Monday, December 31, 2012

ALMOST HOME by Joan Bauer

Joan Bauer has created another one of her powerful female main characters.  But then, her fans already know, *it's a natural gift that she has.*

Sugar Mae Cole is in the sixth grade.  She lives with her mother and infrequently sees her good-for-nothing father.  That's OK with Sugar.  She puts all her energy into being sweet like her mother tells her and writing poems and thank yous that please her favorite English teacher.

Sugar doesn't know about her mother's financial problems until the day that the police arrive to evict them from their home.  Now Sugar and her mother are among the homeless in Round Lake, Missouri.  For a short time they live in their car, and finally, they move to a shelter.  In the midst of finding a temporary home, Sugar inherits a stray dog named Shush.  The little puppy is well-behaved and charms everyone around them.  Sugar finds trust and security in the presence of the loyal dog.

With the promise of a decent job, Sugar and her mother move to Chicago.  When it turns out the job doesn't exist, Sugar's mother ends up in the hospital being treated for depression and Sugar ends up in a foster home.  Although, it isn't the home she hoped for, Sugar is comfortable with Lexie and Mac, and her natural optimism and determination allow her to carry on as she waits for her life to return to normal.

ALMOST HOME is an inspirational book about a young girl's struggle to deal with what life has dealt her.  Author Joan Bauer focuses on appreciating the good in life and showing that appreciation by thanking those responsible.  Sugar's ability to take the good with the bad and carry on, makes this a "sweet" read.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

CHASING THE SKIP by Janci Patterson

Ricki is used to her mother taking off.  Usually it's after she meets a new boyfriend, and she's back before long.  This time it has been weeks since Ricki has seen her mom.  Staying with her grandmother isn't too bad, but this time her grandmother calls for reinforcements.  Ricki's dad shows up to pick her up.

The story Ricki's been told is that her dad left before Ricki's mom even knew she was pregnant.  Since then he has sent regular child support payments and stopped by a few times, but he certainly hasn't made an effort to develop a relationship with his only daughter.  Now he's taking Ricki to live with him wherever that is.

Ricki soon discovers that life with her father might provide some excitement.  He is a bounty hunter, and she's about to ride along as he chases another skip.  It might not be so bad hanging out with him while she waits for her mother to return.  With his attention focused on finding the bail skipper, Ricki plans to practice her journalism skills writing entries on her blog describing every minute of the adventure.

Debut author Janci Patterson has created a fast-paced, wild ride through Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wyoming.  Ricki and her father get to know one another as they track down criminals who haven't made their court appearances.  Ricki's often impetuous, immature behavior complicates the chase and even puts her life in danger.  The turn of each page promises some new twist or turn.  I can't wait to see what Patterson writes next.

Friday, December 28, 2012

PINNED by Sharon G. Flake

In PINNED two incredibly competitive people headed in totally different directions find themselves meeting in the middle. 

Autumn is the lone girl on her high school wrestling team.  She is very good and has a chance to go all the way to the state competition.  Autumn's strength may be wrestling, but her weakness is school.  Her parents are suddenly concerned about her dropping grades in math and her below average reading level.  They have pulled her from the team until she brings up her grades.

Adonis excels as a student and fulfills a leadership role in the school and community.  Confined to a wheelchair because a birth defect left him with no legs, he is driven by personal pride and a determination to succeed despite his disability.  Adonis is annoyed by people like Autumn who are loud and draw attention to themselves.  He is extremely irritated when Autumn professes her love and vows to make him her boyfriend.

The two teens live their lives moving in two totally different circles at school, but it seems that their lives are destined to intertwine.  The more they find themselves thrown together, the more they begin to change.  Will Autumn be able to develop the relationship with Adonis as she hopes?  Will Adonis begin to understand and appreciate what motivates someone like Autumn?

Veteran author Sharon G. Flake once again hits it out of the park with her latest middle grade selection.  Flake's characters ring true and offer personalities and situations that speak to many young teens.  It is also refreshing to read a book with a wrestling backdrop instead of the usual football/basketball fare.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


There are so many life lessons packed into this fabulous book.  I had forgotten just how wonderful it is.  As I started rereading it, my main purpose was to review it before beginning to teach it to my 10th graders in January, but it touched me on a personal level once again.

For those of you who haven't read TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, Mitch Albom writes about his visits with an old college professor stricken with ALS.  Morrie Schwartz was a sociology professor at Brandeis University where Albom studied.  After taking one of Schwartz's classes, Albom says he ended up enrolling in all the classes the man taught.  They spent hours together in class and racked up even more time together outside of class as they became friends in addition to teacher and student. 

