Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Endangered won’t be released until October 1st, but I am publishing this early so that you can place your pre-orders now.  Endangered was hands-down the best book I read this summer.  I read it straight through, in the middle of the night, because I could not put it down.  The book made it’s way to the top of my TBR pile after I tweeted a request for realistic YA with a focus on science.  When a few Twitter pals recommended Eliot Schrefer’s upcoming book I remembered seeing a few mentions of the book at BEA back in May.  The ARC quickly climbed to the top of my TBR pile and I am very glad it did.  Like I said, it was my favorite book of the summer!

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I am a science girl.  I went to a pre-engineering and science high school and spent my first year of college struggling to decide between English and biology as a major.  I was a part of Project SUPER during my freshman year in college, which “is an enrichment program for undergraduate women interested in pursuing the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.”  We visited labs all over campus, met with mentors, and participated in research.  In the end, I became an education major with a double major in English.  However, I am still a science girl at heart.  All you have to do is look at my involvement with the Monarch Teacher Network to know that!

Back on the subject of Endangered.  Books about animals, with a focus on biology or conservation, are my bread and butter.  For some reason, there is a severe lack of these books in YA.  (Other than dystopian, science fiction books).  But Endangered is the book to beat all books in the genre!  It’s real, it’s gritty, and it will break your heart.  But the best part is the science is all real and the desperate need for conservation is all too real in a part of the world that often can’t feed it’s people, let along focus on the innocent creatures surrounding them.

Endangered is the truly exceptional story of Sophie, a teenage girl whose mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo.  Bonobos are our closest relatives (we share 98% of our DNA, more than chimps) and they are surprisingly human-like.  However, they live in the war-torn Congo and are in danger of becoming the first great apes to become extinct under our watch.  Sophie’s mother works alongside the government to raise orphaned bonobos in order to release them into the wild later in life.  But when Sophie personally rescues Otto, an orphaned bonobo, she becomes attached to him.

But Sophie and Otto’s lives are in danger when a coup threatens the stability of the country.  Sophie and Otto are forced to flee into the jungle in order to survive and they must make their way to safety.  Together, alongside some of the surviving bonobos from the sanctuary, they must fight to stay alive amidst revolution and chaos.

I can not recommend this book enough.  However, be aware that it is a war story, and thus I would recommend it for high school readers and not those in middle school.  It’s also full of facts that are woven seamlessly into the narrative.  I’d love to have my students read this as we study imperialism in Africa.  It’s a natural ladder to (and even from) Achebe and Adichi’s works.  Endangered is a tale of survival amid violence and Schrefer doesn’t shy away from the gory details at times.  And because those details sometimes involve mistreated animals, I found it hard to read at times.  However, I also could not stop reading.  And that’s the magic of Endangered.

I finished the book a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind.  I immediately passed it on to my co-worker who teaches biology.  I plan to place it on my list of recommended summer reads next year.  And I can’t wait to booktalk to my students.  It’s the perfect mix of humanity, history, biology, conservation, compassion, the human condition, and current events.  I find myself still researching bonobos as I type this!

Highly, highly recommended.  And I fully expect to hear this title brought up in many awards conversations.

(Eliot Schrefer will be presenting at NCTE in November.  I know I can’t wait to be a part of that audience!)

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

I love, love, love Rebecca Stead.  I reviewed her debut, First Light, in one of my first blog posts ever.  And I have very fond memories of sharing When You Reach Me as a read aloud in my sixth grade classes. I’ve been waiting for her newest novel for what seems like ages!

Liar & Spy does not disappoint. Rebecca Stead is the queen of setting.  Her New York City stories are utter perfection; I feel like I am walking the streets with her characters, listening to the traffic, and in this case, watching the parrots.  But her characters don’t suffer for this.  Georges (yes, with a silent ) is a middle schooler dealing with a load of issues.  His parents recently had to sell their beautiful home and move the family to a small apartment.  His father lost his job and is trying to build his own business now.  Mom is always at the hospital, where she works as a nurse.  Georges’ best friend is suddenly a “cool” kid and can’t give him the time of day.  So when Georges meets Safer, a pretty weird kid who lives in the new building, they form a strange friendship.  It’s strange because Safer is obsessed with spying on his neighbors.  Think Harriet the Spy, but slightly more modern.

Ahh, but things aren’t as they seem. At least not at first glance.  Stead is a master of plot twists and it continues to be true in Liar & Spy.  I won’t spoil it here, but it’s not a sci-fi twist like Stead’s last novel.  However, it’s just as masterfully crafted.  Upon finishing the book, and upon finishing it as a read aloud, I wanted to turn back to first page and reread it.  There were clues I missed along the way and I wanted to go back and catch them.  And my campers felt the same way.  One of them emailed me to say that she went out and purchased her own copy to read because she enjoyed it so much!

