On the Come Up
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 5, 2019 by Balzer + Bray
GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
My Review: After reading this book, I promptly went into my course syllabus for next semester and swapped out another book to include this one. There are so many things that I love about this book. In particular, I really liked how this book tackled the issues of violence against and the assumptions stereotypically made of black females. There are only a few other recent books that tackle these issues, and they are critically important. I get incredibly frustrated by assumptions like “aggressive black female.” Angie Thomas deftly addresses these assumptions and provides a variety of angles for readers. Bri, the narrator, is incredibly strong, and I admire her greatly. I will never have a daughter, but if I did, I would be so proud if my daughter turned out to be like her. This book just feels different from any book that I’ve read. It offers something different that is going to make for great classroom conversations.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am going to be using this book in a Social Movements and Collective Action course. I will be using it with other texts to talk about the history and currency of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I am very excited that this book exists in the world, and I know that my students will love it.
Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?
Flagged Passage: “There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”
Read This If You Loved: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; X by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Bat and the End of Everything (Bat #3)
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 26th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press
Summary: Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat) has been the caretaker for Thor, the best skunk kit in the world… but the last day of third grade is quickly approaching, and Thor is almost ready to be released into the wild.
The end of school also means that Bat has to say good-bye to his favorite teacher, and he worries about the summer care of Babycakes, their adorable class pet. Not only that, but his best friend is leaving for a long vacation in Canada.
Summer promises good things, too, like working with his mom at the vet clinic and hanging out with his sister, Janie. But Bat can’t help but feel that everything is coming to an end.
National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold returns with the third story starring an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.
About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet—a gorgeous mare named Rainbow—and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens, including Damsel a Michael Prinz Honor Book, and What Girls are Made of, a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.
Praise for Previous Titles in the Series:
“Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.” -Kirkus Review, Bat #1
“A winsome blend of humor and heart, vibrant characters, and laugh-out-loud dialogue, Arnold’s narrative also gracefully explores life through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum.” -Booklist, Bat #2
Review: Bat is dealing with the school year ending and while everyone else is excited, Bat knows that the end of the school year means the end of his time with Thor, Babycakes, Mr. Grayson, and even his best friend for the summer. For a kid that struggles with change, this is a mighty big change that he is going to have to deal with (the book begins with 4 days until summer begins). A transitional period like this can be hard for any kid, and Bat’s struggles with these changes is one that many a kid will connect with.
And although Bat’s stories are primarily character-driven, Arnold does a great job giving Bat hiccups along the way to move along his story.
But do you know what my favorite thing is about Arnold’s writing in Bat? Her imagery. Bat is so in tune with his senses and Arnold does a great job writing about what Bat is hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting which allows readers to be drawn into Bat’s world and also help understand Bat’s point of view.
I am a pretty big fan of Bat’s books–I love their quiet strength and the compassion within the pages. And this book really is everything I wanted from the final book in the series. If you don’t listen to anything else I say in this review, just go pick up the first Bat book and sit down and get ready for a purely enjoyable read.
Flagged Passages: “Chapter One: An Offer
How do you say good-bye to a friend?
That’s what Bixby Alexander Tam (known to everyone as Bat) was thinking about, sitting with Babycakes, the class rabbit, in the pen at the back of Mr. Grayson’s class. It was the first Monday in June. In four days, the school year would end, and Bat would have to say good-bye.”
“Chapter Two: A Perfect Plan
Soon the classroom was full of noise and color and smells and movement as Bat’s classmates poured inside.
Mei, who sat in the desk to the right of Bat’s, smelled like strawberries today.
‘You smell like strawberries,’ Bat said.
‘I got a new shampoo,’ Mei said, smiling. ‘Do you like it?’
‘Yes,’ said Bat.
‘Thank you,’ said Mei, which was a weird thing to do–to thank someone for liking something.
But Bat knew that what he’d said made Mei happy. ‘You’re welcome.’
All around him, kids were laughing and unzipping their backpacks and scraping back their chairs and tapping their pencils. It was the last week of school, after all. Everyone was excited.
