Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have no idea how to review Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity without giving away all the twists and turns of the plot.  So, I won’t be summarizing the book much, that’s for sure.

I avoided reading Code Name Verity for a few months, even though I had purchased a copy, because it was receiving so much praise. (Sometimes, I can be quite contrary).  When I taught 6th grade, we studied WWII and the Holocaust in literature, and it played a large part in our curriculum.  Because of this, I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction aimed at middle grade and young adult readers.  I’m pretty picky when it comes to books set during the time period because there are so many choices.   But I finally sat down to read Wein’s book a few weeks ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I closed the cover.

I started the book and read a few pages here and there for about a week.  Be forewarned- this one starts slow.  So slow, that I considered abandoning it.  But when I did sit down and give it my full attention, I found that I was fascinated, even if it did move very slowly.  It took about 100 pages before I was completely sucked in. But at that point, I couldn’t stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime, on a school night, and read the rest straight through.

Maggie Stiefvater said in her review that this book is unlike anything else she has read before.  I have to agree.  The book defies categorization.  It’s historical fiction but it’s immensely personal and internal.  It’s about WWII but it’s not really about the war.  Instead, it’s about two girls who join the war effort because it allows them to do what they love- fly, flirt, and gain power in some relationships.  It’s about friendship; true, never-dying, I’ll do anything for you friendship.  It’s about once-in-a-lifetime friendship and love.  It’s a haunting book that you will want to reread.

Code Name Verity isn’t perfect, but I expect to see it on many mock Printz lists at the end of the year.  It’s a slow book, and it’s not a typical YA.  I think it will appeal to adult readers and I plan to recommend it to some of my colleagues.  I also think my STEM students will love this one, because of the intense focus on pilots, engineering, planes, and and radios.  It would make a fabulous cross-curricular read, and I am thinking about ways to use it with my seniors during their 21st Century Human Condition unit.

Highly recommended for YA and adult readers.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray won’t be available in stores until March 22nd, but I want to make sure it is on your radar.  Preorder your copy today, because this is a book you do not want to miss.  It’s a heart-wrenching book about a part of history I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing about. Absolutely fantastic. It’s also a debut novel, which just stuns me.

The story chronicles a Lithuanian family’s deportation by the Soviets during World War II and I could not put it down.  It’s making the rounds in my classroom now and getting rave reviews from my students.  Set in 1941, it reads like a memoir.  I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea about any of the history that Sepetys focuses on in the book.  When Stalin decided to annex Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and parts of Finland, he gathered all possible dissenters, had them labeled thieves and prostitutes, and sentenced them to 25 years hard labor in Siberia.  Fifteen-year old Lina’s father is one of these dissenters and their entire family is shipped to Siberia in cattle cars, with no idea where they are going or why.  Their father is separated from them, and Lina uses her love of art to stay connected to him.

This book will open your eyes.  It will break your heart.  It will also send your heart soaring.  Lina is strong and full of life, and her struggles to understand what is going on around her, to understand how humanity can act this way, will tear you apart.  Sepetys is a gifted writer, and I was flagging quote after quote.  We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.” (quote taken from ARC).  Gorgeous, right?  That is only a small sample of the gift Rupa Sepetys has given us with this story.  She describe the hardships endured by these people, in gruesome and heart-breaking detail, yet she also highlights their strength of spirit and the love that blooms in their hearts, despite their situation.

Harrowing, heartbreaking, and important.  This is a must-read.  I have read many WWII and Holocaust novels in my time, and Between Shades of Gray needs to be on the canon list.  The Soviet genocide of the Baltic states has been left out of history books for far too long.  Rupa Sepetys has made an important contribution to YA literature (and it also has strong crossover appeal for the adult market).  Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.

*ARC received as a gift from another reader.

Books I’m Pining For

Right now, my world is centered around a tiny 6 lb monster who likes to cry and bark.  🙂  I’m reading two puppy training books, Puppies For Dummies and My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective, and Easy Puppy Training (Book & 60min DVD) without much time for anything else. But here are a few books I am looking forward to reading after he settles down….


Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal- This one has been getting mentions all over the blogosphere so I am dying to get my hands on it!

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarite Engle- Last year Engle snuck up on me and snatched a Newbery Honor. So when I saw that Betsy Bird had this book on her Newbery 2010 contenders list, I knew I needed to to read it! Plus, I am always on the lookout for new Holocaust stories that focus on aspects of the tragedy that aren’t a part of the general curriculum at our grade level.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson- I hate doctors and hospitals. I love books about medicine. Weird, huh? The novel focuses on the organ donation process and I am dying to read more.



 Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart- “How do you paint regret?” That sentence has been at the back of my mind ever since reading a review of Beth Kephart’s newest novel. I think I’ll be purchasing this one this week!




L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad- So sue me, I love The Hills and Lauren Conrad! I am dying to see how this one is, because I’m hearing good things so far. Plus, who doesn’t love a little light, fluffy reading during the summer?



So, what books are you pining for?

Holocaust Remembrance Post

My classes are studying the Holocaust right now in Language Arts, via a read-aloud of The Devil’s Arithmetic and literature circles. My students chose to read a variety of books about WWII and the Holocaust-  T4 a novel, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, Boy Who Dared, Under the Blood-Red Sun, Weedflower, Behind the Bedroom Wall, Someone Named Eva, Milkweed, Flygirl, The Green Glass Sea, and I’M 15 AND DON’T WANT TO DIE (out of print) in their literature circles.  

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  To honor those lost in the horrors of the Holocaust and those who survived, we focused on the mantra “never again” in class today.  Using a lesson I modified from The Anti-Defamation League, we explored the meaning of “never again” and the power of individuals to prevent future atrocities from occurring.  My favorite part of the lesson (and one of my favorite parts of my Holocaust unit) is sharing Remedy’s outstanding song, “Never Again”.  It is an extremely powerful song celebrating Remedy’s Jewish heritage and an extremely powerful restrospective of the Holocaust.  Remedy repeats the mantra “never again” over and over.   My students discussed how he uses the repeated phrase to inform people and educate them about the Holocaust, and to show the listener that never again will the Jewish people be victims of such evil and hatred. We also read a short biography of Remedy, learning that writing “Never Again” served as a grieving process for him- Remedy grieves for his great-uncle, who was shot in the back, and the rest of his family killed in the gas chambers.

“Never Again” is an extremely powerful song.  When I begin the song, the silence in my room is deafening.  It starts out with a rabbi reciting the Kiddush and a chorus  of “HaTikvah”, Israel’s national anthem.  The looks on my students faces are priceless when Remedy begins rapping.  (I’m pretty sure they are all shocked that their ancient, 25 year old teacher even knows what rap is)!  They follow along with the lyrics as we listen and the ending chokes me up everywhere.   The song ends with a rabbi reciting the Shema prayer, abruptly stopping with a single gunshot.  Talk about emotionally gripping and powerful.

After listening to the song and discussing it, then talking about what Remedy is doing to ensure that something like the Holocaust “never again” happens, we talked about what we could do, as individuals.  This conversation with my students is always eye-opening for them.  They so often think that there is nothing they can do about important issues.  They’re just kids, they’ll tell me.  But when they see a young rapper, like Remedy, using an outlet like music (and cool music at that!) to educate people, they realize the power of the individual.  And they realize that there are so many ways to prevent hate and prejudice.


Below is a video that shares the song.  Be warned, it does include graphic photos from the Holocaust.

“Never Again” by Remedy is available on Itunes.


never again remedy