Highlights of Summer Reading Weeks 4-5


IMG_2711.jpgTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Act by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.  This nonfiction book is a great way for students to learn about the realities of the Civil Rights Movement.  Lowery speaks of her experiences in several marches, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, on which she was the youngest marcher.  While I had seen the horrible and iconic images of the first Montgomery march, there were a lot of details that I had no awareness of.  This is a clear and straightforward text, with several pictures to illustrate the narrative.

IMG_2810.jpgMasterminds by Gordan Korman is about an idyllic, perfect town, where there is no crime, and no one lies.  However, as the children of the town soon begin to discover, nothing is really as it seems.  This has a lot of action and adventure, and is the first in a series.  I don’t want to spoil what actually happens, but it was different than other books I have read.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapien AgendaIMG_2811.jpg by Becky Albertalli is a charming novel aboutSimon, a closeted junior in high school.  When Martin, who is in the musical with him, finds some emails, he tries to blackmail Simon with the information. Simon has been considering coming out, but he knows there will be struggles, and he hasbeen emailing with another student from his school, and he does not want to risk outing him as well.  A great, romantic, coming of age story.

Nothing Bad is Going to Happen by Kathleen Hale – this is the sequel to No One Else Can IMG_2809.jpgHave You.  It is another story about Kippy Bushman, and this one involves her finding her boyfriend, unconscious, after an apparent suicide attempt – however, just like in the first novel, not everything is at is seems.  An interesting mystery, although not as strong as the first book.


Summer Reading 2016- Week one

IMG_2688.jpg This summer I hope to keep up with posting about my reading, but I am taking my last two grad classes, so I will do my best.

The first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, is the debut novel of Stephanie Oakes.   I am excited for any further books she writes – this was a complex and tense novel that hooked me in from the start.  After talking to him about it, my husband also read it in about a day.  The writer’s MFA in poetry is highly evident in this novel, in that the writing style and metaphors are fantastic and useful.  That being said, this is a novel for high school students, as it deals with some exceptional levels of violence and cruelty, which Minnow recounts, both to her FBI psychologist, and to her roommate in juvenile detention.  While we know from the very beginning that Minnow no longer has her hands, how that happened is revealed over time.  While the main character that belonged to a cult could become a truly sensational story, the author here carefully crafts a protagonist that the reader responds to – and roots for, through all of the flashback reveals.


I admittedly do not read a lot of series to completion.  I will often read the first book in a series, but often I don’t finish the rest of the books.  The Shadowhunter books are a definite exception to this tendency.  I tend to consume these as quickly as I can, and I enjoyed this first book in her new, connected series.  Fans of the previous two Shadowhunter series will see some of their favorite characters in this, but there is a new cast, and a new take on a love story here as well.  I feel that Clare does a great job of integrating action, adventure, supernatural forces, and love stories that are a bit different from the expectation.  The love interests always face a major obstacle – but often in an unexpected way.  I look forward to the rest of this series as well.

Through the Woods is a collection of graphic novel short stories.  Some are takes on fairy tale – like stories, all of them are unsettling, and leave some interprative choices up to the reader.  This is not a great collection to read right before bed, but I think it is a great addition to my high school library collection, and a great one to give students that enjoy a good creepy read.  IMG_2685.jpg


A Time to Dance is a novel in verse. It tells the story of Veda, a rising star in Bharatanatyam dance.  She lives with her parents and her grandmother, and her mother does not really support her dancing.  She would prefer for Veda to become a doctor someday.  However, when Veda is badly injured in an accident, and has to have one of her legs amputated, she has to find new ways to reach her dreams.  This reminded me a great deal of The Running Dream, by Van Draanen,   Veda’s quest to dance again is inspiring, and the plot does not fall into melodrama, but does a great job of exploring Veda’s quest back to dance in a realistic manner.  The fact that it is a novel in verse also makes this one a quick read.

The final book for the first week was Caged Warrior, by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.   This novel tells the story of Mccutcheon Daniel, or Bam Bam, as he is known in the underground illegal world of cage fighting.  His dad has been training him since he was three, so that he could eventually become an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, when he turns eighteen.  The family lives in Detroit’s 7 mile neighborhood, and has a lot of fight action, which will appeal to fans of mixed martial arts.  It also has a young man who wants to get out of the fighting lifestyle, but is trapped by his love for his sister, and his abusive, addict father.  This is an interesting work, with a memorable protagonist, and some unexpected twists along the way.


