Sunday, January 17, 2021

BRONX MASQUERADE and BETWEEN THE LINES by Nikki Grimes

 

I know this book has been around, and I'm ashamed to say I'm just getting to it, but hey, it was worth the wait. Nikki Grimes combines poetry and prose to create a powerful novel about a classroom of eighteen teens learning to communicate their inner feelings through verse. 

The individual voices are tied together by Tyrone who shares his story as he comments on the others in his class. With the help of Mr. Ward, their English teacher, the students use poetry to express themselves and in doing so, learn everyone is dealing with stuff no one knows about.

BETWEEN THE LINES follows Mr. Ward a second year as he introduces a new group of students to the power of poetry. His method is to use free write topics to inspire his students to share their thoughts on the page and then in Open Mike time regularly scheduled as part of his class.

This time Darrian takes on the role of "leader" as he comments on his own issues and those of the classmates he is getting to know through their poems. The students pass on their experiences in a Poetry Slam open to the school and public at the end of the semester.

Both books have awesome messages that are standing the test of time. English teachers could easily use them in their classrooms to inspire kids' writing and to teach the empathy so lacking in today's world. Don't wait as long as I didn't to experience these books, but if you have been passing them by, just know that better late than never is ok, too.



Saturday, January 16, 2021

DIG by A.S. King

 

Once in awhile I read a book that makes me think WOW! DIG by A.S. King is one of those books. As soon as I began reading I was wondering how she thought of this intriguing tale. It is an understatement to say I marveled at the intricacy of the story and the amazingly quirky characters she developed. To be honest there were times when I was tempted to put the book aside thinking the disjointed points of view would never coordinate into anything worthwhile. WOW! was I wrong.

DIG is the story of a dysfunctional family - not unlike many of our own. There's Gottfried and Marla whose five children produced five grandchildren. Secrets abound in this family to the extent some of these people don't know the others exist. Now that's pretty dysfunctional. 

Looking for where they fit in and what life has in store for them creates a rollercoaster journey for readers. Each character begs to be heard and understood by those around them. Some are luckier than others, but most of them don't recognize the positives life has to offer. The negatives are plentiful and heartbreaking which will have readers forming emotional bonds to each and every one. The plight of the characters will entertain readers while the skilled craft of the writer will constantly creep in around the edges to stunt and amaze.

DIG was awarded the Michael L. Printz and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Awards which immediately puts it on the list of must haves for many teachers and librarians, but it's the story that should have readers flocking to libraries and bookstores to get a copy. Give this creative piece of work a few moments of your time and you will be hooked.

Monday, January 11, 2021

BE MORE CHILL: The Graphic Novel adapted from Ned Vizzini by David Levithan

 

I count Ned Vizzini as a friend. I met him just after he published his first novel. He had published his first novel and was probably working on BE MORE CHILL at the time we met. I had invited Ned to do an author visit to the small southeastern Michigan middle school where I was teaching. He was an immediate success with the students and he returned to our tiny town four more times. We fell in love with Ned and many of my former students felt touched by him and still mourn the loss of his powerful stories.

BE MORE CHILL is about Jeremy Heere, a nerd in the truest sense of the word. He is teased and taunted by almost every kid in the school. He is constantly making tally marks on spreadsheets to record the details of each and every taunting comment which only makes the bullying worse.

One day Jeremy is approached with the offer of a miracle cure for his nerdiness. He is told that for the right price he can purchase a Squip. This Squip resembles a pill, but promises the power of a supercomputer. If swallowed, it will talk to him and guide him in the ways of being cool. His life could be changed forever.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of coolness, Jeremy may risk losing his few true friends while gaining nothing. Vizzini's original novel is intricately layered with humor and subtle hints that there is no easy way to get a perfect life. 

Author David Levithan and artist Nick Bertozzi have teamed up to honor Vizzini with this graphic version of BE MORE CHILL. Although it lacks the depth of the original, through the inspired dialogue and excellent artwork, it manages to do justice to the Vizzini's craft with a bit less of the sometimes gritty directness of Vizzini's signature style. Fans of the late Ned Vizzini will want to remember his greatness by taking the time to check out this graphic version.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

DEAR JUSTYCE by Nic Stone

 

Fans of Nic Stone's DEAR MARTIN will want to get to the library or bookstore for a copy of the follow up novel DEAR JUSTYCE as soon as possible. Stone takes readers into another story as Quan battles to prove he isn't a murderer.