Highly recommended.  Great for middle school and high school readers, and even upper elementary!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Full disclosure- I’ve known Kate through Twitter and blogging for a few years now.  We finally met in person this past November, but we’ve been chatting for years.  She taught 7th grade when I taught 6th grade and I was always amazed that she could be a real writer and continue to teach.  She was a teacher-hero. :)  Now Kate is a lucky lady who gets to write full-time because her books are awesome!

Capture the Flag is the perfect middle grade mystery but it also kept this adult intrigued.  I’m a huge fan of the movie National Treasure and Capture the Flag is similar, but much more well-written!  Kate Messner has crafted a fabulous trio of kids that read like kids I know.  And the Jaguar Society? So cool!  I want to be a part of the club!  Not to mention, the history sprinkled throughout the story will keep readers interested and I think it will inspire a lot of readers to go out and do some more research on their own.

Anna, José, and Henry are brought together at the airport in Washington, DC when all flights are cancelled due to a blizzard.  They don’t know that their lives are connected until the Star-Spangled Banner is in the news after being stolen from the Smithsonian Museum.  Anna, who is certainly a leader, decides that she is going to track down the thieves, who must also be stuck in the airport because of the snow.  But it’s not that simple- accusations are lobbed at all kinds of people, the kids’ parents don’t want them wreaking havoc in the airport, and the flag is still missing!

Capture the Flag is a great mystery for middle grade readers.  Highly recommended for middle grade libraries and I think it would also make a great read aloud for a history class that is studying US history.  Kate’s writing will keep readers guessing and the history will keep them learning.  And it’s the perfect summer reading book for July!  :)

 

 

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the Murphys was recommended to me by many of my Twitter friends.  A lot of my middle grade reading had to take a backseat for last few months, as I finished my National Board work and tried to keep up with the reading my students were doing.  I finally had a chance to sit down and read Hunt’s debut novel and I’m so glad that I did.

Carley is placed in temporary foster care after her mother’s boyfriend almost beats the two of them to death.  While her (neglectful and abusive) mother is in a coma, Carley is sent to live with the Murphy family.  What I loved about this book is that Hunt doesn’t place Carley in the family and then turn this into a happy, everyone-loves-each-other story.  It’s realistic, which means you will want to keep your tissues close.  Carley is angry, hurt, and lost when she arrives at the Murphy’s house and she has a lot to process.  The Murphy boys also have to learn to deal with this new “sister” who has temporarily invaded their lives, taking their mother’s attention and time from them.  And Mr. Murphy isn’t all that sure that they are doing the right thing, either.

But this isn’t just a book that will make you cry.  Hunt’s lyrical prose will also have you laughing out loud, sometimes while tears are running down your face.  Carley is a pip, and her attitude will remind you of many tweens in your own life.  She has an attitude, but she is also vulnerable.  She thinks she knows everything, but she’s also lost.  In other words, she is a girl on the cusp of becoming a teenager but she has been forced to grow up too fast.

One for the Murphys was nothing like I expected it to be.  It’s not just another middle grade novel to hand off to girls who like contemporary tales.  I would not hesitate to give this to my freshman, because I think they could get a lot out of it.  Readers are almost forced to empathize with Carley and to contemplate the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt.  We can never know what another person is going through, so it’s important to be understanding and compassionate.  At the same time, Carley shows the reader how important it is to let your guard down sometimes and let the world (or at least one person) in.

 

Highly recommended.  I also think this would make a fabulous read aloud in middle school classrooms.

 

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

 

#Bookaday for #SummerReading Fun

Want to share your summer reading with a community of readers?  Looking for books to add to your “to be read” pile?  Just want to talk about what you are reading?  Then check out #bookaday this summer!  Search the hashtag on Twitter and you can connect with teachers and librarians.

#Bookaday is no-pressure and lowkey, so it’s easy to pop in and out during the summer.  The hashtag was started by the wonderful, amazing Donalyn Miller aka The Book Whisperer.  Entering its 4th year, #bookaday gives readers a summer goal:  read one book per day.  This is an average, so you might read 3 picture books one day and then complete a YA novel over the next few days.  The goal is to aim for an average of one book per day.  And any book counts!  That means picture books, graphic novels, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and adult books are all fantastic!  You set your start and end date, so there’s no deadline pressure.  Some (lucky) folks are already out of school, so they’ve already started #bookaday.  I will jump in after school ends on June 18th.

I love the #bookaday community because it is full of voracious readers.  I learn about new books and share the titles that I love with others.  We have great conversations and we cheer each other on.  By the time school starts again in September, I have a lengthy list of titles to share with me students. Some of those titles are books I read, and others are books recommended by members of the #bookaday community.  It’s fabulous!

