Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty

It’s no secret that I love and adore Jessica Darling and Megan McCafferty.  Jessica Darling is my spirit animal.  She is my bosom buddy.  Sometimes I think she is me.  I’ve read the Sloppy Firsts series multiple times and I have recommended it to many friends.  So when I read that McCafferty signed a deal to write a middle grade series starring Jessica Darling I was thrilled.  I was even more excited when I was randomly chosen to receive an ARC from a contest on Twitter.  As soon as the book arrived I sat down and read it in one sitting.

If there are middle school girls in your life, I highly recommend Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection.  This is the first in a series where Jessica  is trying to navigate middle school by following advice from her older sister, who provides her with a guide to being on the “It list”.

The voice is distinctly Jessica Darling but is age appropriate.  She’s sarcastic and a realist, but appropriately so for a middle schooler.   Jessica does her best to follow her older sister Bethany’s advice as she begins her time Pineville Junior High. But Jessica is not her sister and things are not as easy as the  list makes them seem. Making Cheer team? Hanging out with the cool crowd? Dressing right?  Any middle schooler who has struggled to fit in will identify with Jessica and her witty, sarcastic voice will make them laugh as they see themselves in her.

I can’t wait to share this series with my middle schoolers and ninth graders.  I think it will be a perfect introduction to Jessica Darling and will make many of them want to pick up the Sloppy Firsts series.  I am also recommending it to anyone who knows and loves Jessica Darling already.  Meeting her, Bridget, and the rest of the gang (MARCUS FLUTIE!!!) as 7th graders is a fun look at the world of Pineville before Jessica grows into herself.  I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

Poetry Friday

And Then the Prince Knelt Down and Tried to Put the Glass Slipper on Cinderella’s Foot

Judith Viorst

How the Cinderella Story probably actually happened.

I really didn’t notice that he had a funny nose.

And he certainly looked better all dressed up in fancy clothes.

He’s not nearly as attractive as he seemed the other night.

So I think I’ll just pretend that this glass slipper feels too tight.

This is one of the poems we have read as a class now that April has brought us National Poetry Month. My kids loved this different perspective on the Cinderella story, and it always makes me laugh!

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I absolutely loved this book. It is a smart, funny, witty novel full of dry humor, wordplay, and characters who refuse to just be. Rather than give you a summary, I think the flap jacket sums this one up nicely:

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Laundau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Frankie isn’t sure who she is. Is she a geek? A nerd? Her fear is that she is invisible. You know, one of those teens who doesn’t stand out, who just isn’t noticed. She has always been “Bunny Rabbit” at home, babied by her mother and father. At school, she was the little sister of cool and collected Zada. Now that Zada has graduated from their tony boarding school, Frankie finds herself floundering. On top of that, she has suddenly blossomed and become a curvy and dare she say it, hot, young woman. Beginning school, she discovers she is no longer invisible. In fact, Matthew Livingston, the popular senior, takes a sudden interest in her. She falls easily into his pack of friends, and indeed seems to be dating the group as much as she is dating Matthew. However, things change when she discovers her boyfriend is member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a historic secret society on campus. A secret society she can never be a part of because she is a girl. A secret society that takes precedence over her in her and Matt’s relationship. She realizes that Matthew might just be more interested in her body than in her mind and ambitions. When she begins to take control of the Loyal Order from the outside, and controlling their every move, she relishes the power she suddenly wields.

Don’t be fooled- this isn’t a silly, fluffy love story. Frankie is a smart heroine, one who has quickly risen to the top of my favorite characters list. The best part of all is that Frankie is proud to be smart. She isn’t one of those girls who hides her intelligence. She refuses to be just the girlfriend while the boys have all the fun.

Definitely a must-read…..I already have a list of my higher readers who would benefit from spending a little time with Frankie.

Peak by Roland Smith

The first novel we read each year is a survival-themed novel. Unfortunately, I have not yet found a successful first novel for any of my classes. We have read Dogsong, My Side of the Mountain, and The Talking Earth. All of them were flops. My students could not connect with them at all and thus ended up hating the entire experience. This is an awful way to start the year! Fortunately, this year I began with a great read-aloud (Ralph Fletcher’s Flying Solo) but our first novel for mini-lessons was completely hated. So I am always on the lookout for survival books that I think the class will enjoy. I think I may have found the one- Roland Smith’s Peak.