Quan and Justyce have been friends since meeting in the rocket ship on the neighborhood playground. Justyce, a year older, was going through his own issues and recovery from Manny's death. Quan was dealing with having his dad in prison as he helped raise his younger brother and sister. Both had way more to deal with than any teens should have.

While Justyce was pursuing his dreams of going to college to become a lawyer, Quan was making some questionable decisions that led him to trouble with the law. Hooking up with Martel's gang seemed like the best idea at the time, but now he is facing murder charges after a false confession he felt was forced upon him.

DEAR JUSTYCE is told through flashbacks, letter, and narrative that explains to readers the difficult choices black teens like Quan are sometimes forced to make. Stone highlights the hopelessness and frustration of trying to make oneself heard and at the same time protect those closest. Excellent sequel readers won't want to miss.


Monday, January 4, 2021

CLASS ACT by Jerry Craft

 

CLASS ACT takes readers back to school to continue life with Drew Ellis. In NEW KID Drew was experiencing the all-too familiar new kid at a new school trials and tribulations. Now Drew is in 8th grade and hoping things will be different. Things at Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD) may be a great school, but Drew knows he will have to work harder than the average white student to gain the same recognition.

Drew and Jordan are there for each other, but it's hard to connect with Liam. Not only is he white; he's rich. Drew can't seem to understand Liam's privileged lifestyle. How can a kid have everything and still not seem to be happy? 

Quick to anger, Drew is finding out that he will need to settle differences and communicate on another level when he doesn't see eye to eye with someone at RAD. Girls are also proving to be a challenge. What's he to do when Ashley insists on baking him more pies and cupcakes than he could ever eat in an entire lifetime? Keeping his grades up has always been the only worry, but now he may have more worries than he can handle.

Author Jerry Craft is back with another clever graphic novel that hits on current issues like race and privilege. If you enjoyed NEW KID, you will want to get your hands on CLASS ACT asap.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

THE BLACK FRIEND: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph

 

Author Frederick Joseph introduces himself as a friend in this collection of shared stories and interviews from a person who refers to himself as "the token Black kid." Joseph explains that he hopes the book will serve as a guide for white people to understand the Black community.

As a white person I found much in this book to awaken in myself a more anti-racist view. As Frederick shared personal experiences filled with cringe-worthy references to white people actions and statements, I found times when he wrote of situations I that wouldn't have shown up on my radar as a white person. He brings to light things that infuriate Black people but fail to register for white people.

Each chapter focuses on a personal story of Frederick's and are followed by interviews with writers, activists, lawyers, podcast hosts, and other digital personalities that reinforce Frederick's thoughts and feelings. He also shares the many things he has learned from those he interviewed.

Scattered throughout are entertaining side notes with references and suggestions of characters, books, music, and YouTube videos that Frederick believes everyone should experience. Followed by an Encyclopedia of Racism type dictionary, playlists, and resources, THE BLACK FRIEND has countless offerings for readers to further their knowledge.

A thank you goes to Candlewick Press for providing advanced copies of the THE BLACK FRIEND in the NCTE/ALAN book boxes. The book was officially release in Dec. 2020.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

SYLVIE by Sylvie Kantorovitz

 

Thank you to the publisher for this copy via my book box from NCTE/ALAN. SYLVIE is my first graphic novel of the new year. Though not due for release until Feb. 2021, it is perfect for anyone look to discover what their future may hold.

Sylvie was born in Morocco, but she now lives in France. Her father is the principal of a teacher training school and the family actually lives in the school. The story begins with Sylvie and her little brother exploring the wonders of their new home. Sylvie is proud that her father is the principal and considers him her main role model. 

She loves to draw and write, and later when her family grows by two more siblings, Sylvie enjoys helping take care of the little ones. Despite the fact that her parents argue almost constantly, life is fairly happy. 

Readers will follow Sylvie as she excels at school and learns more about art and writing. As she enters high school, she deals with friendships, possible love interests, and the ever present decision about what she wants to do with her future.

Author Sylvie Kantorovitz is the creator of numerous children's picture books as well as this, her first graphic novel/memoir. I'm hoping she will at some point continue sharing her life beyond what she shares here in SYLVIE.