Monday, August 14, 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.


This year's August Picture Book 10 for 10 was a big success. So many people made lists of ten great picture books. Some centered their lists around a theme, some just picked ten great books. I picked ten picture books released in 2017 that I think should definitely be shared with kids. If you would like to see other people's lists, search the hashtag #pb10for10 on Twitter, or click on the link on my blog-post from Thursday, August 10.

Here's what I've been reading last week:

 Middle Grade/YA Fiction

In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed this book. In fact, as I was nearing the end, I found myself reading more slowly in order to make it last a little bit longer!

For anyone who ever looks back at defining moments in life and wondered what things would be like if a different choice had been made (and who hasn't?), this book is perfect. Kennedy Rhodes, a senior at Southwest High School, is a high energy, ambitious teenager with dreams of attending Columbia University to pursue a degree in Journalism. She's the editor in chief of the Southwest Star, the high school newspaper that she saved from closing, for which she has won numerous awards. But she constantly wonders how much better her life would be if she had accepted a spot at the prestigious, private school, Windsor Academy.

She declined the offer before her freshman year because she was in love with a boy. Three years later, this boy cheated on her with her best friend, and she is certain she made the wrong decision. An accidental bump on the head while visiting the campus somehow sends her into some sort of parallel universe in which she had decided to attend Windsor Academy when she received the offer. But as she settles into the life that she was sure she was really meant to live, she quickly learns that nothing is perfect in any life and that her decisions have ramifications on all of the people around her.

I loved reading how Kennedy reacts to her new circumstances and found myself frequently stopping to consider what I would do if the same thing happened to me. The plot also offers a new perspective on decision making and how the people around us are impacted by choices we make. The story reminded me a lot of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where the main character, George Bailey, learns what the world would be like if he had never been born.

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg, Wendy Wan-Long Shang 
This middle grade novel takes readers back to 1983, when the Cold War had the United States and the Soviet Union building nuclear stockpiles aimed at each other and tensions between the two countries were very high. Network television aired the movie The Day After, which showed a town in Kansas taking a direct hit from a nuclear missile. The movie showed in blunt terms what would happen to us and our lives if such a terrible thing ever happened.

This is the backdrop for the main character, David Da-Wei Horowitz, a seventh grader who is Chinese and Jewish, who is trying to prepare for his upcoming bar mitzvah and also dealing with the stress of his feuding grandmothers, the stress of trying to win the school trivia contest, and the stress of building a fallout shelter with one friend, while leaving his best friend out.

I must confess, that I was drawn in quickly because I was also in junior high school in 1983. I remember everyone watching The Day After on TV on a Sunday night and discussing it in class the next day. I also became very nostalgic with references to Atari games, pudding pops, and Trapper Keepers.

But I also liked how the author developed the characters in a way that makes them seem like kids of today. Many of the problems of middle grade kids are the same as they were 34 years ago! I also liked that we get a glimpse into David’s religious life as he discusses some of his worries with Rabbi Doug and as David and his family plan for his bar mitzvah.

There is humor in the story. One of my favorite parts was when he was at the shopping mall with his grandmother to buy a new suit and he was trying to avoid running into other kids from his school. But there is also some really great messages for kids - especially in his bar mitzvah speech:

“Listen to what others are telling you and what they're not telling you.
Speak up. Especially for those who can't speak for themselves. Or when poison ivy is involved.
Respect your family - they got you to where you are, and you're not going anywhere without them.
Don't leave anyone out.
Support your friends and construction projects.
Be brave, especially when it's hard, because that's when it's the most important.
Thing big, whether it's a fallout shelter or science fair project.
Apologize when you're wrong.
Work for world peace by making peace where you are.
No matter how bad it gets, never push the button.”
Picture Books

Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt, Amariah Rauscher (Illustrator)  
With rollicking, rhyming text and friendly, warm illustrations, this fun picture book celebrates all of the wonderful qualities that make the young girl in the book special. This would be a great read aloud to share with young children to inspire a growth mindset and self confidence.  

Wordplay by Adam Lehrhaupt, Jared Chapman (Contributor)  
This is a very clever picture book that will be so much fun to share with young readers. Using humorous narrative text and playful illustrations, this book introduces kids to the parts of speech. Verb does things and loves to be the center of attention. But noun can be all sorts of awesome people, places, and things. The rivalry is interrupted by some interjection trouble and readers will have a great time finding out all the parts of speech work things out. This would be great to have in elementary classroom libraries! 

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher, Jess Pauwels (Illustrations)  
This is a cute picture book that tells the story of an enthusiastic owl detective who wants to get to the bottom of a mystery. While patrolling the skies over the woods, he spots a possum lying very still. Certain of foul play, the owl starts looking for clues and eyewitnesses. Whimsical, colorful illustrations make this a fun story to share with young readers. 

