Monday, July 6, 2020

Halfway Through: What I've Read Until Now

Halfway There!!!!
    It's July. But it feels like a really hot February because that's when the world began to disintegrate around us. I haven't done a lot of reading this year because a global Pandemic has a way of wearing you down until all you can do is nap. That being said, I think I've done relatively well all things considered. Here's my "What I've Read Until Now" list.
Searching for Lottie by Susan  RossThe Tornado by Jake BurtHood by Jenny Elder MokeThe Next Great Jane by K.L. GoingAlmost American Girl by Robin HaTristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame MbaliaA Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore RameeFull Disclosure by Camryn GarrettA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara  BarnardA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. MaasThe Gilded Ones by Namina FornaScythe by Neal ShustermanA Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Not a bad way to start off the most garbage year of my 32.5 years of life. What have you all be reading?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Review: Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

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*I was sent this book from the publisher but that has not swayed my review. While this book has already been published, my review is of an ARC.*

A powerful and timely teen graphic novel memoir—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo—about a Korean-born, non-English-speaking girl who is abruptly transplanted from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama, and struggles with extreme culture shock and isolation, until she discovers her passion for comic arts.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

I felt so much while reading this book. I have NO idea what it's like to move to a country where I don't speak the language. The confusion, despair, and insecurity that Robin felt broke my heart, and it was so much worse when I closed my eyes and thought about this happening to a real little girl, because in the 8th grade, you are still a child. oh my gosh.

Thank goodness for Jessica, and thank goodness Robin found her confidence and her voice, and thank goodness for Anime conventions. One day I'm going to be confident enough to go to one. 

Robin's journey wasn't roses and sunshine, but they did take a turn for the better. I like to think that I'm a good enough person to consider the experiences of others, and I don't know if it was the images in conjunction with words, but this book really touched my heart. I think I'm going to buy a Discussion set for my library. Someone HAS to see the benefit in sharing this story with their student. 

Such a great book. Read it and have an honest conversation about it with your friends and students. Life hasn't changed as much as we would like to think. There maybe hundreds of Robin's in the world and while this book ends on a relatively positive note, we need to do better. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

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Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?

Tristan Strong is one of those stories that make me want to take a step back and re-evaluate my whole life, but not only do I want to look into my life, I want to look into the lives of my parents. I had NEVER heard of so many of the folk heroes in this novel and my dad is from MISSISSIPPI. How did we miss this. I'd never heard of Gum Baby, who originally seems to have been known as Tar Baby (not my favorite name), I had never heard of John Henry, I'd never heard of High John. NOTHING. I don't plan to have any kids, but if I did, you best BELIEVE that they would know these stories. My kids would run around like Eddie, absolutely obsessed with these stories.

 Now I'm realizing that I haven't told you anything about this book, hopefully my excitement radiates through the print on your screen. This book has action, adventure, culture, friendship, loss, community, anxiety (which boys don't seem to be allowed to feel for some reason) maybe a small crush????? Not sure yet. In addition to the book there the author HIMSELF. I was lucky enough to be able to hear Kwame Mbalia speak and the passion and pride that he feels in this work is so apparent. He told a story about how important it was to him that on the cover of this book, we see a black boy in a hoodie. THE SYMBOLISM. COME THROUGH KWAME. 

Folks, this is about all I can say. This is one of the most important books I think I'll read all year. It isn't about police violence, it isn't about boys fighting to combat the dangers of the street, it's about our culture. Who we are as African American people (because not all black people are African American). African American's have such a unique story. We've had to craft a culture from one that was almost beaten out of our ancestors. If I ever meet Kwame Mbalia I may tear up, believe it or not. You'd think I was meeting Michelle Obama or something. This book is so necessary to our community. If you don't read it, at least buy it, so someone else can read it. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: The Next Great Jane by K. L. Going

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This book was sent to me by the publishers in exchange for an honest review and while this book has been published, I read and reviewed an ARC copy.

