Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

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Promise Boys
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: January 31, 2023 by Macmillan

Goodreads Summary: The Hate U Give meets One of Us Is Lying in Nick Brooks’s Promise Boys, a trailblazing, blockbuster mystery about three teen boys of color who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names—for fans of Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Karen McManus.

“A brilliant pulls-no-punches mystery with bruised hearts at its core.” —Adam Silvera, #1 New York Times bestselling author of They Both Die at the End

“Thrilling, captivating, and blade-sharp. Promise Boys will stay with you long after the last page.” —Karen M. McManus, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying

The Urban Promise Prep School vows to turn boys into men. As students, J.B., Ramón, and Trey are forced to follow the prestigious “program’s” strict rules. Extreme discipline, they’ve been told, is what it takes to be college bound, to avoid the fates of many men in their neighborhoods. This, the Principal Moore Method, supposedly saves lives.

But when Moore ends up murdered and the cops come sniffing around, the trio emerges as the case’s prime suspects. With all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. But is the true culprit hiding among them?

Ricki’s Review: After reading this book, I adopted it for my young adult literature class this semester. This required me to a) change my book order–which makes several people annoyed, b) adjust my syllabus and move sections around, and c) message the campus book store that, yes, I know that the book isn’t out yet, but I still want them to pre-order it.

I say all of this to demonstrate how much I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of Monster by Walter Dean Mayes a bit in the topic. Three teenage boys are all suspected of murdering their principal. The book is written from the different perspectives and allows the reader to explore any biases they might hold about teenage boys of color. It is set in a very strict school that thinks that hyper discipline will fix kids. This is an important book. I am so glad it exists, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book for students to analyze the rules that come with their schools and within other systems. They might then write narratives related to the rules that they perceive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • When you were reading the book, who did you think did it?
  • Why does the school use discipline? What are their assumptions?
  • What did you learn from this book?

Flagged Spreads: “Rumor has it a student brought a gun to school the day of the murder. You didn’t hear that from me.”

Recommended For: 

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Play Like a Girl by Misty Wilson, Illustrated by David Wilson

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Play Like a Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Misty Wilson
Illustrator: David Wilson
Published: September 22, 2022 by Balzer + Bray

Goodreads Summary: Debut author Misty Wilson chronicles her seventh-grade experience as the only girl on her town’s football team in this empowering graphic memoir about teamwork, friendship, crushes, and touchdowns.

Misty never shies away from a challenge, on or off the field. So when the boys tell her she can’t play football, there’s only one thing to do: join their team and show them what she’s got.

But the training is rougher than she thought—and so are the other guys, who aren’t thrilled about having a girl on their team.

Middle school isn’t so easy, either. Misty wants to fit in with the popular kids, but they think a girl playing football is “weird.” Even her best friend doesn’t get it.

Can Misty find a way to score points with her teammates, make new friends, and show everyone—including herself—what it means to play like a girl?

“I am a huge fan of Misty and her courageous journey of staying true to herself. Readers will love her!” —Terri Libenson, New York Times bestselling author of the Emmie & Friends series

“This is the book I wish I’d had as a kid. Misty’s passion for football and her fight to play in a male-dominated sport while balancing friendship and crushes makes for a winning read!” —Dr. Jen Welter, first female NFL coach, first female running back in men’s pro football, and founder of Grrridiron Girls.

Ricki’s Review: I loved this graphic memoir. It felt very real to me, and the scenes really packed a punch. I especially loved the football scenes, which were full of great plays and amazing strategies. I wish I’d had this book when I was a middle school girl. In the scenes where the boys were rude, I remembered a similar comment when I was in 8th grade taking tech ed.

The book does a particularly good job depicting middle school. It’s a tough time and a struggle for a lot of kids, and I think middle schoolers will find solace in this book. There are great themes of identity and friendship.

I’ve already recommended this book to several young people, and I am so glad it exists!

Kellee’s Review: Misty Wilson’s memoir starts with “I wish someone had told me middle school would be so hard.” As a middle school educator, I felt this and knew that this books as going to hold some middle school truths. And it did: growing up, figuring out who you are, finding and keeping friends, navigating crushes, and more. All of this is so tough in middle school, so having a book to read about it really helps middle schoolers navigate it all.

