Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE ENEMY ABOVE by Michael P. Spradlin

The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War II
*Review copy courtesy of the author.

THE ENEMY ABOVE takes readers into WW II as the Nazis attempt to clear the Jews out of Ukraine. Their plan is to access the rich farm land in the area to use in supplying the German army.

Twelve year old Anton knows of the concentration camps and the mass execution of Jews, and he knows his father is off fighting with the Russians, but so far he and his grandmother and uncles have been safe. That is about to change.

Major Von Duesen is leading a group of gestapo soldiers through the area to capture and remove the remaining Jews. A vicious man, he is determined to make a name for himself by delivering all his prisoners to the General in hopes of earning a promotion.

Anton's family and neighbors have enough warning to leave their homes and escape through the wheat fields and woods to a cave some of the men have discovered. Young Anton and his friend Daniel spend some of their time exploring the cave for a second exit and a water source so the men don't have to scout for water outside the cave at night.

Von Duesen and the soldiers almost capture the water scouts one night. The Jews return to the cave to warn the others. Everyone except Anton, his grandmother and two others escape through the emergency exit. As Anton watches his grandmother facing the gestapo soldiers, he realizes she has remained behind as a distraction so the others can run farther from the cave.

Finding himself and his grandmother in German hands, will they be able to survive or will they meet the fate of so many of their people in the camps?

Author Michael P. Spradlin tells the story of the Ukrainian Jews and the frightening treatment they suffered at the hands of evil Nazis. Readers will experience the intense emotions of Anton as he follows his grandmother into danger as well as the hateful actions and desires of men like Major Von Duesen. THE ENEMY ABOVE is a great example of historical fiction that will have readers on the edge of their seats as they learn more about the complex events of WW II.

Friday, July 22, 2016

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR by Phil Bildner

Rookie of the Year
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR by Phil Bildner is Book #2 in the Rip & Red series. Mr. Acevedo's students are at it again.

Rip and Red welcome a new classmate, Tiki. Red is impressed, but Rip wants to reserve judgement, especially when Tiki threatens to take his position on the Clifton United basketball team.

Mr. Acevedo is still popular as a teacher. His daily Community Circle and anti-worksheet approach may seem unproductive to other staff members, but his students continue to thrive and become independent thinkers.

Financial problems continue to plague the school. An area of great concern to the students is the dismissal of the Lunch Bunch cafeteria ladies since the school has switched to a new food service complete with lunches that most kids don't think includes actual food. Rip and Red and friends come up with a plan to expose the awful food and the unfriendly new lunch workers. Tiki suggests the plan's name should be Operation Food Fight. It's risky, but the end result should be worth it.

Basketball also plays an important role in ROOKIE OF THE YEAR. Clifton United is determined to win all their games this year, and Mr. Acevedo has a new game plan to help make that happen.

Author Phil Bildner has another hit on his hands. Combining fast-paced action for young readers and school problems teachers can relate to, make ROOKIE OF THE YEAR a sure winner for students and classroom libraries. Be sure to check it out along with Book #1, A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

TROUBLE THE WATER by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Trouble the Water
TROUBLE THE WATER is set in Celeste, Kentucky, in 1953. The whites and the blacks get along as long as they know their place. Whites tolerate blacks using the front doors of town establishments, but the black children go to their own school and the town swimming pool is for whites only.

Eleven year old Callie doesn't think too much about the different treatment of blacks until the day she finds the old, yellow dog. That dog and an abandoned cabin in the woods bring her together with a white boy named Wendell. In an effort to find the owner of the dog and the rightful owner of the old cabin, the two become friends.

Callie writes stories for the black newspaper and is excited to do the detective work necessary to write a story about the dog and the cabin. Her curiosity and stubbornness lead her to better understand the separation that exists in her southern town. She vows to make a change, but will she be able to convince Wendell to see things her way?

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell has numerous books for middle grade readers, among them are DOVEY COE, THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER, and my favorite CHICKEN BOY.

Monday, July 18, 2016

THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor
Graphic novels have my attention this summer. I've been collecting them for my classroom over the past year, and now I'm trying to catch up on reading them.

THE SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud comes in at a hefty 488 pages, and due to the higher quality paper used for many graphic novels, it is definitely "hefty." I found it a quick read because McCloud grabbed my attention in the first handful of pages and kept things rolling at a perfect pace.