Jane Brannen wants nothing more than to become a famous author like Jane Austen--she just needs to figure out the key to literary success! Her chance to uncover the secret arrives when famous author J. E. Fairfax visits the tiny lobster town of Whickett Harbor, Maine. Unfortunately, a hurricane rolls in and Jane gets stuck with the author's snobbish son, Devon, instead. But when the skies clear, Jane realizes the wind has blown in something worse than annoying boys: Her mother, Susan, and Susan's new fiancé, Erik, have flown all the way from Hollywood to file for custody and bring Jane back to California. Now she needs to find a mate for her marine biologist father and figure out what's truly important about Whickett Harbor, so she can prove to her mother that this is where she's meant to stay.

This was such a cute book. I recently sat in a conversation among school librarians on the difference between Middle Grade and Middle School books. Based on that conversation, although the characters in this book are in the 7th grade, I think the book reads a bit younger. While we do have a few crushes, a boy crazy best friend, and a some kids desperately trying to set up two adults, there's nothing I would feel uncomfortable giving to a 5th or 6th grader. 

I would say this book is solidly good. Our protagonist, Jane, is terrified that her (dead beat) mother is going to take custody of her because her new soon to be husband loves kids. Jane and her fried Kitty (who loved Hello Kitty and I found that cute) decided that they only way to keep Jane with her dad, Jane;s dad needed a girlfriend. Flawed, but... they're kids. Watching them fumble their way through the journey was adorable. I will say, I wish we'd had the opportunity to explore Devon and his family a bit more. They are a multiracial family  and Devon made some comments that made you think he was very racially conscious and I wish we could have seen a bit more. And to be honest, even though he wasn't out main character, he played a decent enough part in the story that I wish we saw more of him. 

Like I said, the book is good. Not great, not bad. I would say purchase it for your collection if you have the funds but if you can't afford it, that's alright too. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Books by Black Authors


Modern Black Books by Modern Black Authors

Hey all, so I've had a lot of personal issues to deal with this month but it was important to me to draft a list of (modern) books that I've read and loved by black authors. Some I've reviewed and other's I haven't but these are all books for all people (get what I did there. lol)
                                                    A Good Kind of Trouble

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    I can do this all day. Please do your part to educate yourself and learn that black people are more than slavery, oppression, violence. We love, we explore, we cry, we're nerds, we're geeks, we are SO much more than the media has portrayed us to be. We are SO much more than your classroom teachers have portrayed us to be and we deserve to be seen.  

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Review: A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee


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Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn't think that's for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn't face her fear, she'll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.



If I had to pick a book that every middle school kid should read it would be this one. Shayla is a lot of things. She's a girl with two best friends was settling nicely into middle school until her friends started changing and she doesn't understand why. One friend wants to branch out and eat lunch with other girls, and her other friend has suddenly become "pretty" and Shayla is battling jealousy. Shayla is as also growing to understand the Black Lives Matter movement and hoe we feelings about the movement differs from her classmates. 

This book shows readers of the young black males being feared for their size and a judged by children and adults alike. We see black teenagers fighting as hard as they can against the cruelty of the world, we see colorism, and we see a young girl trying to understand what it means to be black and what it means to be black enough. We also see the growing pains of middle school. 

Please please read this book. Tell your students to read it, tell your children to read it. tell the neighbor to read it. In this book, we learn not to judge black children, we learn that we are enough as we are, and we learn to stand up for what's right.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments - even the physical violence - she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her - they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds - and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.



This book has so much going on and I'm here for all of it. In a post 9/11 world Shirin is doing what she can to survive. She's incased herself in a hard unapproachable shell, because she's seen how vile the world can be. While at her newest school, one of many, is fairly similar to the others, teachers who assume she can't speak English, students who stare at her scarf, and no one can properly pronounce her name, there's a boy names Ocean who seems to really be putting in an effort. When Shirin, her brother, and a few new friends decide to start a breakdancing team things take a slight turn for the better.

I don't even know where to start. This book is one of the most accurate depictions of high school that I've seen in a while, and I REALLY feel like ghat because of what we send at the end of the book. I don't want to spoiler too much but seeing a school full of people (not just the children) pretend like they weren't awful to Shirin after she impresses them is... very real world.

I think what I liked most is that there are moments in the book where the reader may not like Shirin. She's very stand-off-ish and although her feelings are VERY valid and understandable as we lean about some of her past experiences. There are so many female protagonist out there who are... sassy but cute about it (AKA a good chunk of my own personality) but Shirin is 100% living her truth and it isn't always pretty.

Tahereh has done it again and this is why I am a life long fan!

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