It All Comes Down To This by Karen English

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*Thanks to the @kidlitexchange for a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

It is 1965 in Los Angeles California. Twelve-year-old Sophie has never been good at making friends. Instead, she’s always kept to herself. Ever since her family moved into a new neighborhood, Sophie has had to deal with change. First off, they are the first black family to live in the neighborhood. Her new housekeeper doesn’t seem to like Sophie very much. And even though her neighbor, Jennifer, seems to be a promising friend, others in the neighborhood refuse to accept Sophie. And this is only the beginning.

Wow, this book blew me away. Not at all what I was expecting (even though I do not know what I was expecting). It is the kind of book that wraps around you and will not let you go until you finish. Only to wish it wasn’t done. I picked it up and finished it in one sitting despite its 300+ pages. I appreciated the honest, raw take on family life. No fairy tale, perfect family here! Viewing life through Sophie’s eyes was vivid and real. She will stay with me. Thank you, Karen English! I recommend this book for grades five and up.

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The Insignificant Events In The Life Of A Cactus: Book Review


Aven was adopted by a wonderful family when she was two years old. She is a normal kid in every way…except one. She was born without arms. After moving to Arizona for her fathers job opportunity, Aven befriends a boy with Tourette’s in her new middle school. Together they help each other in ways they never would have imagined.
I feel in love with Aven’s personality right away. I wish I could be like Aven. She is an inspiring character any parent would want their child to look up to. A must have for your home, classroom, or school library. Recommended for grades four and up.

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten

Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten

*I received a copy of this graphic novel for review purposes via the @kidlitexchange network. All opinions are my own.

This is such an adorable graphic novel about a “boy” created out of different pieces of lint in a dryer. Lint Boy and his friend Lint Bear spend happy days in their dryer until an evil old woman takes them away. Apparently, she does not like dolls and traps them in cages. Lint Boy must muster up his courage to save Lint Bear and the others trapped by this horrible woman.

I loved the illustrations in this graphic novel. It was sweet but with a twist that reminded me of the movie Coraline. This is the perfect addition to any school library or classrooms grade three and up.

Book Review: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Thank you to the @kidlitexchange network for providing this book for review.

Yuriko is a twelve-year-old girl living in Hiroshima. She lives with her Papa and has a happy, well-to-do, life. But things begin to change for Yuriko. Not only does Yuriko notice those who leave to fight in WWII stop coming home, her family has change coming too. Her Papa and Aunt Kimiko are getting married. All of who will live with Yuriko and Papa. Just as Yuriko starts to get used to the daily air raids and the family changes, she learns of a shocking family secret.

I love that, as a reader, I got to learn about the Japanese culture and life as an adolescent during WWII. Experiencing the Hiroshima bombing through Yuriko’s eyes was heart-wrenching, but important. Author, Kathleen Burkinshaw, draws you into Yuriko’s world, keeping you there long after you put the book down. This book is a must-have for every school/classroom library.

Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher Book Review

Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher

Thank you to the @kidlitexchange for providing this book to review. All opinions are my own.

Joseph Friedman is a middle-school boy who tends to get picked on a lot. He’s small, not athletic, and a resource room member with ADD. He loves his teacher, Mrs. T, who encourages him to go out for the new cross country team. Joseph then meets new girl Heather. She is tough, tall, and the probably the best athlete at the school. Together, the two develop a friendship that helps both of them blossom.

I think my favorite thing about this book is that the main character, Joseph, was an outcast for the opposite reasons his new-found friend, Heather, was an outcast. Both did not follow the typical gender stereotypes. Middle-school is tough, especially when you are different from the norm. This book is a must-read for any middle schooler. It gets the point across that it is okay to be YOU!!

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie: A Book Review

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*I received an ebook copy of this book via the @kidlitexchange for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Tessa’s family is moving from Florida to Chicago. Her parents are excited about the old 1800s house they purchased, but right away Tessa can sense something is not right. Weird, creepy, and downright scary things start to happen to Tessa in her home. Is her home haunted? What does this ghost want? Can Tessa’s new friends help her discover what is happening in Tessa’s home?

