Required Reading: The Hate U Give

(disclosure: I received a digital advance review copy of this title, all opinions are my own)

thug-picI’ll start here with the fact that every major review publication has already reviewed this book and given it not only rave reviews but stars upon stars upon stars. And it deserves every single one of them plus more. Maybe funding from the White House for a copy for every 18-year-old in the country for the next 10 years??? It’s a book representative of the country today and a book to be read by future generations as a sign of this era. Required purchase for all school libraries grades 9 and up.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?’

This is just one of many quotes from “The Hate U Give” (Balzer + Bray, February 28, 2017) by Angie Thomas that really resonated with me as I squirmed and grappled with my undeniable midwestern whiteness and ingrained……….well, how can they not be termed prejudices? Because we all have them. We do. Not just about black/white but about everyone who is any way different than we are. Rather than patting myself on the back while reading this and feeling smug and assured that I am an enlightened reader who has always thought and said the exact right thing, I really examined my reaction to current events regarding race and police brutality. And isn’t that exactly what this book is intended to invoke? If that’s the case, then THUG (and yes, now I know the meaning behind ‘thug life” and no, I did not know it before) hit its mark perfectly. I anxiously await news of Thomas’ next book deal. 

Rather than attempt to re-summarize the book when it has been done expertly by many others, I’ll give you the official blurb:

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Books Read Week of 2/20/17

Two middle grade, one collection of short stories and three adult novels. (Plus an unpictured YA novel I reviewed for School Library Journal.) Head on over to my Instagram or Goodreads for my reviews and thoughts!

Also an audiobook finish! Sophie Kinsella is always a favorite, and this one did not disappoint.

Weekly Bookish News: Week of 2/20/17

wo22017picFavorite Bookish Blogs to follow

The Brown Bookshelf – by and  all about books by African American authors

Pernille Ripp – a great all-around literacy blog by a Wisconsin middle school ELA teacher (and book reviews)

Mr. Schu – best place to find forthcoming kidlit

Nerdy Book Club – a great all-around literacy blog

EpicReads! – all Young Adult, all the time

A few favorite books I found/remembered/bought this week (not an exhaustive list!)

The Education of Margot Sanchez” by Lilliam Rivera (NEW Young Adult)

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (NEW and insanely good Young Adult)

“Egg” by Kevin Henkes (NEW picture book)

“Strictly No Elephants” by Lisa Mantchev (new to BES picture book)

“The Only Road” by Alexandra Diaz (NEW middle grade/YA fiction with immigration theme)

My elementary read alouds and book talks this week

ALL K-5 Classes: “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors” by Hena Khan

Grade Title Author
4K You are (Not) Small Anna Kang
K The Three Little Pigs Parragon Books
1 The Highest Mountain of Books in the World Rocio Bonilla
2 Doug Unplugged Dan Yaccarino
3 Only 1 class this week n/a
4 A Piece of Home Jerri Watts
5 Giant Squid Candace Fleming

The Pants Project

(I received a digital advance review copy of this book ~ all opinions are my own)

I’m reviewing this one in list form because that’s how my brain is working today:

  • Best middle grade social issue fiction I have read to date
  • Best book with two moms I have read to date (best about 2 dads is “The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher” and its sequel)
  • Perfectly depicts what so often happens with school bullying and the reactions of teachers ~ initial horror and condemnation of the bully, but no follow-up. AND the inability to erase the fact that kids already heard the horrible words said.
  • Liv being trans isn’t the entire point of the book and I love that. I mean, I love that he’s trans, but I appreciate that the journey in the book is about the dress code. It helps portray Liv as a more complex character that all kids can relate to, and puts him being trans into the “oh, and he’s trans” category of character traits, rather than “he’s TRANS!!!! AND NOTHING ELSE!!!!” This helps erase the “otherness” that is so often placed upon characters different than the reader, and translates toward opinions of people in real life.
  • I am NOT trans, but I can relate fully to the agony of wearing clothes that don’t fit who I am, and I love how the characters react to having to wear tights. It’s 100% the way I react as a 30-something adult female!

