Sunday, December 30, 2018

SPEECHLESS by Adam P. Schmitt


Thirteen year old Jimmy is told he is expected to give a speech at the funeral of his cousin Patrick. What do you say if your cousin has caused nothing but trouble for you, and to be honest, you couldn't stand to be around him?

The funeral is the next day. Jimmy has never even attended a funeral let alone given the eulogy. His introduction to death is Patrick's wake. Dressed in a suit with dress pants so small he is afraid the button will pop leading to injury and embarrassment. As he tries to find a quiet place to write the dreaded speech, Jimmy observes those who attend the wake.

Jimmy is surprised by who comes to pay their respects. (He isn't really sure what "paying respects" even entails.) He is surprised by how the various mourners act and what they say. Some walk quietly by Patrick's body and then embrace Patrick's parents expressing their condolences. Others avoid the casket and simply visit in the vicinity of his cousin as they chat about their own lives and activities. Yet others whisper about the mystery of how Patrick died in the way folks would gossip over a backyard fence. Jimmy takes it all in as his mind wrestles with memories of Patrick and what he could possibly say in his speech.

Author Adam P. Schmitt vividly captures the first time wake/funeral experience. Those who have already had the misfortune of attending this kind of sad event will relate to the sights, sounds, and uncomfortable feelings. Those who haven't, may be better prepared should the time come. SPEECHLESS deftly combines reality and humor and is perfect for readers middle grade and up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

FIG PUDDING by Ralph Fletcher

Fig Pudding

Clifford "Cliff" Abernathy III is one of six children in the Abernathy family. Being the oldest of his siblings, Cliff has many responsibilities. Sometimes he enjoys being a role model for the younger kids, but other times it isn't easy.

FIG PUDDING is a collection of stories about Cliff's life in a large family. Each member of the family has their own unique personality, and the stories do a great job explaining how everything works, and sometimes doesn't work.

Readers will enjoy hearing how family members learn to understand little Josh's needs and wants, Teddy's sometimes wild behavior, Brad's mostly quiet, calm attitude, and what it's like to be Cyn as the only girl in the clan.

Author Ralph Fletcher hits the highs, lows, and humor of living in a large family. As an only child, I enjoyed reading about Cliff and the gang. The short story format makes FIG PUDDING perfect as a read-aloud for elementary and middle grades.

Monday, December 24, 2018

SWING by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess

Best friends Noah and Walt have plans. Those plans include earning spots on the varsity baseball team and being cool. Girlfriends would be nice, too.

When the baseball team roster is posted, Noah and Walt have not been chosen for the fourth year in a row. That doesn't stop Walt. He starts a workout routine that involves frequent trips to the batting cage. Unfortunately, the nickname he chooses for himself, Swing, doesn't prove to be true when it comes to actually hitting the ball.

Secretly, Noah has another goal. He wants to hookup with Sam, the girl who has been his friend since third grade. Noah would like to take their relationship past friendship, but that means asking her to ditch the popular baseball star who is her current boyfriend.

Inspired by some old love letters he finds in a thrift store handbag, Noah starts creating love letters for Sam. His romantic intensions become known when Walt secretly slips Sam one of the letters without Noah's knowledge. Now Noah must decide if he has the nerve to reveal himself as the author.

Author Kwame Alexander teams up again with poet/artist Mary Rand Hess to create this unique love story. Readers of their previous collaboration SOLO will be thrilled to see this new novel in verse. Readers will root for Noah and Walt as their story unfolds, and as is typical with Alexander's books, it isn't all fun and games.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken

Louise "Lou" has recently moved to Kansas from Oklahoma and Texas, and she is adjusting to some changes. Lou knows she is lucky to be the girl friend of the popular Cam Ryan, but her decision to break up with him via email comes as a result of learning his true feelings about Native Americans. Lou is proud of her heritage and her place in the Muscogee Nation.