I absolutely loved THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET! This is the perfect ghost mystery for any middle-grade reader. Creepy, but not too creepy. Although the mystery of Inez Clark is at the heart of the story, the main character Tessa, also learns a lot about friendship and dealing with change. This just might be my favorite ghost mystery book of all time! I recommend it for grades four and up.

Book Review: THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU by Jennifer Maschari

Things That Surprise You by Jennifer…

  • I received an ARC in return for an honest review via the #kidlitexchange. This book will be released August 22nd.

Emily and best friend Hazel are about to start middle school. Hazel is excited about all the new things middle school will bring, while Emily just wants things to stay the same. As their first year of middle school progresses, Emily and Hazel drift apart. Emily’s older sister arrives home from an anorexia treatment facility, causing stress for Emily and her family. Will anything stay like it used to be for Emily? Can Emily survive all the changes?

Wow, I absolutely loved this book. Did author Jennifer Maschari write about my adolescence? Emily thought she could deal with all the stresses by herself, not letting anyone in. She thought her problems were nothing compared to her older sisters’ problem. I was the same way as a child. This book captured what I believe a lot of tween children deal with. THINGS THAT SUPRISE YOU is a wonderful reflection/mirror for many middle-grade readers or those of us who used to be middle grade! I highly recommend this book for grades four and up.

Book Review: REFUGEE by Alan Gratz

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Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are on the run. Josef’s family is escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930’s via the St. Louis, traveling to Cuba. Isabel’s family is avoiding jail in Castro’s Cuba in 1994 by sailing on a makeshift boat headed for Miami. And Mahmoud’s family is leaving behind war-torn Syria in 2015, in hopes to make it to Germany. All three families are leaving behind the only life they have ever know, risking everything for a better life. They are refugees.

Author, Alan Gratz, is one of my favorite middle-grade historical fiction writers. And he knocked it out of the park with REFUGEE. I could not put it down and finished the book in one sitting. REFUGEE was intense, real, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful. As a reader, you will ride the roller coaster of life on the run. An important book for everyone to read, especially now. I recommend it for grades four and up.

Book Love for Middle Grade Lit

I review every middle grade book I read, yet I have not placed the reviews here on my blog. I figure it is about time a share the book love here too! Here are ten of my recent reads. Enjoy and share!

BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA by Lauren Wolk

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Set in the 1920s on the Massachusetts Elizabeth Islands, BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA is a beautiful novel about discovering your past while respecting your present. Twelve-year-old Crow has questions about where she came from. Once she starts to look into her past, Crow discovers more than she plans.

I cannot describe how touching this book was. I felt the love Osh and Miss Maggie had for Crow. The understanding of her desire to know more about where she came from. Family is more than blood, and author Lauren Wolk displayed this so elegantly. I recommend this book for grades five and up.

FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry

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A novel written in verse, FORGET ME NOT is a story about a girl, Calliope June, who longs to live in a town for enough time to make a friend. Making friends is not easy for Calliope since she has Tourette syndrome. Hiding her ticks is challenging, especially when kids start to notice and comment how strange she is. When a new friendship for Calliope starts to blossom, will she have to move again?

FORGET ME KNOT is an important book to have in every classroom and school library. Themes of acceptance, overcoming challenges, and doing the right thing are threaded throughout this book. Author, Ellie Terry, who is diagnosed with Tourette syndrome paints a realistic picture of life for a child with TS. The characters pull at your heart and will linger with you long after you finish the book. Beautifully written.

ORPHAN ISLAND by Lauren Snyder

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This book kept me on my toes. Just when I thought I had things figured out, author Laurel Snyder threw in a new twist. Who sent these nine kids to the island? Why can there only be nine kids at one time? Why are there certain rules to follow on the island and who created them? Why does the oldest child have to leave when a new child arrives?