Won’t you join us this summer?  #Bookaday is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get started this year.  I’d love to see you join in, too!

Latasha and the Little Red Tornado

When Michael Scotto emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reading a review copy of his novel, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I try to focus on YA titles these days, because those are the books my students are reading. It takes a special middle grade book (especially if it’s on the younger end of the spectrum!) to get my attention. But Michael hooked me when he mentioned that one aspect of the plot dealt with the main character trying to train her puppy. Been there, done that! I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the book a shot.

When the book came, I placed it on my TBR pile which was taking over my life. I was in the middle of reading for the Cybils and didn’t have a lot of time to read anything else. I finally got a chance to read Latasha and the Little Red Tornado a few weeks ago and I loved it!

Latasha is adorable. She is intelligent, well-meaning, and wants to be grown up more than anything in the world. Her best friend is her puppy, Ella Fitzgerald. But Latasha struggles to deal with her mother’s new job and the fact that her landlady is now her babysitter. Plus, Ella just won’t listen and the landlady is not a fan of disobedient dogs. So Ella decides she will train Ella to be the perfect tenant.

This book is adorable! I can’t wait to pass it on to some of my younger cousins. Latasha is easy to like and easy to relate to. The dog training aspect of the story is well-done and realistic and you can’t help but love Ella. She is just so cute! But the plot is anything but predictable- brace yourself because you won’t see the ending coming!

Highly recommended for middle grade readers, particularly in 4th/5th grade!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Beautiful.  Heartbreaking. Haunting.  Powerful.  Life-changing.  The only words that can describe Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.  A dark and moving story of loss and life.  One that should be in every classroom and school library.

There is nothing that can prepare you to face a life of loss.  There is even less one can do to prepare a preteen.  Connor’s father lives with his new family in the States, leaving Connor and his mother to carry on in England.  He cares for his mother but something is wrong.  She has been sick, but Connor doesn’t realize how sick she is.  When she begins getting weaker, Connor realizes that he may be losing her as she loses her battle.  It’s almost more than he can handle, alongside his problems with the bullies at the school and his overbearing grandmother.

At night, he lies awake staring into the darkness.  Until 12:07am when the Monster appears, answering Connor’s call.  Except that Connor doesn’t know what the Monster means.  He hasn’t called him.  But the Monster continues coming at seven minutes past midnight each night.  Taking the form of a yew tree in the field outside Connor’s window, he presents to three true, yet strange stories to Connor one at a time.  Then the Monster asks Connor to tell him a true story, one that Connor must swear not to tell anyone, or else the Monster will eat Connor alive.

And in the midst of this chaos that is Connor’s life, he wonders what this Monster could mean.  Is he losing his mind? Or is the Monster some form of divine intervention, there to help him come to terms with the difficulties of growing up?

A Monster Calls is a gripping and epic tale.  I found myself crying multiple times as I read, as I followed the emotional rollercoaster of Connor’s life.  It’s a quick read, but one that you will want to reread immediately upon finishing.  The sparse, lyrical prose is rife with metaphors and allegory.  Ness tells a beautiful and raw story that will leave you wiping away tears and contemplating life.

The story is enhanced by Jim Kay’s haunting black-and-white illustrations.  This is the rare MG/YA book that is heavily illustrated and the illustrations are magical.  The splatters, lines, and shadows capture the haunting tone of the story and the ephemeral feeling of the story.  The emotions jump across the page, illustrations and lyrical prose hand-in-hand.

The original idea for  A Monster Calls was developed by the late Siobhan Dowd, the Carnegie Award winner.  After her death, Patrick Ness stepped in and did an unbelievable job in turning Dowd’s characters, premise, and beginning a beautiful story that will move anyone who reads it to tears.  Highly, highly recommended.

Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman

I have to warn you about Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel. Want to Go Private? will make you squirm.  It will make you uncomfortable and angry.  You will want to put the book down and you will pray that Sarah Darer Littman is exaggerating and that events like those in the book don’t happen.  But then I read articles like this, this, and this.  All were published in the past month and only scratch the surface of the Google news results for online predators.

I hated  Want to Go Private?.  Despised it.  I felt gross just reading it.  Yet I could not put it down.  Darer Littman has written an important and powerful book about the dangers of online predators and it should be required reading for parents and teachers.  Adults want to believe that teens are “too smart” to fall for predators in this age of internet safety assemblies, guidance counselor pamphlets, and  PSAs.  But this book is proof positive that even the smartest and best kids can be “groomed” and it’s important that we, the gatekeepers, make them aware of the dangers on the internet.  I blog, so obviously I am a huge proponent of the internet.  (That sounds silly- is anyone really anti-internet?).  I am a huge proponent of my students using the internet.  But kids need to be smart and they need to be aware of the dangers that can be out there online.  Just like we teach kids about stranger danger at the park and in parking lots, we need to constantly ensure that teens and tweens are aware of online stranger danger.