I will be purchasing for both of my school libraries and doing a book talk on it with my middle grades.

Here is the official book description, because why re-create the wheel?

“My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl.

I’m Transgender. Which is a bit like being a transformer. Only not quite as cool as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.”

Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

And here’s a great post from SLJ about books like this one, and reviews about books like this one.



The Education of Margot Sanchez


Welcome to the book world, Margot! Here is my release day review:

Set in the Bronx,  “The Education of Margot Sanchez” by Lilliam Rivera offers readers a coming-of-age experience full of family, summer, boys and commentary on social issues including class and race. While the beginning of the book moves along enjoyably predictable YA storylines, it picks up significantly in the second half, offering readers a glimpse of grittier family dynamics and some surprising twists.
VERDICT: A fun, fast read, and a solid purchase for school libraries. Lilliam Rivera is an enjoyable and welcome new voice to the young adult fiction world.

One thing I’m pondering, though, is the common storyline in this and “American Street”, “Piecing Me Together” and the forthcoming “The Hate U Give“………that of every main female protagonist going to a private prep school outside of their neighborhoods to get a better education, escape violence/drugs, and actually have a chance at succeeding after high school.

Can anyone recommend a YA book by a female author of color whose main character goes to one of the inferred-as-inferior neighborhood schools? I’m not criticizing this commonality in these titles, just interested in the similarities and seeking another perspective. I’m sure these books are out there and I just haven’t discovered them yet!

I received a digital advance review copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

Abandoned is NOT a Dirty Word

abandoned-imageOh my goodness, do I feel LIGHTER! Less burdened and happier and more free!

How did I achieve this enlightened state? I moved 24 books from my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads to my “did-not-finish” shelf. Yup, I created one of those. It’s a dedicated shelf, which means that a book can either be want-to-read, currently-reading, read, or did-not-finish. That’s how much I believe in the power of releasing books from your life that you don’t like, don’t have time for right now, forgot you had even started, or whatever other reason you aren’t finishing a book after several weeks/months.

I firmly believe that life is much too short to stress over finishing a book that just isn’t the right fit for you at any given time, and I literally preach this to my students in my libraries. Real readers know what is working and what’s not, and lots of real readers don’t finish every book they start. And that’s okay! Maybe you’ll finish the book in a year when you finally feel ready to pick it up again, like I did with The Book Thief. I started that book the day before the Sandy Hook shooting and couldn’t even bear to LOOK at a book narrated by death for a year. That’s fine – move it back to currently-reading when you pick it up again. I did that the next year on Christmas and finished the book in 2 days. No worries. Some books are on did-not-finish because I was in a crochet-running-gardening-etc phase and then moved on before finishing the book. And yes, some I abandon because I really, really, really don’t like them. Simple as that. But not having finished a book shouldn’t indicate to my Goodreads friends that I didn’t like a book – please don’t ever automatically think that about the books living there! It’s simply a way to keep track so I can maybe go back to them someday and a way to remind myself of what works for me and what doesn’t. I train students to think in this way too, and I hope it helps them avoid any abandonment-shame that other adults have placed in their innocent heads.

So, go forth and abandon a book today. I promise you’ll feel better about it. Just let it go.


We Love Fenway and Hattie!

My son and I started a mother-son book club in December, and our very first book was “Fenway and Hattie” by Victoria J. Coe. As HUGE dog lovers, we absolutely adored reading from the dog’s point of view and had so much to discuss in comparing Fenway’s thoughts to how our dog, Max, might see the world. Upon hearing that the sequel would be coming out shortly after we finished FH #1, we immediately pre-ordered and started waiting anxiously for its arrival! We started reading “Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang” right when it showed up on release day, and just finished reading it yesterday. Here is the review of it that I posted on Goodreads:

My son and I read this together and loved it as much as the first FH book! The dog’s perspective makes it a unique look into our furry friends’ minds and I definitely appreciate the “girls and baseball” story line. Strong adds for any elementary library and classroom, as well as for dog lovers of all ages.