If you love mystery, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy, you will love ORPHAN ISLAND. I recommend this book for grades four and up.

BUBBLES By Abby Cooper

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Imagine yourself as a kid. Not only is it YOUR fault your mom lost her job and broke up with her boyfriend, now you are seeing the thoughts of others around you. You know, like the ones you see above cartoon characters in the comics, thought bubbles. You start to believe maybe something is seriously wrong with you. It is hard enough being a kid, now this?

Author Abby Cooper writes an incredible tale about a girl who is so in tune with the people around her it is starting to consume her. As a reader, I connected with this story and the main character Sophie. I was just like her when I was a kid. I always worried about the people and events around me. I would obsess about the unknown and what I had no power over, but I never let anyone know about it. It did not manifest in the same way as Sophie’s feeling did, but none the less, I could relate. Abby Cooper has a way of storytelling that reminds you of the adolescent you. So real, so rich, so tender. A must read for fourth grades and up!

WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

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*I received this book via a Shelf Awareness Giveaway. It comes out September 26th.

Did you know trees can talk? Red, the wishtree can. She has two hundred and sixteen rings worth of life experience and has carried over two hundred years worth of human wishes. Before her life is over, can Red help make one more wish come true?

Written from the tree’s perspective, author Katherine Applegate, crafts a tale of hope, love, and acceptance. See our world in a whole new light. WISHTREE will stay in your heart long after the last page. I recommend this book for the young and old.

YORK by Laura Ruby

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*Thanks to the #bookvoyage giveaway, I received YORK.

Once you start this book you will not be able to put it down. Every twist and turn in the plot kept me involved and tearing through each page to solve the cipher with Tess, Theo, and Jamie. Sci-fi fans will like the twist author Laura Ruby puts on New York City’s past and present day. The Morningstarr Twins invented never before seen technology for the city of New York in the late 1700s and disappeared fifty-seven years later leaving behind the Old York Cipher that can only be solved by the right people. It just so happens that seventh-graders in the present-day are the right fit for the job. This book will not disappoint.

HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt

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Written in a poetic format, HOUSE ARREST is a collection of journal entries main character Timothy is required to make during his year-long house arrest sentence after stealing a wallet to help pay for his baby brother Levi’s medical bills. Timothy not only has to deal with his brother’s fragile medical state. His father left not long after Levi’s birth without letting anyone know and has had no contact with the family.

Reading this book, I found myself wondering how I would handle Timothy’s situation when I was his age. How would I react? Would I be the one to run away like his Dad? Would I be like Timothy and make a rash decision? Would I be like his mom and work myself into the ground and forbid asking for help? The characters K.A. Holt created react in real, real ways. This book is shockingly real. You will love it. I recommend HOUSE ARREST for grades four and up.

LEMONS by Melissa Savage

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*I received LEMONS via a Shelf Awareness Giveaway.

This book has it all: likable, believable, quirky characters, adventure, mystery, love, and loss. It is an important story about the loss of a mother and the gain of a new friend. As ten-year-old Lem adapts to her new life in a new town, she becomes the assistant to Bigfoot Kid Detective Tobin Sky. Over the course of the summer, Lem and Tobin’s friendship leads to the discovery of something neither of them could have ever imagined.

Lemons, by Melissa Savage, is one of the best books I have read this year. I plan on reading it aloud to my fifth-grade class in September. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is what Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her. And boy does this book give kids the message, “If Lem can make it through that tough time in her life, then I can too.” I am anxious to hear the great discussions our class will have because of this book. It is a MUST HAVE for grades four and up.

REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale

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Elementary school friendships are not the easiest for Shannon. Especially since her best friend is part of a “group” where some members are not so nice or just down right mean. As Shannon navigates the complicated dynamics of the group, she discovers what type of friend she wants to be and what makes a real friend.

REAL FRIENDS is the graphic novel we have been all waiting for. I can see this book being passed around my fifth-grade classroom, just as popular as SMILE and SISTERS by Raina Telgemeier. By the end of the school year, REAL FRIENDS will look worn and well loved. I plan on purchasing multiple copies to keep up with the popularity I know this book will have in my class. I cannot wait for the release of this book. It is a must have for any classroom and school library.