When the director the school musical version of The Wizard of Oz decides to create a cast featuring actors of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, Lou's younger brother Hughie is cast as the Tin Man. A group of parents organizes a protest group that threatens to tear the community apart. Several families and individuals, including Lou and her family, recent threatening messages telling them to go back where they came from.

Lou, her best friend Shelby, and her new friend Joey use the school online newspaper The Hive to defend the Oz production and point out the threats aimed at cast members and others. The resulting tensions could end Lou's budding romance with Joey and cost a teacher her job as advisor of the school paper.

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith gives readers a unique view of diversity by revealing Lou's Native American ancestry including a look at the native language of the Muscogee Nation. (See included glossary.) HEARTS UNBROKEN also exposes L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, as an outspoken racist in favor of genocide. Smith's newest novel definitely illustrates the need for diverse books.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: A Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel
What a wonderful adaptation! Fred Fordham takes the classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and gives it a truly honorable new look and feel.

In this graphic novel version Fordham tells Harper Lee's story almost verbatim. Those familiar with the novel will feel as if they are rereading the time-tested classic. The characters are drawn in a way that suggests the characters' appearances as they are portrayed in the film starring Gregory Peck. This adds to the comfortable reading experience.

As a former teacher who taught this book to high school freshmen, I highly recommend it as a way to "sell" the book to readers who shy away from the length of the original. The tone and culture of the original is still present and offers more to reluctant readers than merely skimming the SparkNotes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

FOUR THREE TWO ONE by Courtney Stevens

Four Three Two One

Golden "Go" Jennings and three other teens are the sole survivors of a bus bombing in NYC. Each had a different reason for being on the bus, and each has a different reason for feeling survivor's guilt.

Go and her boyfriend Chandler are in NYC headed to Ellis Island to recreate a photo taken many years ago when Go's grandparents entered the country as immigrants. Their destination is the same, but as they enter the bus, their relationship is crumbling. Each is feeling guilty about something and wondering how to be honest about what they feel.

Rudy is sightseeing. He thinks his life may be about to change because he just met Go, but in minutes it will be changing for an entirely different reason.

Caroline is boarding the bus with her abusive boyfriend knowing her recent actions may be the reason people are about to die.

The four survivors are on a return trip to NYC to attend a sort of memorial for the bus bombing victims. The journey is complicated by emotional as well as physical challenges. Each teen is hoping the trip will answer questions and provide closure, but they will have to be willing to open their minds to the possibility of a future they may not be ready to confront.

Author Courtney Stevens takes readers on this journey filled with painful memories and often paralyzing fear. She deftly creates each character's story and reveals them in a way that is sure to mesmerize readers and keep them thinking long after the book is finished.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I'M OK by Patti Kim

I'm Ok

Ok Lee and his mother have been struggling since his father died in a freak roofing accident. Ok's mother works three jobs just to make ends meet. Their apartment is filled with the sound of the sewing machine as she sews cuffs on sleeves until they are piled on every surface, and the place perpetually smells of spicy kimchi that she makes daily and sells to friends and neighbors. Ok misses his father and wishes he could find a way to make things easier at home.

When his efforts to sew like his mother fail, he devises a plan to learn how to braid hair like a woman in the neighborhood hoping to make a killing braiding the girls' hair at school. Unfortunately, the girls he knows can only afford to pay him in change so his dream to help his mother quit at least one of her jobs fails miserably.

Things do finally get better financially, but that's because his mother starts dating a deacon from their church. Ok thinks the man tries too hard and when his plan to break up the happy couple fails, Ok moves to plan B which involves saving enough money to buy a tent and supplies so he can run away.

I'M OK takes readers into the Korean culture. Ok, pronounced like Pork, but without the P or the R, deals with multiple problems many of which revolve around the fact that most of the people he knows don't really understand what it means to be Korean. A couple of unexpected friends, Mickey and Asa, may turn out to be accepting and supportive if Ok will just let them in.

Author Patti Kim combines humor, resourcefulness, and determination to create Ok and the people who surround him. I know this reader has a better understanding of what it takes to make kimchi as well as the importance of friendship and family.