After years with no contact, Albom stumbled across a mention of Schwartz and learned of his illness.  He renewed contact with his teacher and old friend and, through once a week meetings, took what he describes as Schwartz's last class.  During their final days together, Morrie Schwartz talked about his life and shared incredible little gems of wisdom that forever changed Mitch Albom's life. 

Beginning in January, I will be using this book with my sophomore students.  They are an impressively insightful bunch which should make it pure pleasure to share this wonderful story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Normally, I'm not a big fan of the series, but this is one that has me eagerly awaiting the next installment.  CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT grabbed me in the first brief chapter and didn't let go.

Malcolm and Maud Angel are found dead in the bedroom of their penthouse apartment leaving behind four children.  Matthew, already an NFL star, Tandy and Harry, sixteen year old twins, and Hugo, an amazingly intelligent and exceptionally strong fourth grader are the Angel children.  They are now orphans and also suspects in the possible murder of their parents.

Tandy is determined to prove she and her siblings are not guilty.  The police are determined to pin the murder on at least one of them and proving it was a combined plot would make an even sweeter case.  The deeper Tandy ventures into her investigation, the more secrets she uncovers.  She has always known that the Angels were not like everyone else, but what she unearths in a hidden room under the stairs could spell disaster.

The characters in this fast-paced series opener are often unemotional and sometimes very easy to dislike, but yet I found them irresistible.  As narrator, Tandy reluctantly trusts the reader with her innermost thoughts and confessions that highlight the odd nature of her family.  Her quick wit and intelligence are no match for police detectives so it comes as no surprise that she is the one to solve the mystery. 

Patterson and his writing partner Maxine Paetro have hit on a storyline that is sure to be a success with teen readers, especially those looking for a good mystery.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Thirteen year old Butterball filled a sock full of batteries and beat up Maurice, and he the school is forcing him to see a therapist so they can get to the bottom of the attack. 

When Butterball's mother decided to make a change in her life, she moved Butterball out of the city and away from his father.  Now they are living in the suburbs, he's going to a crappy junior high school, and working at a hospital and going to nursing school.

Butterball is not fitting in well.  Besides being the new kid, he is overweight and the target for teasing and taunting.  The only one he sort of counts as a friend is Maurice, but when Maurice makes a comment that takes Butterball completely by surprise, Butterball plots an attack on Maurice.  The violence of the beating puts Butterball on the radar of the school administration, and part of his punishment is regular visits with a social worker/therapist. 

Liz attempts to get Butterball to open up, but his anger about moving, being grounded, and not being able to visit his dad as much as he'd like make him a tough nut to crack.  Whenever Butterball seems to get a chance to get ahead, something always gets in the way.  Maybe being a tough guy is the only way he can make something of himself.

Rapper 50 Cent uses his own troubled adolescence as inspiration for this story about a would be bully.  Appropriate for both middle grades and teens, PLAYGROUND hits on a current topic and handles it well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


My students had the opportunity to chat with author Emmy Laybourne after we finished reading her book MONUMENT 14. 

Click here to read about it!


One of my students surprised me with this book as a Christmas present.  He said he knew I liked books so he got me this one.

It's a cute story that reminds me of recent offerings like the Wimpy Kid series and the Origami Yoda series.  DRAGONBREATH  has actually been around for some time, but thanks to my student, I'm just discovering it.

Danny Dragonbreath and his friend Wendell go on quite an adventure.  During lunchtime in the school cafeteria, Wendell is bitten by a were-wiener.  Wendell is an iguana, and when he suddenly begins to grow hair and develop an incredibly annoying itch, Danny knows something is wrong.  What follows is completely crazy but full of fun. 

Danny and Wendell investigate the walk-in freezer in the school kitchen and discover the were-wieners are from Transylvania.  It soon becomes clear that Wendell is not the only student affected by the were-hot dog curse.  Danny knows he will need help in battling the curse so he turns to the arch enemy of the hot dog -- the villainous potato salad, previously condemned to live in the sewer tunnels below the city.

CURSE OF THE WERE-WIENER is the third book in the Dragonbreath series by author Ursula Vernon.  Tongue-in-cheek humor and quirky drawings combine to make it a fun read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GIRL MEETS BOY edited by Kelly Milner Halls

There are two sides to every story.  The stories in GIRL MEETS BOY show readers both sides in six very different relationships. 