Well, almost everyone. Bat was not excited.”
Read This If You Love: Rules by Cynthia Lord; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; The Categorical Universe of Candace McPhee by Barry Jonsberg; Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin; How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby; Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina; Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez; Wonder by RJ Palacio
Don’t Miss the Other Blog Tour Stops!
March 26 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 27 Kirsti Call @kirsticall
March 30 Read Now Sleep Later @frootjoos
April 1 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl
April 2 The Book Monsters @thebookmonster
April 3 Educate*Empower*Inspire…Teach @melissaguerrette
April 4 Librarian’s Quest @loveofxena
April 5 Novel Novice @novelnovice
Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders
Lit Coach Lou @litcoachlou
**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy of the text for review!!**
The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly
Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Published March 5th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press
Summary: Charlie O’Reilly is an only child. Which is why it makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his brother. Liam, his eight-year-old kid brother, who, up until a year ago, slept in the bunk above Charlie, took pride in being as annoying as possible, and was the only person who could make Charlie laugh until it hurt.
Then came the morning when the bunk, and Liam, disappeared forever. No one even remembers him—not Charlie’s mother, who has been lost in her own troubles; and not Charlie’s father, who is gone frequently on business trips. The only person who believes Charlie is his best friend, Ana—even if she has no memory of Liam, she is as determined as Charlie is to figure out what happened to him.
The search seems hopeless—until Charlie receives a mysterious note, written in Liam’s handwriting. The note leads Charlie and Ana to make some profound discoveries about a magic they didn’t know existed, and they soon realize that if they’re going to save Liam, they may need to risk being forgotten themselves, forever.
About the Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari is a former ER doctor. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly is her first book. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, four sons, and some seriously massive pets.
Praise: “As puzzle pieces click into place, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly reveals that it’s stories—and family—that make us whole. A deeply satisfying and beautiful book.” —Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of The Question of Miracles
Review: Read the flagged passage below… I’ll wait…
Welcome back. Those are the first few paragraphs of the book. Wow, right?! One of my favorite beginnings ever, and I was so excited to share it with anyone who would listen (I tweeted it, I read it to my students, I read it to anyone!) And yes, the rest of the book lives up to the expectations of that amazing start.
I was so impressed with the crafting of this novel, specifically as a debut novel. The author combines narratives, adds twists and turns, and keeps you guessing throughout the novel. The direction you think the novel is going to go is ever changing so predictions are impossible to make. All of these aspects made for an enjoyable novel that, as the name suggests, is a puzzle waiting to be put together.
Rebecca K.S. Ansari also did a wonderful job threading different big ideas throughout the book: acceptance, guilt, friendship, hope, trust, depression. Different sections of the book highlight these different big ideas and could be used for great discussions. The book also, as you can see, deals with some really tough and dark big ideas, but I think this narrative will give many students a jumping off point for talking about some of the struggles and ideas in Charlie’s story.
And the characters in the book are well-crafted and multi-dimensional. Each character has a full story that is developed to allow the reader to truly get to know the world that Charlie is adventuring in. I specifically loved the friendship between Charlie and Ana–an unexpected friendship that was built on trust, believing, and support.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Publisher-Created Educators’ Guide
Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, The Lost Girls by Anne Ursu, Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken, The Grave by James Heneghan, Kit’s Wilderness by David Arnold
Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops:
March 8 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 9 The Book Monsters @TheBookMonsters
March 11 LitCoach Lou @litcoachlou
March 12 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl
March 13 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust @bethshaum
March 14 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke
March 15 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders
March 18 March Middle Grade Madness at Word Spelunking @wordspelunker
March 29 Writers’ Rumpus @kirsticall
**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review and giveaway!!**
The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen
Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC
- National Book Award
- Pura Belpré Award
- Michael L. Printz Award
- Golden Kite Award Honor Book
★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)
★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)
“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost
“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.
With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change, Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words.
Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one.
As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
- How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
- How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
- Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?
Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
- How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
- What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?
Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
- Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.