Abby is a smart kid.  She’s a straight A student and a rule-follower.  She’s starting her freshman year of high school and she is nervous.  Her best friend, Faith, seems to be making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities.  Abby is sort of floating along, wishing that things weren’t changing.  She may have hated some parts of middle school, but she did like the innocence of it.  High school seems so much more real to her.  When Luke befriends her on ChezTeen.com, a new website for teens (as Abby says, everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so the teens are constantly migrating), she is flattered.  She makes sure that she keeps it anonymous and casual, being smart about not sharing any identifying information about herself.   Luke is understanding, listens to her rants and complaints, always takes her side.  He’s perfect.

Abby and Luke grow closer as the school year moves forward.  He’s always there for her and she looks forward to coming home from school and talking to him.  When he shares that he is a little older than her, she isn’t worried.  It’s flattering that someone in his twenties is interested in her.  Plus, he doesn’t actually know her.  Things get more complicated when her grades start slipping and Luke asks if he can send her a cell phone, so they can talk without anyone knowing.  And when he asks her to meet him at a particularly vulnerable time in her life, Abby’s life changes forever.

As you read, you follow Abby’s thought process and as an adult, the grooming she undergoes is blatantly obvious.  But Abby is a teen and her arguments are logical in her own head.  I could hear some of my own teens making the same justifications.  But when Sarah Darer Littman switches from Abby’s perspective to those of her friends and family, the book becomes even deeper.  Abby’s decisions affect her family, her friends, her classmates, her teachers, and her town.  Her own life will never be the same after the decisions she makes.

Abby is an irritating character because the reader wants to shake her and say “You are being preyed upon!”.  But at the same time, she’s a believable teen.  Her actions and decisions make sense to her and the reader is supposed to be upset by them.  You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire book, despite the eerie feeling that you know exactly what is going to happen.

 

Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is in important book.  It’s intense and gripping, and a cautionary tale that parents and teens alike should read.  Highly recommended.  This is a book that you will want to read and discuss with your kids.

 

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

I read Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely.  I also enjoyed that movies that were made afterwards.  Last month, I was surprised to learn that Ann Brashares had written a new Sisterhood novel, but that this one was aimed at the adult market.  I picked up a copy and added it to my vacation pile, knowing there was no way I could miss out on the end of the series.

Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) takes place ten years after the last book in the series.  Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen have grown apart as their lives begin to move down different paths.  I’ve been invested in the Septembers since the beginning, feeling like I was growing up alongside them.  I think Brashares is a brave woman: many of the women who love Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen are in their late twenties now so it makes sense that they would continue to connect with them as they close in on thirty years old.  But at the same time, there is no way an author will make everyone happy.  I struggle to summarize the plot of  Sisterhood Everlasting because I don’t want to give anything away.  Just know that the girls are adults now, so they are dealing with adult problems.  Life isn’t simple and there are no easy answers.  People grow and change, but the girls are the same at the core.  They still need each other, whether they admit it or not.

The girls are growing up and have grown apart.  While they consider the rest of the group to be their best friends, they aren’t in touch as often and life keeps getting in the way of planned reunions, emails, and phone calls.  All of the girls are relatable and true to the personalities they have had all along.  The stakes are higher in some ways, because they are adults now.  But does that mean they don’t need each other anymore?  This is the question they all struggle with as they grow up and grow older.  Brashares explores this in a real and heart-wrenching way.

If you’re a fan of the Sisterhood book, read Sisterhood Everlasting.  You owe it to yourself and the characters to see them through to the end.  It’s well worth the ride, despite the tears along the way.  I am so happy that Brashares made the decision to revisit the Septembers as adults and didn’t succumb to the inevitable pressure of the perfect “happily ever after”.  If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t pick this one up!  For one, I don’t think people who missed out on the series will be able to follow the Septembers through their adult lives.  Too many nods to their past and important events mean newcomers may be lost.  Plus, reading this book first will destroy the rest of the series for you.  Just trust me on that one!  You won’t be able to get through the first few books, because of the tears that will be falling.

Highly recommended for fans of Brashares’ earlier books.

Spring Break!

Finally. Finally. FINALLY!  Spring break is here!

The months between winter break and spring break were way too long this year.  Spring break at the end of April?  Sheesh.  This break is so desperately needed.  So excited to settle in for #bookaday, updating the blog, planning my week-long summer camp, and spending time with Dublin.  Hopefully, that means the blog will be updated a lot over the next few days.  But first- I am off to NYC and Broadway tomorrow!

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