I really loved reading Misty’s story. I, too, was a tomboy who didn’t do make up, would love to play a sport more than anything, and just couldn’t figure out how to be a good friend with the people who I thought I should be friends with. So much of middle school is fighting who you really are versus who everyone else and society wants you to be (and ignoring the mean comments along the way). This story was refreshing and will definitely find readers in middle school.

Play Like a Girl will add to the books I can recommend to Telgemeier fans, and it has the extra topic of football which will lend itself to finding even more readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is a great tool for teachers who are teaching memoir. It demonstrates how illustrations can depict a story richly and realistically. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What struggles does Misty experience?
  • What words would you use to describe Misty, and why?
  • What did you learn from this book?
  • Is this a book that is just for girls? Why might all kids learn from this book?

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Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Katie at HarperCollins for providing us with copies of this text for honest reviews!**

Everybody Counts! by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Illustrated by Emma Graham

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Everybody Counts!
Author: Matt Forrest Esenwine
Illustrator: Emma Graham
Published January 1st, 2023 by Little Fig

Summary: “Everyone is helpful, in large and small amounts. Everybody matters. Everybody counts!”

So begins Everybody Counts!, a creative foreign-language counting picture book. Get a taste of diversity as you explore this far-reaching festival of food and count your way to a full plate of fun.

 Everybody Counts! makes learning numbers fun as young ones discover new foods and languages from around the world. Explore favorite foods from twelve countries. Illustrations highlight the animals and numerical symbols that represent each country.

Review: Esenwine’s Everybody Counts shows the ties between us all as it counts through 12 different languages along with animals from that country sharing now only the language with us but also food and culture of each country. Each spread is so thoughtfully created with colorful illustrations of each animal and their favorite food fill the spread.

Learn more about the book and its creation at Matt Forrest Esenwine’s Cover Reveal Blog Post.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Everybody Counts is created for the classroom with opportunities to learn different languages as well as a guide to share each students’ favorite food and more!

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Counting books, Books about food, Books about different countries

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!!**

You So Black by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D., Illustrated by London Ladd

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You So Black
Author: Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published January 10, 2023 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Based on Theresa Wilson’s (a.k.a. Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.’s) beautiful, viral spoken word poem of the same name, You So Black is a picture book celebration of the richness, the nuance, and the joy of Blackness.

Black is everywhere, and in everything, and in everyone—in the night sky and the fertile soil below. It’s in familial connections and invention, in hands lifted in praise and voices lifted in protest, and in hearts wide open and filled with love. Black is good.

Accompanied by powerful yet tender illustrations by award-winning illustrator London Ladd, Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. has adapted her poem, full of gorgeous lyricism and imagery, to show readers the love, joy, resilience, and universality in the beauty of Blackness.

About the Creators: 

Theresa Wilson a.k.a. Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. is a musical, lyrical and theatrical alchemist, sprinkling magic like hot sauce. She is best known for her appearance on the 2019 Trumpet Awards on Bounce TV, and the now viral recitation of “You So Black.” Theresa is from the south suburbs of Chicago but calls Atlanta home. She holds a degree in commercial music from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

London Ladd is a graduate of Syracuse University with an MFA in illustration. He uses a unique mixed media approach, combining cut paper textured with acrylic paint, tissue paper and colored pencil to bring his diverse subjects to life. London’s artwork is steeped in intensity and emotion, a reflection of the artist himself. His hope is that You So Black will be passed down through generations, reaffirming African Americans’ strength, beauty, power and love. His goal is to open a visual arts community center where lower-income families can create their own art. London lives in Syracuse, New York.

Review: This celebration of blackness is beautifully written and is made to be read out loud. The verse, combined with London Ladd’s dynamic yet warm collages, come together to create a book that shows the beauty, resilience, and brilliance of blackness. The author takes a “historically charged insult” and takes back the ownership and shows how “You So Black” is something to be proud of and in love with.

Essential reading: The interview with the creators at KidLit in Color!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This beautiful picture book definitely belongs on the shelves of everywhere that students who need it can find it.