- I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
- My brother was born a soft whistle:
quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
But I was born all the hurricane he needed
to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
- Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
- While I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo:
Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/
Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams
Where the Heart Is
Author: Jo Knowles
Published April 2, 2019 by Candlewick Press
GoodReads Summary: If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.
It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.
Review: I absolutely adored this book. Jo Knowles tackles critical issues that are not as common in middle grade literature. The Rachel’s family faces foreclosure of their house—a home in which she is deeply rooted. She feels as if a piece of her identity will be lost. Further, she is experiencing many emotions regarding her sexuality. She is questioning, and those around her are placing pressure on her to make a choice. I’d love to use this book in the classroom setting. The coming of age issues are very real for our young people, and Jo Knowles does not shy away from digging deeply into critical topics.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students visually map different themes of the novel. The complexity of this novel is rich, and students would be able to visualize the themes with supporting quotations.
- What are some of the struggles that Rachel faces?
- What do we know about Micah? How does he change in the novel?
- What is the role of Rachel’s sister (Ivy) in the novel? What does she teach us?
Flagged Passages: “When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them.” (p. 246)
Read This If You Loved: Anything written by Jo Knowles, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya, Perfect by Natasha Friend, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Zack Delacruz by Jeff Anderson
It’s Not Hansel and Gretel
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Anticipated Publication: March 1, 2019 by Two Lions
Goodreads Summary: In the fairytale mashup, Hansel and Gretel talk back to the narrator, refusing to play their roles.
About the Creators:
Like Hansel and Gretel, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go—so he writes his own. He is the author of a bunch of picture books, including the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, and recently; How to Code a Sandcastle, illustrated by Sara Palacios; and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. He lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.
Edwardian Taylor has worked as a visual development artist and character designer in the game and animation industry. He illustrated the picture book Race!, written by Sue Fliess and the chapter book Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required, written by Brian Lynch. He lives in Texas with his partner and their four dogs. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com and follow him on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter @edwardiantaylor.
Ricki’s Review: When I brought this home, my sons squealed. My two-year-old ran into his room to grab It’s Not Jack in the Beanstalk to prove that he saw comparisons between the two books. We’ve had this book for a couple of weeks, and I’ve read it numerous times. It’s very fun to read aloud, and the story offers so much for teachers and classrooms (see below). The book makes me laugh, and I love the addition of adult humor to keep me as entertained as my children. When I teach my college course of Teaching Reading, we talk about picture books that are transferable to secondary classrooms, as well. This picture book would serve as a great mentor text within middle and high school classrooms. It is wonderfully conceived and cleverly written.
Kellee’s Review: As a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, I love when authors come up with a new and unique concept around the tales that we all know and love, and Josh Funk has done just that again taking the hilarity of It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk to a whole new level! The addition of a second character to interact with the narrator made the humor double the fun. And don’t think that this is just a normal Hansel and Gretel story with a twist, it is a Gretel and Hansel story with a twist! I love that Josh Funk could take something we know and love and still surprise us–that shows talent and a book that is going to be loved for a long time!
Side note: I was lucky enough to receive two copies of this book, so I shared one with Trent’s classroom, and I have been told it is the book he picks up each day! Here is a picture of him reading it to a classmate by using visual cues.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book offers so many opportunities for students. To support writing, students might use this book to retell a fairy tale of their own or as a mentor text to add humor to their work. To support reading and speaking, this book would be wonderful to use for readers’ theater! And just for fun, teachers might turn this book into a scavenger hunt! Every page has a plethora of well-known characters, and they are fun to find!
Discussion Questions: What story does the narrator want to tell? How does it get interrupted?; There are two parallel sides to this story. Which did you believe? Do you think that the parents really lost Hansel and Gretel? Why or why not?; How do the author and illustrator add humor to the story?
Read This If You Loved: It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk; Dear Dragon by Josh Funk; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
**Thank you go Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for providing copies for review and giveaway!**
(Every Day #3)
Author: David Levithan
Published October 2nd, 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Scroll through the following handout for an explanation of complexity and examples/discussion questions from Someday by David Levithan:
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