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea  
For those who like scary stories, but don't REALLY like to be scared, this book is perfect. I hate scary stories, and during scary movies, I always cover my eyes (much to the frustration of my husband)! The little ghost in this story is scared to go any further into the book. So, he accidentally on purpose ruins his ghost outfit and has nothing to wear. As he learns of what really is going on in the story, he is coaxed into the next pages to realize it's not as scary as he thought it was going to be. This book has a great message about trusting your friends and facing your fears. This would be fun to share with kids around Halloween time. It also might inspire great writing about scary things that maybe aren't so scary. 

Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick, Matthew Cordell (Contributor)  
This is a terrific follow up to First Grade Dropout and a great picture book to share with young readers (especially second graders) during the first few days of school. The little boy in the story is dreading the start of second grade. Things were just fine in first grade and he's not ready for the big changes that he's certain will come with the next grade level. This could be a great conversation starter about goals and expectations for the new school year. It could also be a great springboard for writing!  

  Splat! by Jon Burgerman 
With simple, repetitive text and bright, vibrant illustrations, this silly book will get lots of giggles from very young readers. As one splat lands on top of another, making more and more of a mess, this might be a fun way to introduce the concept of repetition, accumulation, and making predictions. Young readers will appreciate that this book doesn't take itself too seriously and will come to it just for the fun of saying, "Splat!"

Everywhere, Wonder by Matthew Swanson, Robbi Behr  
This is a sweet picture book that celebrates the joy and wonder of the world around us, whether this world comes to us from the pages of a book or a walk through our neighborhood. With lyrical text, and colorful illustrations that are digital collages of sampled watercolor washes, this would be a lovely addition to a classroom library. It might even make a good mentor text to inspire writers to look at the world around them with a fresh perspective and share their stories.

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, Colin Bootman (Illustrator)  
With easy-to-understand narrative text and beautiful watercolor illustrations, this picture book biography tells the story of Vivien Thomas, a surgical research technician who helped develop techniques and equipment to perform open-heart surgeries on babies. Thomas was unable to attend medical school because the Great Depression put it out of reach financially. As a laboratory technician to a prominent surgeon, Thomas overcame racism and resentment from colleagues to become one of the pioneers of groundbreaking medical treatments for young children suffering from heart defects. The book is very inspirational and with additional notes and resources listed at the end, a wonderful nonfiction resource for the classroom library.  

I Had a Favorite Hat by Boni Ashburn, Robyn Ng  
This fun picture book is perfect for young readers who want to hang on to the things that make them happy and can always imagine what can be with "a little bit of this and a little bit of that"! The little girl in this story is reluctant to put away her favorite beach hat at the end of summer. Instead, she hangs it on the back of her door. Through the course of the year, she takes "a little bit of this and a little bit of that" to make the perfect accessory for a Halloween costume, a holiday outfit, a birthday hat, etc. This book would certainly help to develop a growth mindset in kids, as it has the main character always thinking of how to make this hat fit any occasion. The illustrations were created "with graphite, watercolor, pencil crayon, ink, needle and thread, cut paper, Photoshop, and the love of friends and family." The result is a warm, uplifting book that belongs on all elementary bookshelves. 

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz 
This would be a great book to share with young readers at the start of the school year as classroom communities are being built. This book celebrates diversity by looking at subtle differences in the context of the similarities that people share, specifically - skin color. Lena's mom is an artist and as she begins to explain how to mix paint colors to come up with the perfect shade of brown for her skin, Lena is confused because, "Brown is brown." But a stroll through the neighborhood and visits with many different friends shows Lena that there are lots of different shades of brown. With simple, engaging text and wonderful illustrations rendered in collage, gouache, and colored pencil, this book would be a great addition to the classroom library, and maybe even the art room. 


  1. Keep seeing Word Play pop up on social media. From your description, the text would definitely support the teaching of grammar in a FUN way. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Whobert Whoever looks cute. I liked Second Grade Holdout. It's a good follow-up. It's a definitely a change to go from one grade to another. It's a good title to share w/teachers at my school.

  3. I laughed at your description of attending scary movies. My husband refuses to take me to them now because I am always clutching at him and trying to close my eyes and ears at the same time.
    I have a copy of Tiny Stitches in my pile to read this coming week. I'm even more excited about it now.

  4. The Scariest Book Ever looks fantastic. I love Shea's work! Thanks for sharing it!

  5. I loved This is Just a Test! I laughed at the buttons on the jean jacket - totally remember wearing those!

  6. I agree with your comments about Tiny Stitches--so inspirational!