However, I also picture it being used to introduce spoken word poetry. The picture book in conjunction with the original spoken word poem can be used together and start conversations about rhythm, rhyme, articulation, prosody, etc. as well as other poetic elements like figurative language, specifically similes, and imagery.

Also, in conjunction with the interview linked below, it would lend itself to a great conversation about author’s purpose with evidence from the interview.

Flagged Passages: 

Original Spoken Word Poem: 


Read This If You Love: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o & Vashti Harrison, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes & Gordon C. James, The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson & Rafael López, All Because You Matter and We Are Here by Tami Charles & Bryan Collier, I am Enough and I Believe I Can by Grace Byers & Keturah A. Bobo

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy for review!!**

K is for Kindness by Rina Horiuchi, Illustrated by Risa Horiuchi

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K is for Kindness
Author: Rina Horiuchi
Illustrator: Risa Horiuchi
Published: April 26, 2022 by Viking Books

Goodreads Summary: Debut author/illustrator and sister duo have crafted a sweet ABC book that expresses how kindness can be found anywhere.

Ape picks an apple for Aardvark below.
Bat puts a bandage on Brown Bear’s big toe.

From aardvark to zebra, this delightful cast of animal characters illustrates the many ways to show kindness to others, while teaching the youngest readers their ABCs.

Debut author/illustrator and sister duo Rina Horiuchi and Risa Horiuchi have crafted a warm and tender gift that affirms kindness can be found anywhere.

Ricki’s Review: This book is just so charming. It is a great way to learn the alphabet along with all of the ways that we can be kind. The book doesn’t feel didactic, and it was enjoyable for me, as an adult reader. There aren’t just simple animal names on each page, but instead, they read like this: ““Narwhal takes Newt, his new neighbor, to lunch.” The repetition is really helpful for young readers. I’ve been having my 6-year-old read it to my 3-year-old, and it makes my heart swell. I love the ending, in which readers are asked how they are kind—this allowed for some great discussions in our house.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book inspires me to want to choose an emotion or an abstract concept to make my own alphabet book! Kids would have a lot of fun making a shared book together!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which page was your favorite, and why?
  • How do you demonstrate kindness?
  • How do the pictures and words work together to create a vivid representation of kindness?

Flagged Spread: 

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Rina and Risa for this phenomenal book! It is a great addition to children’s literature!**

Kellee’s 2022 Reading Round Up: Statistics, Favorite Reads, #mustreadin2022 End-of-Year Check In, #mustreadin2023 List, and Random 2023 Reading Challenges

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Here is my 2022 Reading Round Up!


And just for fun: here is Trent’s 2022 Year in Books!
(It was my first year we tracked his independent reading on Goodreads; it was so much fun to get this data at the end of the year!)


Here are my favorite books read in 2022! Although not all of them are 2022 published books, 43 of them are (and 1 is even 2023). If you want to learn about these books visit my FAVORITE READS IN 2022 Goodreads shelf


I introduced my #mustreadin2022 list last January (<– visit that link to see the list in its entirety), and I will say that I was quite successful! I read 36 out of 42 books on my list!


I love the Must Read challenge! I took part in 2015-2019 & 2021-2022, so I am happy to join again! It helps me remember to read certain books!

Thank you to Carrie at There’s A Book for That for starting this challenge and to Leigh Ann of A Day in the Life and Cheriee of Library Matters for reviving it in 2022.

For those of you new to the challenge, it has you take a look at the books you wanted to read, but for whatever reason, you have not gotten to them. You then make your own personal list of books you want to commit to (trying to) read.

There is no set number of books and books can be published from any year, in any genre or format, and in any category. These books will not be the only ones you read this year but will be the ones included in your personal challenge.

This year, I may have gone a bit wild with my lists. I just couldn’t choose! (If you follow here, you know that is a trend of mine…) This means, I ended up with 64 titles on my #mustreadin2023 list which I’ve separated into middle grade and young adult. (And to be honest, I am tempted to make an adult and graphic novel/manga list because I love having these lists as reminders!)

