Monday, July 10, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


I'm getting ready to hit the road and visit family! I'm always glad to spend time relaxing and enjoying family and friends that I don't get to see very often. I'm sure I'll also have plenty of #opportunity2read as well! I'll keep track of all of the awesome books and update my blog in a few weeks. Hope you're having a good time relaxing with your favorite books as well!  Here's what I've been reading the past week:
Middle Grade Fiction

A Sky Full of Stars (Rose Lee Carter #2) by Linda Williams Jackson  

I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this book that was shared with my #BookRelays group by the author. I was thrilled that I would be able to keep reading Rose Lee’s story.

A Sky Full of Stars is the sequel to last year’s Midnight Without a Moon. Set in Mississippi in 1955, it tells the story of Rose Lee and what it must have been like to be raised by black sharecroppers at a time when racial tensions were increasing with gruesome crimes like the murder of Emmett Till and the beginning of nonviolent protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The story picks up where the first book ended. Thirteen year old Rose is now able to attend school and it is there that her friend, Hallelujah, encourages her to become more involved in resistance activities. She also comes to know her own cousin, Shorty, better and he’s convinced that violence is the only way things will improve. 

The storytelling in this book is superb! I love that Rose Lee’s circumstances are very complicated and that there are no simple answers. The characters illustrate the contradictions of these complex times. Ma Pearl, the severe matriarch of the family, refuses to allow anyone in the family to become involved with any of the resistance movements being advocated by organizations like the NAACP, because of the very real danger to their jobs, their home, and their lives. At the same time, she seems to obstinately stand in the way of anyone in the family trying to improve their circumstances, especially if it means they will become big-headed or “beside themselves.”

I also like that Rose Lee’s narrative is woven with factual information of the events of the times. This book, along with Midnight Without a Moon, would fit well in a study of the Civil Rights Movement. There are some mature themes, so I think it would be more appropriate in a middle school setting (grades 6-8) than in an elementary school classroom.

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis  
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. This middle grade novel taps into the stress that so many young people have placed on their shoulders by the inability of their families to manage their households. When money issues, jobs, and daycare problems become the responsibility of adolescent children, it affects every aspect of their lives - especially school. Unfortunately, many kids are placed in these circumstances, where they are forced to take care of themselves and younger siblings and become the “adults” of the family far too soon. I believe that many of these kids will definitely be able to relate to this story.

The plot and style of this book reminds me a lot of the book Death By Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart. In Gephart’s book, Benjamin is a seventh grader who’s coping with the death of his father, his mother’s financial problems, and his ailing grandfather. Benjamin is constantly entering contests and sweepstakes with hopes of winning a big prize that would help his family be able to stay in their apartment.

In You May Already Be a Winner, Olivia is a sixth grader dealing with a multitude of problems caused by the adults in her life, and their inability to get their act together. Her father left the family in the past year, her mother works long hours as a maid, and Olivia frequently is called upon to stay home from school to take care of her younger sister, Berkeley. Olivia enters as many online contests as she can, with hopes of winning big and lifting her family out of their circumstances.

The characters certainly grabbed ahold of me and my heart just ached as I read this story. Through the years, I’ve worked with many kids that have to grow up way too quickly. Kids should be able to be kids and focus on school, friends, and fun and not have to spend their time worrying about whether their families will have food or a home. I think that this will be a book that will resonate with lots of readers. I think it's a great book to have in upper elementary and middle school classroom libraries.

Puppy Pirates Super Special #2: Best in Class (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) by Erin Soderberg  
This is a cute early reader chapter book that takes readers aboard the Salty Bone, a pirate ship run by puppies (although there is one human, Henry, on board). In this volume of the Puppy Pirates series, the crew welcomes a new puppy to the ship. When the new recruit tells the puppy pirates about puppy school, everyone is eager to find out more about it. Young readers will have fun finding out if the puppy pirates will be able to have their own puppy school on the ship, and who will win the most ribbons for being the best. 