Summer reading – Week 8 – It’s the end of the world, and my summer, as I know it, and I feel conflicted

On Thursday I took my son to our local botanical garden, which recently added a beautiful children’s section.  As my son splashed around in the water feature, and I sat in the shade on a gorgeous day, it occurred to me that I may be wrapping up one of the last truly free summers of my son’s life.  He is starting kindergarten, and youth sports, or youth arts programs will probably start to creep in, eventually comprising part of summer.  Part of my thoughts may have been a result of the admittedly dark texts I read for most of the week, but as my personal summer draws to a close, I found myself reading the books I had brought home from school but had not read yet.  That resulted in a rather eclectic, mostly dark,  reading program for this last week.


First up on the docket was Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson.  This was clearly the first in a dystopian future series.  To be honest, while I love mysteries, I have to work myself up to read the dystopian books.  That resulted in a rather bleak week of reading.  The premise  of Steelheart is that an event called The Calamity created people with superhuman powers.  The result is a group called Epics, who desire to rule human.  The desire leads to chaos and destruction for regular people.  David is one of those regular people, now living in a mostly steel version of Chicago called Newcago.  He wants revenge, and who joins a group trying to take out the Epics.  The novel is action packed, and has numerous gun battles and chase scenes.  I thought the premise was interesting, but it also gave me nightmares, so this was not my favorite read of the summer.


The next book I read was a non-fiction account of the building, initial voyage, shipwreck, and aftermath.  The recount is straightforward and clear, with several recollections of witnesses rolled together.  The notes in this discussion of the Titanic are very thorough, and comprise nearly a third of the book.  This is a great one for anyone interested in the Titanic, and  for anyone that wants a great example of nonfiction text features to look for.  One quotation that really stuck with me was, “The events of the Titanic disaster can be seen as a symbol of what happens through overconfidence in technology, complacence, and a mindset of profits over people’s safety” (217).  Quite honestly, this made me realize that part of why people remain fascinated by the Titanic involves what they can project on the disaster, and that there are lessons that people can draw from the situation in every generation.  The danger in that is that the humanity of the people lost can become dulled over time, but Hopkinson did a great job focusing on the actual people on the ship that fateful night.


I finally got around to reading The Maze Runner, by James Dasher.  It has been recommended to me by students, and also the Tech coordinator at school, and my dentist.  I never wanted to take it from a student, as it had holds on it all year, so I took it home for the summer.  I thought it was an interesting dystopian novel, and I admit that my conceptions about what the maze would be turned out to be incorrect, which I always enjoy in a story.  I think my biggest complaint was the near lack of female characters –  I am not arguing that all stories must have all views represented, but the ending of the story left me with a few questions regarding group composition.

IMG_1690This last graphic novel was my treat for a week filled with rather gloomy reading fare.  This was a fun story, about Babymouse realizing how great her life is, and why she enjoys it.  I know that my elementary students like these graphic novels, and I enjoyed it as well.  It was a quick read, with a story of acceptance.

I started back to work yesterday, so this is my last true summer reading post.  Happy reading everyone!

Summer Reading – Week Seven – Makerspace Research

So, last week I read exactly one book. I did a lot of reading on makerspaces, and watched some video as well, but only finished the one book.


It was Laura Fleming’s great, short text on makerspaces, and how to establish them in your building.  If anyone is thinking of starting a makerspace, this is a great one to read, and at 65 pages, it is a text you can get through easily.  This was a well – written, very practical guide, that helped me get excited about the potential of makerspaces.

I would love to hear from people about their experiences with establishing makerspaces in their own libraries, or museums, or other public spaces.

Summer Reading – Week 6 – A very eclectic mix

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 I did finish All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr,  this week.  The writing was luminous and beautiful, and that the disparate story lines were wove together in an interesting manner.  I am not giving a great deal of background on this one, because the characters are defined by WWII, but also really transcend the time as well.  This is a highly rewarding novel, and fans of WWII novels should enjoy it, but the audience is much wider than that.  Also, anyone that enjoys novels with complex characters will greatly enjoy this.  I would not buy it for any library that caters to readers younger than high school, as there are some very difficult passages throughout, although the book does not dwell on those horrific experiences as much as the will to survive.   My only real complaint about the writing was that it felt like it ended several times.  


     Rachet, by Nancy Cavanaugh, is about an 11 – year – old girl, whose real name is Rachel, but everyone calls her Rachet.  She has always been homeschooled by her father, and she wishes for so many things to change in her life.  She wants to fit in, she wants her environmentalist mechanic dad to be more “normal”, and more than anything, she wants to make a friend.  This is a coming – of – age story that is more about acceptance as a form of change, than an extreme makeover type of change.  It was a refreshing story that allowed Rachel to come into her own.