David Smith wants nothing more than to be a famous sculptor. Growing up around art and artistic people, he developed his talent but it seems his work in never in the right place at the right time. His obsession with being famous and remembered for years to come drives him to make a deal with Death. David is given 200 days to leave his mark on the art world. Death gives him the ability to form sculptures with his bare hands but tells him his life will end whether or not he achieves his goal in 200 days.

Down on his luck financially, things are difficult for David. Meeting a beautiful young woman named Meg takes David's focus away from his art. Although she encourages him in his goal, his love for her threatens to derail his plans for fame.

Author Scott McCloud's powerful artwork combined with imaginative dialogue making THE SCULPTOR a fascinating read. I would offer a bit of caution that this graphic novel is best suited for age 16 and up due to sexually suggestive content.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Towers Falling
This is the second book about 9/11 I have read in recent weeks. The first was NINE, TEN. Both offer excellent ways to introduce the world changing tragedy into the curriculum of elementary and middle schools. Thank you to two talented authors interested in sharing history with readers who were not even born on September 11, 2001.

According to Deja, her family has always been poor, but they have hit a new low. Living accommodations provided by Avalon Family Residence shelter is about as low as it can get. Because her father can't hold a job, her family of five is now squeezed into one room, and Deja is faced with starting the year at a new school.

Her new teacher Mrs. Garcia announces they will be participating in something called an integrated curriculum. Deja has no idea what to expect, but at least she makes two fast friends, Ben and Sabeen. Ben is originally from Arizona and Sabeen's family are Turkish immigrants. Both Ben and Sabeen seem to know more about NYC than native Deja, but that soon changes as the new class curriculum is revealed.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly tells the story of three young Americans fifteen years after the tragedy of 9/11. In heartbreaking clarity, Rhodes explains that Deja's father suffers from PTSD as a survivor of the World Trade Center collapse. All three students learn the importance of history in the shaping of their personal lives, the country, and even the world. Every library and classroom should have at least one copy of TOWERS FALLING.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Justin #1
Welcome to a new series - BLACK TOP! At just under 150 pages and priced at $6.99, JUSTIN is the first book in this fast-paced basketball series. Book #2, JANAE, is also available with book #3 due out in January.

Justin lives with his mom and stepdad. Not a bad kid, he is easily influenced by the tough guys in his less than desirable neighborhood. Watching the pickup games at Bushrod, Justin dreams of playing on his own team.

Tall and lean, Justin looks like a basketball player and he thinks like a player, unfortunately, he doesn't really have the moves of a player. He is sure that if he practices and has the right team around him, he could be good.

When news that the infamous Ghosttown team might be looking for a game, Justin is determined to find enough players to fill out a team. He convinces his friend Frank to join him in the search. They end up with Adrian, White Mike, and surprisingly, a girl named Janae. Now the game is on. Will they win or will Ghosttown wipe up the court with the inexperienced, young team?

Debut author LJ Alonge uses his own experience to inspire the games and characters described in his new BLACK TOP series. Perfect for reluctant readers as well as basketball fans, each book ends in a cliffhanger that leads into the next exciting story.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Every Exquisite Thing
Matthew Quick's unique message comes through clearly in his newest book, EVERY EXQUISITE THING. Quick's books never disappoint me, and this one is no exception.

Nanette O'Hare is every parent's dream. Good grades, star soccer player with college scholarship potential, and not into high school partying or at-risk behavior. Life seems to be steaming along just fine for everyone but Nanette.

A bit unsure about her place in the world, Nanette often spends her lunches with a favorite teacher hoping to gain some insight into what her future holds. When the teacher hands her a worn copy of a strange, out-of-print book called The Bubblegum Reaper, her life begins to make a sort of mixed up sense.

In search of her true self, Nanette locates the author of the mysterious book, Nigel Booker. Booker gives her much to think about and also introduces her to Alex. Alex is also fascinated with Booker's novel, and the two teens bond over the unique piece of fiction. Inspired by the book, they experiment in rebellious behavior that takes them far from the straight and narrow of their normal lives.

In EVERY EXQUISITE THING author Matthew Quick lets teen readers know that there aren't always pat answers for the questions that threaten to overwhelm them. Nanette's rocky journey reveals that following the expected path isn't always the most satisfying, but it takes a brave soul to decide to head into uncharted territory.