Escape from the Great Earthquake (Ranger in Time #6) by Kate Messner 
There is lots of action and adventure for Ranger in this latest volume in the Ranger in Time series. As Ranger's family is preparing to donate used clothing to refugee families being helped by their church, the search-and-rescue dog is called into action. He finds himself in San Francisco after the great earthquake of 1906. After he rescues Lily, a Chinese immigrant, from a toppling building, he accompanies her on a mission to help her friend, May, and her family. The narrative gives readers a look at the way Chinese immigrants were treated in the early twentieth century through the lens of the great earthquake. The narrative also obliquely ties the experiences of the earthquake refugees with modern day refugees from foreign countries. The author provides background information at the end of the book for readers who might want to find out more. This series is popular among middle grade readers and a good one to have in a classroom library, especially as it inspires further research. 
Picture Books

Life by Cynthia Rylant, Brendan Wenzel (Illustrations)  
Wow! This book is absolutely beautiful! The simple, poetic text combines with the stunning artwork to create an experience. I was brought to tears because of the wonderful message that this book shares with ALL readers who come to it. In a world that seems to have gone crazy with anger, sadness, and despair, we need more of these types of reminders of how wonderful life is. I borrowed this copy from the library, but I'm definitely getting my own copy so I can enjoy it and share it with others! 

Monster's New Undies by Samantha Berger, Tad Carpenter (Illustrator)  
This fun picture book uses adorable illustrations and rollicking, rhyming text to share the dread of shopping for new underwear and the joy of finding a pair that fit perfectly. ALL readers will be able to relate to hanging on to favorite undergarments until they fall apart, and the agony of shopping for new ones because of the difficulty in finding something that fits just right. This would be fun to share with young children as everyone starts their back-to-school shopping! 
Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten by Deborah Underwood, Ned Young (Illustrator)  
This would be a great read aloud for the first day of school, especially for kindergartners. Arnold is a little dinosaur with a big imagination. As he's getting ready for his first day of kindergarten, he is certain that the teacher is an evil villain with a deadly T-Rex by his side. Arnold is transforming himself into Super Saurus and plotting his escape. Young readers will certainly be able to relate to the uncertainty that Arnold fears and have a good time reading to find out how the first day goes! Bold, colorful acrylic paintings along with Arnold's artwork, which was created with acrylics and colored pencils on watercolor board, make this an awesome picture book to have on the shelf!  

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham  
This sweet picture book takes readers on a rainy trip home from grandma's house. Mom and Francine are all buckled up in their seats, driving in a heavy rainstorm, and forced to pull off the road to wait for the rain to lighten up. Readers get to be part of a sweet conversation about what Frankie's soon-to-be-born baby sister will be named. This would be a terrific book to share with young readers who are waiting for a baby brother or sister to be born. The author lives in Australia, so it's interesting to see in the illustrations that all the drivers are sitting on the right hand side of the vehicles; something that may need explaining to children. 

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, Kris Di Giacomo (Illustrations)  
This picture book biography tells readers about the life of the poet e.e. cummings. Using a easy to follow narrative style and illustrations that incorporate samples of poetry, this would be a great mentor text for playing with words and language.  

  Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell 
With engaging, kid-friendly text and beautiful illustrations rendered in India ink and watercolor, this picture book biography shares the inspirational story of Jane Goodall's youth as she spent all of her time learning about nature and animals. As she grew up, she read Tarzan books and dreamed of one day traveling to Africa to help animals. This would be a great resource to have on the bookshelf as a great start for further research and as an inspiration to young people to find ways to help make a difference in the world around them.

  Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Candlewick Biographies) by Roxane Orgill, Sean Qualls (Illustrator) 
This picture book biography tells the fascinating and inspirational story of Ella Fitzgerald. She grew up at a time when most people had little money, but she was able to dance on the street for spare change. After her mother died, things really went downhill for Ella. With an engaging, narrative text and colorful illustrations done in acrylic, pencil, and collage, this story of how she got her act together through hard work and determination to become a star. It would be fun to listen to some of her recordings to complement the story, especially for young people who probably have never heard of her.


  1. I enjoyed You May Already Be a Winner. I'll have to check out the book you compared it to. They had that one at the Scholastic Book Fair at my school this year and although the cover was intriguing I did not pick it up. Many of my students love Puppy Pirates and Ranger in Time.

  2. I felt the same way about the Cynthia Rylant book - but she has that effect on me! I'm not familiar with Jackson's books, so thanks for the great review...I'll have to look for them, now.

  3. Oh boy, monsters and undies, that one sounds like a sure winner with little ones! :-)

  4. I do like to reading in summer time and enjoy having fun reading. I will might enjoy book called Life to read. It is on my to be read list.

  5. It looks like you had a stellar reading week.
    Thanks for this review about A Sky Full of Stars. Midnight Without a Moon is on my list, so I went to check, and glory hallelujah, is finally on order at my library! When you referenced Death By Toilet Paper, you had me sold on You May Already Be a Winner.