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.


Title Confusion: These Shallow Graves vs. Shallow Graves

Within the last three months we have had two new additions to the Jr/Sr high collection that have very similar titles. These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, and Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace.  I am planning on recording a book talk to post for my students, and I thought that might make a fun series of book talks, because there are a lot of books with either identical or very similar titles.

Both of these novels have an element of mystery to them, but they are rather different in some elements.

Shallow Graves, by Kali Wallace, starts with Breezy waking up in a shallow grave, with a man standing over her.  She pulls, and suddenly he is dead, and she is walking around.  She realizes she can see who is a killer or not, and that she can kill anyone who is themselves, a killer.  As she travels around the country looking for some answers, she encounters others, and gets some answers.  This is a supernatural thriller, there are plenty of scary moments, and times I was not sure about the outcome.  I think this would be a good pick for students that like books that are scary, and that involve creatures from various traditions.  There is not a lot of background given about those creatures, so they may want other books after that explain some of the creatures in more detail.  That said, there is also quite a bit of humor in the story as well.  For instance, she once introduces herself in the following way, “Hi. I’m Beezy.  I’m the reanimated corpse your brother found in Wyoming”(Wallace 189).  In some regards the humor around supernatural issues reminded me of Gil’s All Fright Diner, which is one of my favorite books.

These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly, also follow a young woman on a quest.  In this case, Jo Montfort is trying to figure out what really happened to her father.  His death was ruled  accidental, but it is clear something else happened.  It is 1890s New York City, however, and her family belongs to the privileged elite, which means that she cannot easily investigate without risking her reputation.  This is a great story, with plenty of action, but also the sense of how stifling Jo’s place in society truly is.  There are some great action scenes in this story as well, as her situation becomes more and more perilous.

Both novels feature scary sequences.  Also, the protagonists have some similarities, as Jo longs to be a reporter like Nellie Bly, and Breezy has always dreamed of becoming a Mars astronaut.  These goals and dreams strongly shape both of these characters, as well as societal expectations that they must fight against.


On making a book trailer

For one of the classes I am taking this semester, I needed to create a book trailer.  I read a book we had just received from our Junior Library Guild Subscription, These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly.  It is a historical fiction mystery, set in New York City in the 1890s – which seems to be a fairly popular setting in YA fiction.  I enjoyed the novel, and thought especially that the depictions of social constraints for all types of people in that setting were well used.  Also, as a Jennifer Donnelly novel, the characters are engaging and rich, and I found myself cringing as the heroine, Jo Montfort, was often in dangerous situations.

I then set about creating my trailer, and I admit, the whole process easily took me more hours than the literature review I had due for my other class did.  I began by using an iMovie template, but found it to be unworkable.  I was not able to modify the template at all, and while it did have great features, I decided to abandon it and go another route.  ( I have subsequently been informed that you can save a template as a project, and then modifications are much more possible).

After a quick internet search, I happened across an article by Richard Byrne called, “Free Technology for Teachers: 5 Free Tools for Creating Book Trailer Videos”.  I had used Animoto in the past, but my free trial had ended, and I was not sure if I could justify the purchase price at this time.  I decided to try Masher, as it offered the tools I needed.

I was able to create a pretty good video between using Masher and music from the Free Music Archive – but then I could not get it to download.  Tech support from Masher was helpful throughout, but we never did fix the issue.  They did suggest next time I sign up as an educator and try it that way, so that might be an avenue I do consider.

At this point I was cursing the entire concept of Book Trailers, and ended up emailing a librarian listserv I belong to.  They were, of course, highly helpful, and one person suggested the Chrome extension WeVideo.  I installed that, and it worked very well.  My video worked, and it was easy to add text to the still images I had found.  I will say the saving grace for me was that as I found images, I copied and pasted their link into a Google Drive document, so I could find the images later and cite them correctly.  Also, I saved the images to my photos and desktop so I could get them again later.