IMG_1633    The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, is a fantasy novel set in an alternative reality.  In that version of the world, there are several significant differences, with the most significant being that there are wild creatures, made of chalk, that are trying to come into the American Isles – they are centered in the Nebraska Territory, and only Rithmatists can repel them, using their chalk drawings.  This was an interesting, action packed story, with a mystery to root the first in this clear series.  It is an interesting premise, with enough that is different from other stories to be engaging, but enough that is similar for students to grab onto.  Students that enjoy video games, or games or strategy should also enjoy this, as chapters begin with defensive chalk drawings.


This was purely reading for myself.  I have enjoyed the whole series, and thought that Deborah Harkness tied it up well.  If you like Fantasy, especially dealing with witches, vampires, and daemons, with a great basis in history, you will enjoy this grown – up series.

Summer Reading – Week 5 – A little bit of everything


Will in Scarlet is a piece of Historical Fiction, set during the time of Richard I the Lionheart.  It is also a reimagining of Robin Hood, which I gleaned from the cover art, but it did not unfold the way I thought it would, which was a pleasant surprise.  The titular character is really Will Shackley, forced into hiding after his families keep is stolen by a minion of Prince John.  While Richard is off fighting a crusade with Will’s father, Will is forced into Sherwood forest, and falls in with a band of bandits.  While the story is interesting, Will is underdeveloped as a character.  There is, fortunately, another narrator in play as well, and Much is truly interesting.  She is a girl disguised as a boy, and her struggles to stay hidden in plain sight nicely parallel Wills.

IMG_1559My husband gave me this book for my birthday – at the end of a fun scavenger hunt.  I tore through this one, and loved every second.  It features not one, but three unreliable narrators, although Rachel, the Girl on the Train, is at the core.  Rachel’s life is a mess, but the character is so well crafted, that you really pull for her.  It is clear she wants to do better, but is struggling with the aftermath of a tremendous betrayal.  That betrayal, and many others, come together for a riveting novel.  I highly recommend this one!


If you had told me a book about baseball would make me cry, I would have been hard pressed to believe you.  That is, until I read One Shot at Forever, by Chris Ballard.  It is a nonfiction book, and it tells the story of the Macon Ironman baseball team, and their run all the way to the Illinois State Championship.  For anyone that likes a true underdog story, or an inspirational coach/teacher story, this is a great book for you.  Also, as someone who teaching in a rural district, this really captures some of the beats of small town life.  It is well – written, and engaging from the very start.  It also discusses the long range influence of being on a team, not in a sad glory seeking way, but in the creation of true friendships that can see a person through.  At its heart, it focuses on a way to treat people, best illustrated by the following quotation, “Treat people well, believe in them, entrust them with responsibility.  Lift them up.”

Upcoming: this week I also read the majority of All The Light We Cannot See, so that will be on next week’s post, one I finish that.

Summer Reading – Week 4 – A little redemption

For years now, my husband has been encouraging me to read Dune, by Frank Herbert.  This summer, I finally read it, and once I got into the novel, I really did enjoy it.


     Dune is the first of a series of books, this one tells the story of Paul, and the rest of the house of Atreides, as well as the other ducal house they feud with, the Harkonnens.  It is set in the distant future, where space travel is possible due to the spice melange, but where a strict feudal system is in place, with houses controlling entire planets, and a rather insecure emperor ruling over all.  The desert planet of Arrakis, also known as Dune,  is where the action takes place, and the native people, the Fremen, were my favorite part of the book. If you have seen the David Lynch movie, there is a lot of the book that is different, and much better.  I think my husband was a bit surprised at how many times I paused the movie to point out inconsistencies and divergencies, but he was happy that I finally redeemed myself with Dune.


   The second book I read during the week was Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25.  It is clearly the first in a planned series, and is highly action based.  I did feel that the characters could have been more developed, and that the ominous corporation needed to be developed more fully.  The basic premise is that there is a small group of teenagers with special electrical powers, and they are being rounded up for nefarious reasons.  The main character, Michael Vey, has Tourettes, and is small in size.  One day, he gets sick of getting bullied, and he uses his power.  He is seen, and soon there are major problems.  I felt that the premise was interesting, and some of the characters had good potential, but some of the coincidences were rather hard to believe.  There was the feel of an origin story here, but I wish it had been a bit clearer in some cases.


  The second note of redemption in this summer reading week was that I read a graphic novel.  I fell behind in my goal of reading graphic novels this year, so now I am trying to get back on track.  This was both a Caldecott honor book this year, and a Printz honor book, and I found it both easy to read, with beautifully drawn panels, and complex in nature.  Every summer both Rose and Windy, and their families, retreat to the town of Awago Beach for summer vacation.  This year, everything seems complicated, as Rose and Windy are on the verge of growing up, and are both sheltered from, and exposed to, issues that they struggle to comprehend.  It captures loss and pain beautifully, as well as that time when you start to realize your parents are flawed, and they don’t have all of the answers.