post on Facebook. They pick fights.  What they don’t do is look for a less confrontational solution.

I have to admit that the more I think about it, the more I like this book.  The cat is pure cat.  The dog is adorable and reminds me of Mudge.  Van der Paardt’s illustrated characters are so expressive and fun.

This is definitely a book to consider for your classroom or home.  Young readers are still learning the ins and outs of making space for themselves and others in this world and this book is sure to lead to some interesting conversations.  Readers with siblings will identify with Simon and, if they are being 100% honest with themselves, may identify with Miss Adora Belle as well.


August 3, 2017

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:33 pm by suebe2

The Dot
written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick Press

Vashti has no doubt in her mind.  She cannot draw.  She cannot paint.  There’s no point in even picking up a marker.  That’s why at the end of class her page is once again blank.

When her teacher encourages her to just make a mark, Vashti jabs at the paper with a marker, leaving a dot.  Her teacher, such a smart lady, asks her to sign her work.

The next time Vashti comes to class, the signed dot is in a gorgeous frame hanging over the teacher’s desk.  What?  Vashti is certain that it is not the best dot she can make and sets out to do even better.  Soon she has filled page after page with a wide variety of dots.  My favorite is the dot she painted by not painting a dot.  The dot is negative (white) space and she has painted the background all around it.

At the end of the year is a school art show.  The display includes a huge number of Vashti’s dots.  A young fan comes up to her.  “I wish I could draw.”  Fortunately, Vashti has learned a thing or two about encouraging another frustrated artist.

This book is almost ten years old and I’m not really sure how I managed to miss it.  This would have been perfect for my son when he was in grade school.  He wasn’t a good artist and he knew it.  Fortunately a new art teacher arrived in 5th grade and he helped each child find their strength, much like the teacher in this book.

At less than 400 words, this would be an excellent book for story time and reading aloud.  It would also be an excellent launch for a discussion on belief and encouragement.  Just be sure to have plenty of art supplies and encouraging words ready to go, because everyone at some point in their lives needs a teacher like this.


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