Finally done with that, I spent the next hour or two on my works cited page, thinking perhaps historical fiction, with the difficulties in image finding, was not the best original choice.

I admit my attitude was pretty bad regarding the whole episode, until a couple of days later, when a student came into the library with tech issues of their own.  I worked with them on troubleshooting, and even suggested WeVideo as an alternative to Screencastify.  They decided to stay with the original program, but the interaction made me realize that unless I am willing to try new programs and technology, how will I continue to help my students?  Also, I will not glibly throw off the suggestion to just, “make a book trailer”, without coming up with some appropriate guides and help for my students first.

I am not going to share my finished project here for a couple of reasons.  1 – All I can see are the mistakes on this one. 2. – I have a works cited page, but I lack the rights for a lot of the images, and I don’t want to be a poor steward of copyright law.

Summer Reading – Week 3 – Mysterious Circumstances


        This novel is a great, timely account.  Tariq Johnson is murdered, shot down on the street, after he is stopped by someone who thinks he is a thief (although he is not), and someone driving by gets out of their car and shoots Tariq.  Tariq is 16 and black, and the shooter is an adult white male, Jack Franklin.  The fact that Tariq is dead is tragic, and clear – but almost nothing else is agreed on in the twisting narrative.

Told through various viewpoints, from Tariq’s best friend, to Jack Franklin, to witnesses, almost no one agrees with what they saw.  Whether Tariq had a gun or not becomes clear to the reader, but not to anyone else.  A wonderfully written reflection on an all – too – common occurrence, this novel would be great for a book club discussion, and as a text for multiple perspectives on the same event.


    A student mentioned this novel to me, and, as a fan of Gone Girl, I thought about trying it out.  Then, I saw it in three stores before finally buying it – both times before I ended up reading part of the book in the aisle. Libby Day, the protagonist, is the survivor of the massacre of her family, the only other survivor, was her brother Ben, and he is in jail for killing her family.  Libby feels that she is bad herself, and has a hard time dealing with adult life.  With her money running out, she agrees to investigate what really happened to her family that day in January when she was seven.

The novel does switch viewpoints between the past and present, and you get the stories of Ben, and well as Patty, the mother of the family.  There are occasionally other characters that get to narrate as well, but it was a triller that had a surprising ending.


     I picked this up on vacation, and it was different from any other ghost story collection I have read.  The first half was old newspaper articles from the history of Galena, which had references to ghost or other mysterious happenings.  The second half was a more traditional retelling of ghostly occurrences at various houses in the area.  It was compiled by the Galena/Jo Daviess Historical society, and I enjoyed especially the historical newspaper articles.

Summer Reading – Week 2

IMG_1395This book is really very funny, and has a fun narrator, who is always making fun of himself, and his awkward encounters with people.  While he is telling the story of what it was like to have a friend that dies of cancer, the book is really about Greg Gaines, the narrator.  The novel is sometimes crass, sometimes touching, but at its core is about an original voice, with an interesting cast of characters.  I really did find myself laughing several times.


      This was a pitch black tale of a tragic death by murder, and the vengeance that begins next.  The first section is where we learn that the teacher in the story is leaving the profession, partly because of the death of her four year old daughter.  When she tells the class that two of their classmates were responsible for the death, events begin to spiral out from there.  The rest of the novel is told from different viewpoints, a different viewpoint each section, and each section is riveting, and well written.  We also see the path of evil, and what varied paths come from seeking vengeance instead of justice. This is the type of novel that I think will stay with me for some time.


While at the library with my son the other day, I told him I wanted to get a book for myself, as well as the books we were getting for him.  We were passing the new book display, and he grabbed this one for me.  It sounded interesting, so I gave it a try.  This turned out to be a great random choice, and paired well with Confessions.