Middle Grade

  1. 12 to 22 by Jen Calonita
  2. The Accidental Apprentice (Wildlore #1) by Amanda Foody
  3. Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
  4. Answers in the Pages by David Levithan
  5. Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer by James S. Murray & Carsen Smith
  6. Astrid the Unstoppable by Majia Parr
  7. Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron
  8. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
  9. The Mystery of Clockwork Sparrow (Sinclair’s Mysteries #1) by Katherine Woodfine
    *Oops! I thought it was just named The Clockwork Sparrow but it isn’t, so it is out of order alphabetically…
  10. Consider the Octopus by Nora Raleigh Baskin & Gae Polisner
  11. Cuba in my Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas
  12. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (Emmy #1) by Lynne Jonell
  13. Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Brooks by Caela Carter
  14. The First Rule of Climate Club by Carrie Firestone
  15. H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education (HIVE #1) by Mark Walden
  16. Troublemaker by John Cho
    *Oops! I thought it was named John Cho Troublemaker but it isn’t, so it is out of order alphabetically
  17. Love Like Sky #1 by Leslie C. Youngblood
  18. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
  19. The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart
  20. My Own Lightning by Lauren Wolk
  21. New From Here by Kelly Yang
  22. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Wingfeather Saga #1) by Andrew Peterson
  23. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Penderwicks #1) by Jeanne Birdsall
  24. A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
  25. The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
  26. Race to the End of the World (Mapmaker Chronicles #1) by A.L. Tait
  27. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
  28. A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  29. Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
  30. The Tornado by Jake Burt
  31. Tuesdays at the Castle (Castle Glower #1) by Jessica Day George
  32. Tumble by Celia Pérez
  33. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (The Vanderbeekers #1) by Karina Yan Glaser
  34. Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

Young Adult

  1. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  2. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
  3. Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
    *This is a reread. I want to read the sequels, so I am starting at the beginning.
  4. The Extraordinaries (Extraordinaries #1) by T.J. Klune
    *This is a reread. I want to read the sequels, so I am starting at the beginning.
  5. Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by Candace Fleming, M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park, and Lisa Ann Sandell
  6. The First to Die at the End (Death Cast #0) by Adam Silvera
  7. Five Survive by Holly Jackson
  8. Flight 171 by Amy Christine Parker
  9. Furia by Yamila Saied Méndez
  10. Gamechanger by Neal Shusterman
  11. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  12. Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed
  13. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
  14. The Ivies by Alexa Donne
  15. Legendborn (Legendborn #1) by Tracy Deonn
  16. The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
  17. Me: Moth by Amber McBride
  18. Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime by Candance Fleming
  19. The Murder Game by Carrie Doyle
  20. The Naturals (The Naturals #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  21. Nothing More to Tell by Karen McManus
  22. Queer Ducks (And Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer
  23. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
  24. The Selection (Selection #1) by Keira Cass
  25. Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1) by Tahereh Mafi
  26. Simone Breaks All the Rules (Simone Breaks All the Rules #1) by Debbie Rigaud
  27. So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix (Remixed Classics #2) by Bethany C. Morrow
  28. Steelheart (The Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson
  29. Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson
  30. Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson
  31. We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
  32. We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds
  33. We Were Kings by Court Stevens
  34. What the Fact?: Debunking Disinformation to Detangle the Truth by Seema Yasmin

I jumped on the 12 Challenge that was going around social media. My friends recommended so many that I did two lists though I’ll be honest: this is an overwhelming list for me! I had not read over 10 adult books since my literature degree until this year, and all but 2 of these are adult books, so we’ll see how it goes. Luckily there is no pressure!

  1. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  2. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  3. Bewilderment by Richard Powers
  4. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
  5. Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimand
  6. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. Jean Mandel
  7. Lovelight Farms by B.K. Borison
  8. Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close
  9. Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
  10. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
  11. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  12. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  13. Rise of Kyoshi by F.G. Yee
  14. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
  15. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  16. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  17. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  18. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  19. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
  20. The Wall by John Lanchester
  21. The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay
  22. Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson
  23. Push by Sapphire
  24. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

Barnes and Noble also put out two 2023 Challenges! I will lackadaisical take part in these too–so fun! (You can click on any of the B&N images to see them larger.)

Happy reading in 2023, friends!!!
To see all the books I’m reading, visit my READ Goodreads shelf and feel free to follow 📖💙

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