I will be continuing to recommend this series to students in my elementary library for years to come – the love of dogs is certainly timeless.

American Street and Piecing Me Together 

Two of my 5-star reviews this week ~ “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi and “Piecing Me Together” by Renee Watson – both are written for mature YA audiences. I loved these books so much that I actually did an Instagram giveaway for them! The reviews are also published on Goodreads, Instagram and Amazon as well as Net Galley and Edelweiss.

(both titles were digital advance review copies, all opinions are my own – no affiliate links)

“American Street” by Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi’s new novel, “American Street” is a gritty and haunting tale of a Haitian teenage immigrant, Fabiola Toussaint, who is separated from her mother when her mother is detained by immigration officials at the airport upon reaching America. Fabiola is then left alone to travel to meet her aunt and cousins in Detroit, where she is met with a harsh and unexpected view of the Unites States on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. In the family’s house on Detroit’s west side, Fabiola struggles to maintain her connection to the Haitian vodou of her heritage while striving to fit in and make a life of her own. Fabiola’s relationships with her cousins, new friends and love interest are strikingly poignant and raw, leaving her vulnerable to heartbreak and pain while she attempts to reunite with her mother.
I read this book at full speed, not wanting to miss a single word while simultaneously racing to discover the conclusion to the story. I highlighted about 50 different selections that I wanted to return to and ponder, and was struck at how timely this novel is at this time of political strife regarding immigration and racial tensions. Zoboi herself is a Haitian immigrant, although she came to America when she was four years old rather than a teen as Fabiola did. A wonderful author’s note in the book shares her motivation for writing this story and the connection with the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, along with a rich backstory on the cultural Haitian heritage woven throughout the book.
Verdict: a must-add for high school libraries and a heartbreaking account of immigration and the pursuit of the American dream from a rare cultural perspective. I will be shouting this book from the rooftops. Due to language and drug references, I concur with the grades 9-12 recommendation from Booklist and School Library Journal.

“Piecing Me Together” by Renee Watson

This timely young adult book hits the reader with brutal insights on race, class and wealth on a regular basis, all while telling the story of Jade, a black girl in Portland, Oregon trying to fit in and succeed in a biased world. The prose is fairly stark, while occasionally breaking into a more poetic style to draw attention to the emotion and message being conveyed. At some points it feels as if Jade’s story is a bit rushed and merely a backdrop for the necessary and welcome commentary on being black in America, but given how striking that commentary is, the story draws you back into caring deeply about the characters and their reflection of modern America. Jade’s art and her relationship with her mentor, Maxine, are focal points of the book and provide depth to the narrative. I read an ebook advance reader copy of this title, and look forward to having a final copy to re-read and mark all of the passages that struck me on topics of race, gender, police brutality, body image and class.

VERDICT: A must-purchase for middle and high school libraries and a book for all teens to read immediately. Adults will aso find the social commentary compelling.

Weekly Bookish News ~ Week of 2/13/17

(no affiliate links on this blog)

From around the web ~ some of my favorite bookish things this week

Mr. Schu’s Book Release Calendar
“Scar Island” Book Review on Nerdy Book Blog
The CYBILS Award Winners
CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016 – Disparity in #ownvoices

A few favorite books I found/remembered/bought this week
(not an exhaustive list!)

“Bunny’s Book Club” by Annie Silvestro (NEW)
“Antoinette” by Kelly DiPucchio (NEW)
“Not Quite Narwhal” by Jessie Sima (NEW)

My elementary read alouds and book talks this week

ALL GRADES: Du Iz Tak” by Carson Ellis (Caldecott Honor this year)

Grade Title Author
4K Antoinette Kelly DiPucchio
K Elephant & Piggie (explored) Mo Willems
1 Tell Me a Tattoo Story Katherine McGhee
2 Otters Love to Play Jonathan London
3 Booktalked the “Boxcar Children” series Gertrude Chandler Warner
4 Booktalked “Gertie’s Leap to Greatness Kate Beasley
5 Booktalked “Echo Echo” (Reverso Poems about Greek Myths) Marilyn Singer