THE SOMEDAY BIRDS by Sally J. Pla

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*I received THE SOMEDAY BIRDS via a Shelf Awareness Giveaway.

Bird-loving Charlie’s life dramatically changes when his Dad is sent to a hospital across the country. Injured in Afghanistan, Charlie’s Dad needs special attention from an expert doctor. Charlie’s grandmother and sole caretaker must go to be with Charlie’s father. The only person left to care for Charlie and his siblings is a strange tattooed girl named Ludmila whom they know little about. Ludmila decides to take the kids on a road trip across the country so they can be with their Dad. Charlie doesn’t want to leave home, but maybe he can spot birds from the Someday Bird List Charlie and his Dad created. During the journey, Ludmila’s secrets emerge, forever changing this family’s lives.

I fell in love with Charlie and his family’s quirky dynamics right away. Charlie and his siblings seemed real and genuine. I was pulled in by this strange Ludmila character, wondering what her connection to Charlie’s Dad was. Author, Sally J. Pla, takes the reader on a funny, heart-wrenching journey across the country. You will not get bored on this adventurous road trip. In the end, the reader will be satisfied and sad to leave the family’s side. A great addition to any fourth grade and above classroom library.

#nErDcampMI 2017 = Inspiration 

I’m overflowing with inspiration as I reflect on my experience at nErDcampMI. The community of passionate educators, authors, and the various others who attend nErDcampMI will forever be in my heart. 

The crazy thing is… I can still physically feel the energy/buzz which radiated from every room in Western High School. Hundreds of people traveled across many states (mostly on their own dime) to learn, grow, share, and inspire each other. Talk about authentic engagement.

As a second-year attendee, I knew what to expect, yet I learned a TON and became even more inspired than last year. (I think last year I was in shock that such a community could even exist!) Last year I was able to take one idea from camp and implement it at my school. Thanks to Stacey Reidmiller’s session at nErDcampMI 2016, her Books On Blankets Program inspired me to secure a Little Free Library for my elementary school and start a summer Books & Blankets Program of our own. If you want to learn more about Stacey’s summer program, go to Literacy for Big Kids blog.

Sitting at home, stewing over the new literacy ideas I obtained at camp, I cannot help but want to share. Writing the ideas here will not only allow me to share them with all of you, but will allow the flame of inspiration to keep burning within me. I’m sharing one idea below and will create future posts which will include other wonderful, fabulous literacy tidbits I learned at nErDcampMI.

One School, One Book

Author Jacqueline Davies taught us about Read To Them’s wonderful resource called One School, One Book. After attending Jacqueline’s session, my colleague and I want to implement this at our school. The basics are…

  • Two-week lead-up excitement including clues left behind each day as to the title of the book. 
  • Kick-off assembly where the title is revealed. The whole school and staff leaves the assembly with their own copy of the book.
  • One chapter a night is read with family members. ALL staff members read too (teachers, principal, custodians, etc.)
  • Fun trivia questions are asked about the chapter read the following day on the intercom.
  • Family night. After the book is completed, teachers will compete in teams using their knowledge of the book.

There are MANY more details we learned about this wonderful program from Jacqueline. Numerous ways to jazz up the school and create a FUN experience for the school community. For example, imagine your school was planning to read THE LEMONADE WARS, and your principal dressed up like a lemon for the kick-off assembly. 

I cannot stop thinking about One School, One Book. It has the possibility to create a culture of reading by sharing a common positive experience with the WHOLE school community. Imagine how powerful that could be.

All the resources and information for One School, One Book are available at the Read To Them website. Click One School, One Book for more infomation.

If you EVER get a chance to attend a nerdcamp, do not pass it up. It is the best, most amazing community of people you could imagine being around. Thank you to all the people who make nErDcampMI possible. I am forever grateful.