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 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.

A little help please

I have failed at my reading resolution regarding graphic novels.  I have been reading, but just not graphic novels.  I have been thinking that summer could be my chance for redemption, and if anyone has suggestions for graphic novels that would be great reads, and that I could use in a K-12 library setting, I would love to hear ideas.  Please post in the comments.


Reading Resolution: March – Part One

This month I grabbed two titles from the junior/senior high graphic novel collection. Essex County Vol.1: Tales from The Farm by Jeff Lemire, a winner of the ALEX Award, published in 2008.  The other graphic novel I chose was Astro City:  Life in the Big City – which I have yet to read.

I don’t know that I have ever read a more compelling depiction of alienation and grief, as the depiction in this graphic novel.  The artwork is fantastic, as the boy, Lester, and his Uncle,  have conflicts, the art mirrors the despair they both feel.  The use of light and dark in the drawings, as well as the frames that slowly build to tell a compelling story, are a study in how the graphic novel form works best.  The use of technique to clearly convey flashback sequences was also highly effective.

I am far from an expert in graphic novels, but I found myself thinking that the artwork in this piece was really teaching me a great deal about what works in graphic novels are done well.

Students who like to read stories of loss and reconciliation will enjoy this beautiful graphic novel, and they may learn something about composition from a clear master.

Reading Resolution: February – Part Two

The second graphic novel for this month is Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler.  It is the first in the Three Thieves series.  This particular graphic novel series came to my attention through student inquiry, and several students have checked out the fifth book since it came in our Junior Library Guild book shipment for the junior high.

The graphic novel is a classic origin story, with the three titular characters starting as circus performers.  Dessa is a 14-year – old acrobat with a tragic past, and is hunting the man that took her brother, Princess Bride style.  Like that movie, this is a team of people with interesting skills, and a great deal of differences to overcome.  The other two members of the team areTopper, a juggler and master thief, and the strongman, Fisk.  It moved quickly, and contained plenty of dangerous situations and action.

This series should appeal to students that enjoy adventure, quests, and the struggle between power and poverty.  It was a quick, engaging read, appropriate for junior high students.

What are your favorite graphic novels?  What really resonates with your students?

Reading Resolution: January -Part Two

Today I finished my second graphic novel for the month, thereby making it at least one month with my resolution intact.

The second graphic novel I read was Skim, with words by Mariko Tamaki, drawings by Jillian Tamaki. It was published in 2008, by Groundwood Books.  The artwork is all in black and white, which works really well for the story of teenage isolation.  Kim, the main character, is called Skim by her largely white classmates.  The story occurs in Canada, and features an incident in which Kim, and the other Asian attendee at a party are kicked out early.  Reflecting on the experience later, she states, “Hien’s parents adopted her from Vietnam two years earlier and she never got invited to parties.  Maybe she thought that’s how people left parties in Canada.  Asians first” (86).  The incident of the party works as a metaphor for her treatment by others throughout the story, as a marginalized and misunderstood figure in her school and homelife.  A near affair with an older female teacher also serves to drive a wedge between herself and her best friend, and the suicide of a student in the opening underscores the concerns others seem to feel for Kim.

The starkness of the art does really underscore the text, but this is not a bleak angst – ridden text.  There is heartbreak, but there is also the quietly moving story of a teenage girl finding her way, while remaining true to herself.  Friendships shift, but Kim also discovers at least one new friend during the story, and continues to create art.

This would be a good addition to a high school collection, ours does carry a YA label that I found appropriate,  the text is set in the early 1990’s, and casual smoking is present, as well as explorations of sexuality.