Peak (no, not Pete. Peak, as in mountain peak) Marcello is the son of rock rats. “It could have been worse. My parents could have named me Glacier, or Abyss, or Crampon, ” he says. His mother has given up the climbing life and married his stepfather, a lawyer named Rolf. His father is one of the most famous climbers in the world and hasn’t seen Peak since he was a baby. Peak, his mother, stepfather, and twin little sisters live in New York City. The only time Peak gets to climb, his passion, is during summer climbing camps. However, he begins climbing skyscrapers, for the shear thrill. When he reaches his destination he tags a window with his symbol, a blue stenciled mountain peak. This works out until he is caught climbing the Woolworth Building.

After he is caught, he is held in custody by the NYC police. Unfortunately, the media sensationalizes his actions and another teen copies him, ending with fatal results. The state throws the book at Peak. Until his father, Josh, shows up. A deal is cut- Peak’s parents place $150,000 dollars in a trust until Peak is 18. If he doesn’t commit any more crimes before then they will get their money back. And Peak must leave the state of NY to allow the hubbub to die down. And he must go with his father, Josh.

Peak is suddenly thrust into a new life. His father lives in Thailand, where he runs his multi-million dollar climbing company. Peak is scheduled to attend the International School there until he can return to NY. Or so he thinks. Before he realizes it, he is in Kathmandu. And his father tells him they will be climbing Mount Everest. Peak finds himself in the complex world of an Everest base camp, where large amounts of money are at stake and climbing companies offer people an often-deadly shot at the summit. Josh’s team is preparing various expeditions full of paying customers who are attempting to reach the summit. Suddenly, Peak Marcello is faced with the chance to become the youngest climber to ever reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

The novel is full of mountaineering facts told in (all too) vivid detail: corpses litter the paths to the summit, HAPE affects many of the climbers, and people are willing to do anything to reach the summit. The story is told through Peak’s writing in his Moleskine notebooks, which will be used to judge his graduation from his school in New York. The story is fascinating and suspenseful. Will Peak make it to the summit? Will the Chinese allow him to do so? Using current events involving Tibet, China, and Nepal the story intertwines the tales of other climbers along with Peak. It is a fascinating look at a deadly lifestyle.

I am hoping to present Peak to our language arts coordinator over the next few weeks to see if we can get it approved for next year. I think the students will connect with Peak’s story and be excited to read about his choices and their consequences in the camps at Mt. Everest. Has anyone else used this novel in school?

Peak is out in hardcover right now. I highly recommend it!

Into the Wild

I picked up Sarah Beth Durst’s debut novel a few days ago at Barnes and Noble. I will be perfectly honest and admit that I am a covergirl- any book with an interesting cover usually ends up in my shopping bag. Durst’s cover is gorgeous! I love the pinks, purples, and silvers. I also love the silhouettes of the main characters on the front. Plus, if you slide the cover off, the actual book is purple! How cool is that?

On to the book. I loved it! I will admit that I was hesitant at first. I like fairy tale retellings but they can get redundant. I was afraid that “Into the Wild” would suffer this same fate. Boy, was I wrong! Julie is your average 12-year old girl. She is annoyed/embarassed by her mom, wants to be accepted at school, and more than anything she wants to be normal. Sounds like most of my 6th grade students. Julie’s problem is that her mother is Rapunzel. Yup, that Rapunzel. See, it turns out Julie’s mom helped the fairy tale characters we all know and love escape from the Wild, or fairy tale world. It turns out, “happily ever after” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Now, Julie has the Wild living under her bed. That is, until it manages to escape because someone makes a wish at the wishing well. Suddenly, the Wild has taken over and everyone is sucked into its tales.

What an interesting and novel way of looking at fairy tales! I actually put the book down and pondered the idea that we take “happily ever after” for granted. The fairy tale characters are doomed to repeat their stories over and over again. Happily ever after just means they go back to the beginning and start again. Stories never end. Ok, fine if you are a hero or heroine. Not so fine if you are a victim in the story!

I really enjoyed this book and I can see the girls in my class passing it around come September. It’s modern, it’s hip, and it’s nostalgic. Who hasn’t wanted to be the princess in a fairy tale? Who hasn’t wanted their own Prince Charming? Sarah Beth Durst shows us the other side of the fairy tale coin. I look forward to any more works from her!

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