Kelly Milner Halls is both the editor of this thought-provoking collection and also a story contributor.  Halls assembled a star-studded cast of YA authors for this group of stories.  The list includes Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman, James Howe, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ellen Wittlinger, and Joseph Bruchac to name a few.

Each pair of stories includes the girl's point of view and the boy's.  Once both sides of the story are revealed, readers will realize everything isn't always what it seems.  Unlikely couples, two boys exploring the idea that they both like boys, combinations that work, and some that don't combine to mirror real-world relationships.  Life is complicated and these authors offer a peek into just how complicated it can be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SEND ME A SIGN by Tiffany Schmidt

With a great summer ahead of her and hopes for a fantastic senior year, Mia is hit by tragedy.  A nagging fever and constant bruising have Mia seeing the doctor and being scheduled for a bunch of tests.  The tests reveal Mia has leukemia, and she suddenly finds herself in the hospital fighting for her life.

Mia's parents attack the situation from different directions.  Her dad immediately begins researching the disease looking for the latest successful treatment options.  Her mother insists on keeping up appearances as she scours the Internet for organic foods, beauty products, and clothing.  Mia's main source of comfort is her childhood friend and neighbor, Gyver.  He drops everything to stay by her side.

When Mia chooses to keep her illness a secret from the rest of her friends, she finds herself deep in a string of lies, but she just isn't sure how each of her friends will react.  Although keeping everything a secret seemed like a good idea at first, after a month in the hospital Mia finds it challenging to keep up with her lies as she returns to the last days of summer and the start of the school year.

As much as Mia wants to handle her illness quietly, her new boyfriend and her other close friends are sure something is up and pressure her to tell them what is going on.  Her mother's continued worry about the superficial details forces Mia to bury her pain and hide important symptoms.  All the secrecy begins to take it's toll leaving Mia exhausted and confused.

SEND ME A SIGN by Tiffany Schmidt deals with the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis and the painful, debilitating treatment that follows as well as the stress it creates in relationships between family and friends.  Not only is Mia dealing with her illness but also with the stress and pressure of being a teen.  This debut author is one to watch. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I SWEAR by Lane Davis

Leslie has been dealing with vicious text messages, emails, and direct taunts and threats for longer than anyone really knows.  Her former best friend Jillian has even joined Macie, Katherine, and Beth in making her life miserable.

At first Leslie thought Jillian's twin brother Jake might be her savior, but he is often more concerned about appearances than standing by his childhood friend, and going to her parents for help is completely out of the question.  Her mother is more interested in what she's pouring in her wine glass, and her dad is too busy flipping every house Leslie has ever tried to call home.  Leslie finally makes the decision to leave, but once she is in the garage and in the car, she decides to take a different path.  She starts the car in the closed garage and never leaves.

Leslie's death sparks an investigation that has all her former tormentors scrambling to cover their tracks.  Leader of the gang, Macie, struggles to keep control and come out smelling like a rose as she offers up her fellow conspirators as bait.  Guilty feelings may prompt Jake and Jillian to come clean, but it's too late for Leslie and they know it.

I SWEAR by debut author Lane Davis is a strong commentary on high school bullying.  Much like THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, I SWEAR will hit home to many teens whether they are being bullied or doing the bullying themselves.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Carson's dream is to attend Northwestern University, major in journalism, and then get a job working for the New Yorker.  He is fairly certain he has an early acceptance all buttoned up.  His application should wow the admissions board since he single-handedly edits the Clover High Chronicle, and he is the creator of the Clover High School Writers' Club.

Imagine Carson's surprise when the counselor informs him being editor of the school newspaper and a member of the writers' club is not going to be enough to impress Northwestern.  She suggests maybe publication in a literary magazine would do the trick so Carson embarks on a new project.

With only a month to submit this new material and earn a coveted early acceptance, the pressure is on.  A chance visit to the school restroom gives Carson an idea.  He stumbles across two guys from the popular crowd getting it on in one of the stalls.  After his initial shock, he realizes that blackmail might be the solution to his problem.  Threatening his fellow classmates might generate the writing submissions he needs to create the literary magazine that will be the envy of Northwestern University.

Author Chris Colfer makes his YA debut with STRUCK BY LIGHTNING.  Many teen readers will recognize him as the Kurt Hummel character on Glee.  Colfer's stereotypical high school characters, off-color humor, and high stakes pressure to earn college acceptance will also connect with teen readers experiencing these things in their own lives.  The book is based on Colfer's original screenplay by the same name.