Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Soldier Boy

Soldier Boy Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
How would you feel if you were ripped from your family at gunpoint, and forced to watch your parents and siblings be killed? Ricky was 11 when the LRA abducted him and his brothers and friends from their village. He and tens of thousands of other children were recruited into the LRA, a guerilla force in the Ugandan Civil War. Ricky and his brother Patrick stayed in contact during their years in the LRA trying to find a way back home.

My Thoughts:
Both beautiful and horrifying, Soldier Boy takes us behind the scenes of child warfare in Africa. This is a very heavy book that leaves very little to the imagination. Lots of violence and brutality, but it it done in a way that really forces the reader to think about injustice and powerlessness. I give this one 5 stars for its depth and importance.

My Recommendation
5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (heavy violence, veiled references to rape)

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Solo

Solo Solo by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.** 4/5 stars
Grades 7+
Book Talk
Blade Morrison is NOT your typical 17-year old boy. He is the son of rock star parents, and is incredibly talented in his own right. He's got a gorgeous girlfriend and is on the cover of the tabloids. But after his mom dies, Blade's dad spirals into a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol that leaves Blade and his sister Storm pretty much on their own. Then Blade discovers that his dad isn't really his dad at all. Blade was adopted as a baby.

Blade begins the journey of a lifetime to Ghana, to meet his birth mother. Unfortunately, he does not go alone. His rock star dad decides to make the trip a family experience, including a giant tour bus and a reality television film crew.

Will Blade find his mother? Can the relationship between he and his father ever be repaired?

My Thoughts
I am generally not a big fan of verse novel, but I liked this one. The story moves pretty quickly, and I cared about the characters. I hated the names, though. I know, that sounds trivial. But Chapel? Storm? Blade? It felt a little...contrived. Still, I connected to Blade's struggle with his dad. I wanted his reunion with his birth mother to be successful. And I cheered for little Sia when she got sick. Overall, I would recommend this one to fans of Kwame Alexander's other verse novels or Jason Reynolds' books.

Little to object to here in terms of language or adult content, although themes of alcoholism and drug use are probably too heavy for elementary. I recommend for grades 7+ (or mature 6th graders).

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
As You Wish
by Chelsea Sedoti
Posted 12/17/18
4/4 stars
Grades 8+
Book Talk
"The trick is to be boring. No one likes being bored, yeah? If a place is boring, you're not gonna stick around. You're not gonna ask any questions. That's the way we like it."
Madison, Nevada is about as boring as it gets. It's a dusty, desert town, the "fastest way to get from nowhere to nothing". At least, that's the way the people of Madison want you to think. But hidden behind the run-down buildings and sleepy facade is a secret. A big one. Everyone in Madison gets to make a wish on their 18th birthday. Just one wish, but it changes EVERYTHING.
Eldon is about to turn 18, and he is struggling with his wish. Should he try and wish his ailing sister back to health? How about money to help his family? The ability to leave Madison behind in his rear-view mirror? As an assignment from his teacher, Eldon begins interviewing locals about their wishes and the impact of those wishes on their lives. He realizes quickly that wishes aren't always what they seem, and that you better be very careful about WHAT you wish for and HOW you wish for it.
My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It reminds me a lot of the book "This is Not the End", in that teens are forced to make huge decisions that impact not only their lives but the lives of everyone around them. One of my favorite parts of this book was the desert setting. I've always been intrigued by the desert southwest, so I loved reading about growing up in a tiny town, isolated and surrounded by sand. I found the characters in the book to be believable, flawed, and interesting. Eldon is a pretty typical teen boy, and we see him smack dab in the middle of typical teen struggles. Merrill is his geeky best friend. Norie is the odd but loveable sidekick who brings a touch of religion to the story.
There is quite a bit of language in this one, and typical teen fare (drinking, drugs, partying). But the content isn't too adult, and I would recommend it for grades 8+.

