Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

"To hear him 


is to know

 his hurt 

is volcanic

 is to know

he is capable 

of loving..." 

I wish there was a pre-order service so I can just be charged for every book Kwame Alexander ever writes from now until forever :) Let's just say, Solo does not disappoint. And after Playbook, Crossover, and Booked, Solo brings a unique and wonderful vibe all its own. Still in Alexander's signature verse, but a bit heavier in subject than the previous few I've devoured, I'd lean this selection to my older middle school students and high schoolers.

Recap: Solo is the story of Blade Morrison, the 17-year-old son of a rockstar who just wants thing to be normal. His father is an addict and seems to get in the way of anything that could possibly be good for Blade, whether his high school graduation speech or his relationship with his girlfriend Chapel. Making things even worse, his sister, Storm, ends up sharing a long-kept family secret during a fight with Blade that shakes him to his core. Yearning for the truth, he seeks out his roots in Ghana and continues on his quest, solo, to understand who he is and who he wants to be. With many wise characters along the way, Robert, Joy, and Sia, the richness of this journey to understand yourself and how you fit into family is one so many can identify with. Being written in verse, with songs that Blade both writes and listens to (very Sheffield-esque), and text messages throughout - it all joins together to create this dynamic, fluid structure that is Blade's voice and Blade's story.

You'll definitely want this in your classroom!

A few more of the lines that make me fall in love with words and books all over again...

"She likes to get real close, eyelash close."

"Don't haiku me, Blade. I want an epic." 

"My family stands for too much and not enough.

Too much celebrity, not enough dignity."  

"We are the sum 

of moving parts

 and adjustable hearts." 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin

The books I end up learning the most from are the ones I never expected. Or should I say, under-expected?

Undefeated caught my eye earlier this year, more for the history than the sports connection, but because it was all about football... I kept moving other books in ahead of it on my to-read pile as I had the 'eh... sports...' reaction I tend to have around sports books. I figured I'd get to it later and then now it's July and goodness gracious, do I wish I'd opened it sooner!

Steve Sheinkin is a legend all his own, though I'm embarrassed to admit this is my first Sheinkin book. (I've now added all of his books to my Goodreads TBR list). WOW, is he a non-fiction writer to end non-fiction writing! MENTOR TEXT ALERT. The sources, narrative-esque storyline, graceful text splits, so many beautiful writerly moves!

OK - so now that I'm done word-vomiting and have confessed my sports reading problem, let's get to the good stuff - the book.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.

Why should you read this book? 

1. Have you ever heard, read, or seen in detail stories of how families were forcibly moved by U.S. troops? Not just numbers and stats, but actually a multi-generational family story of lineage and the wreckage U.S. troops and policy caused?

2. Can you imagine being schooled by a military leader in the army that conquered your family's lands?

3. Did you know that the most iconic football strategy and moves as we know it today came not from a big state school or private university, but from the innovations of a much smaller team, the Carlisle Indian School?

4. Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend, mentor, or ally?

5. Did you know that Olympic gold medals could be taken away, without cause for recourse even if done so unjustly? Did you know Jim Thorpe's were?

Undefeated tells a lot of stories - football stories, Carlisle stories, U.S. Government stories. It shares the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. It shares the pain of military and cultural attacks on Native American life. It shares the interconnected nature of many iconic historical figures and how they all individually impacted Thorpe's life and career.

But most importantly, Undefeated has a non-sugar-coated portrayal of  one slice of our shared history as Americans. It's not all neat and happy endings, and all people's stories deserve to be told. History doesn't always end with justice, but we need to see and learn from these examples so that the past does not continue to be prologue. In seeing such betrayal and pain, may we learn something from those who have come before us.

In the classroom, I'd say this novel would be great for 7th grade and up, possibly 6th - you'd know your kiddos best! Great as a whole-class mentor text for a non-fiction research novel, shared inquiry unit in LA or SS, and for book clubs/independent reading. Happy reading!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz

I am a HUGE fan of Kate Schatz. So when I spotted this now worldwide Rad Women book (don't know how I'd missed it!) I snatched it up immediately! Much like her previous bestseller, Rad American Women A-Z, which was on my favs list in 2015 - this brings the stories of so many women to light that we all should know! I love the interconnectedness that this worldwide approach brings, and I feel like I'm learning about so many women that should be household names (which begs the questions... why aren't they? and how do we get to that point?). Major thank you to Kate Schatz and incredible illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl (your papercut illustrations are beyond amazing!) for this beautiful second collection of Rad Women, please keep collaborating!

In approachable 1-2 page summaries, you'll learn the stories of 40 incredible women side-by-side their papercut illustration, and a notable quote from each of them highlighted. In the back too, is a list of 250 more women - can you say research project time? Or Volume 2, I hope? :)

While every single woman is pure heroine material - some of the most "What?!!" moments I had while reading this book to just give you a sampling of the amazingly Rad Women you'll meet -

Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Y'ALL. I think we may be reaching a peak book-year here in 2017. The 2017 releases I've had the pleasure of reading thus far are not playing and majorly raising the MG/YA bar! 

When Dimple Met Rishi is just the latest 5+ star YA I've gotten my hands on and the sweetest coming of age/not-love-love story. So many things to LOVE about this book. You know how you know it's top shelf? I started this, cooked dinner (read this while waiting for things to pre-heat, boil, etc.), and was also able to read while video games, tv shows, and everything else was background for the evening- and lost zero focus! You will be enraptured that quickly and completely! And of course, stayed up past my bedtime book-goodness level to finish it in one sitting (so, so, so good!)!

Quick Summary: Dimple Shah is setting up for her perfect summer - post-high school graduation and waiting for college to start (she'll be heading to Stanford). She is looking forward to Insomnia Con 2017 - a web development conference/camp at a local college. She is from a conservative Indian family, and while she is a proud, independent young woman with her career (not marriage) on the brain, her mother emphasizes looks and marriage, and well, finding her that perfect match. Rishi Patel is her complete opposite - he is also from a traditional Indian family but cherishes those traditions. He's heading to MIT in the fall and excited that his parents have arranged for he and Dimple to meet at Insomnia Con. But what he doesn't know... is that she doesn't know about any of this, not him, not the arrangement, not anything. This darling story... well... you'll have to read to see just exactly how that plan works out :) 

From friendship to romance and heartbreak, career choices to religious choices, honoring tradition to modernizing values, from the moment coffee gets thrown to the final Insomnia Con awards - you will be up past your bedtime too! 

And I can't close without just talking about the writing. Menon has a gift and craft for YA unlike many voices in the genre - it is fresh, genuine, and sounds entirely like the conversation you hear in classrooms and in the hallways of school everyday. I'm lacking a word other than real, but for kids (8th grade+ I'd say) who are looking for that book to hook them, this very well may be it!