Lacy Eye is the story of Hanna Schutt, a woman who, three years ago, survived the brutal beating that killed her husband.  Her daughter’s boyfriend was convicted of the crimes, and Hanna has no memory of that night.  The action of the novel begins when Hanna is told that Rud Petty will get a new trial, and that the D.A. wants her to testify, because it seems that Rud will go free otherwise.  As Hanna struggles to remember that night, she is also faced with derision from people that are convinced her daughter Dawn was involved, and the stressor of Dawn moving back home.  Hanna moves forward with her life, and backward in her memories, trying to grasp the truth.  Hanna is a well- drawn, interesting character; and this is a great mystery/ crime story, but it is generally the story of a family


      The last novel I read this week was Heartlight, by T.A. Barron.  I found it while I was doing a project in the library that involved adding external labels to series, and T.A. Barron had at least two, if not three series, so I thought I should give one a go.  While this was called Sci – Fi  in the blurbs, I think it reads more like a Fantasy.  It did remind me strongly of A Wrinkle in Time, although this novel, published in 1990, felt more dated than A Wrinkle in Time.  Parts of it also felt familiar, so it is possible I read this as a junior high student when it first came out.

Summer reading – Week one

My last day of work for the school year was June 5, and I have had the pleasure to read a wide and varied assortment of books this first week off.

IMG_1386The first book I read was Countdown, the first of a planned trilogy on the 1960s.  For those that are interested in paired texts, this novel has non-fiction throughout, which give the readers the context they need to understand the time period.  The novel itself is a coming – of – age story, told by misunderstood middle child Fanny Chapman.  It is set during the Cuban missile crisis, and sets up the Civil Rights Movement as well.  In order for middle school students to understand the historical context, there are frequent breaks where historical nonfiction  is included.  An interesting novel in a mixed medium format.  I did enjoy it, although I admit that sometimes the story felt contrived in order to explain the history of the time.


The second novel I read was also the first book in a series.  Some of this comes from the fact that I have been pulling series books in the junior/senior high school library, and putting external labels on them so the order is clear.  As a result, several interesting books have come to my attention.  This one caught my attention because of the cover text that said, “Chocolate is contraband. Caffeine is illegal.”  It is set in the near future, about 2 -3 generations away from our present time.  There are shortages in several ways, and Anya, the protagonist of the novel, is the daughter of an infamous crime boss, the leader of the Balanchine family.  This was a fascinating story, full of intrigue, star – crossed lovers, and difficult choices.  I really enjoyed this one, and it was set in a slightly dystopian future, but the focus was really on the characters and their lives.

IMG_1389Novel number three was the fascinating start to the Iron Trial Series.  I am a fan of both Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and this did not disappoint.  I am really excited to see where the rest of the series goes.  While the premise of a magical test and magical school might appear to have similarities to other series, and I was reminded of A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter, I did not see the end reveals coming – and I will leave it at that.

IMG_1390Counting by 7s was the fourth book of the week, and I found it to be rather interesting, although I found some of this to be a re-tread of common ground, in that the gifted child in the book, Willow Chance,  seemed almost to have magical powers.  The characters she encounters after a terrible tragedy are interesting, and interconnect in great ways, but I did find myself wondering about  Roberta and Jimmy Chance on more than one occasion.

IMG_1393 This was the book I was able to take from my local public library after I signed up for the adult reading program.  It was a very interesting tale that alternated between the current time with the quest of Tristan to find out about his ancestors, and the story of Ashley Walsingham and Imogen Soames – Andersson, star crossed lovers from the past.  I really enjoyed the sections from WWI and an early Everest expedition, but I did feel that some parts of Tristan’s story could have been a bit clearer, and I am glad to have the novel, because I think I need to re-read the ending a couple of times. IMG_1392

Finally, I ended the week with a personal indulgence.  I love Agatha Christie novels, and I have a small collection of them.  This was my newest addition, and it is an early Hercule Poirot story.  They mystery was great, as usual, and I even figured out part of it! That is always a triumph for me with a Christie novel.  My favorite part of this was Poirot’s delicious rivalry with a French detective.

What is everyone reading this summer?  I had some extra time on my hands this week, as my car was in the shop on some rainy days, but we shall see how the rest of the summer goes.