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Review: My Brigadista Year

My Brigadista Year My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
Grades 6+
Book Talk
It's 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Lora is a 13-year old girl doing normal, pre-teen girl things. She attends school, has a few friends, loves to read, and spends time with her family (including her 2 pesky brothers). Her life is turned upside down when Fidel Castro overthrows General Batista and takes over as premier of Cuba. He puts out a call to his country, to bring literacy to all of Cuba in under a year. Lora feels a stirring to serve her country by signing up to be a brigadista, serving as a maestra (or teacher) to a farming family in the mountains. She is sent to live with the Santana family in the Escambray mountains. No running water, no electricity, none of the comforts that Lora has grown up experiencing. With only a few textbooks and a lantern, Lora must figure out how to teach her campesino family how to read and write and pass the literacy exams.
My Thoughts
The story itself is rather beautiful. I learned a lot about the culture and traditions of Cuban families in the 1960s, as well as the history behind the Cuban Literacy Campaign. Lora is a strong, believable main character that I wanted to cheer for as she pushed past her fear to serve her campesino family. Still, I am torn about recommending this book fully. There are strong anti-American sentiments throughout. The story is told from a pro-Castro perspective. That is hard for this patriotic, military spouse to swallow. But then again, the mark of a really excellent book is that it makes you think, question, and consider. I was doing all of these things as I read Lora's story.
My Recommendation
There is some violence in the story (family attacked and killed by brigands, a pig and chickens stolen and killed), but it is not graphic. No language or adult situations. This book is appropriate for middle grades and up (6+). I think the history and content is too heavy for elementary.
Give to fans of historical fiction and adventure, especially those looking for a strong female lead.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: You Bring the Distant Near

You Bring the Distant Near You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5/5 stars

This is the story of three generations of the Das family. Ranee and Rejeev Das moved to New York City by way of London, Ghana, and India to make a new life for their children. We follow their struggles and triumphs as they raise their girls, Tara and Sonia. Eventually we meet Tara and Sonia's daughters, Anna and Chantal. First generation American citizens, they still struggle with the balance between being "American" and maintaining their cultural Bengali heritage.

I loved this book. There isn't a lot of action, but the story is beautiful. I knew nothing about Indian culture, and found this book to be a fascinating glimpse into familial expectations, music, food, and dance traditions. The story follows three generations of Bengali women in New York City and New Jersey, so we also get an interesting perspective on important historical events happening in the world around the Das women.

Themes within the story include friendship, racism, women's rights, and family. It also explores the balance between assimilation and maintaining cultural heritage.

Grades 7+ (mild language)



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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: A Graveyard Visible

A Graveyard Visible A Graveyard Visible by Steve Conoboy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanks to @kidlitexchange for this advanced review copy. All opinions are my own.
2/5 stars, Grades 7+ (language)

Every time Caleb looks outside his window he sees the graveyard. And it seems to be getting a little bigger every day. Then he notices strange activities including hte odd girl Misha. Should Caleb get involved? What's really happening in th graveyard behind his house?

Ok, I did not get this book at all. I love suspense and horror, but this was a mangled mess of confusion. The alternating third person perspective and stream of consciousness just left me confused. This would have been a DNF for me except I felt guilty not reviewing it for @kidlitexchange. This is a pass for me.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Sparrow

Sparrow Sparrow by Sarah Moon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the #kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book – all opinions are my own. 5/5 stars

Sparrow has always been a loner. She avoids people whenever she can. She eats lunch in a bathroom stall. She doesn’t think things will ever change. Then she meets Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian. Mrs. Wexler invites Sparrow to join her for lunch in the library. Soon there is a group of Frequent Flyers who meet daily in the library to eat lunch and read together, and Sparrow feels like she is finally part of something.

And then tragedy strikes, and Mrs. Wexler is killed in a terrible accident. Sparrow doesn’t know how to deal with the loss of her teacher, and finds herself on the top of the school roof, looking over the edge. The next thing she knows, she is in a hospital and is given mandatory therapy sessions.

Over the next few months, Sparrow learns about her fascination with birds and flying, and how to deal with the grief that has derailed her life.

This book is a beautiful exploration of grief and loss, loneliness and isolation. Even in the midst of despair, Sparrow finds hope in music and lyrics. As heavy as the story can feel, the mood is hopeful. Moon shows us that everyone feels lonely, that we never know the stories of those around us, and that music can be powerfully healing. Give this book to fans of realistic fiction, or students dealing with grief or mental health issues.


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