Book Review: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

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Gae Polisner’s new YA novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is out today! Happy Book Birthday!

JL Markham’s teen years seem typical, and yet this main character grabs the reader’s attention and holds on for dear life. In Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, JL’s stories surround her butterfly habitat, her family struggles, and her relationship with Max Gordon, who she hopes will take her away from all the high school drama when he graduates and moves to California. She’s packed and ready to leave as soon as Max is. He’s sort of a roughneck with a cool ride, but he’s also intelligent and cares for JL. Right?

JL’s mother has dissociative disorder and depression, which provides a major conflict for JL — a mother who lives alternate realities, wearing revealing kimonos around the house and writing letters to a dead author (enter Jack Kerouac). Dad took another stint with his out-of-town business and left JL and Mom in the best possible position he could, financially anyway. Mom doesn’t deal well most days, but she sees Dr. Marsdan faithfully so that she might get better sooner than later. JL’s “best friend forever,” Aubrey Andersson, now has new friends, Niccole and Meghan (think “Mean Girls”), so JL wraps her energy into raising beautiful butterflies in the solace and safety of her bedroom. She even learned to fix one’s broken wing by watching a video. Butterflies are stronger than we humans think, and they provide a safe and stable environment for JL in an otherwise cruel world. As for Max, he’s invested, he’s all in, he’s there for JL every step of the way. Right?

What happens when childhood friendships end, but adult life has yet to begin? What’s next for 15-year-old JL? Will she be caged in – stuck in the past, or fly away to a bright future?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me for the references to strong girls who are intelligent and can live life on their own (even if they don’t know how yet), for how the characters made me feel (reliving my own high school days), and for the twists and turns that the alternating timelines led me through. I wanted to smack JL’s friends and hug her at the same time, letting her know that life works out, eventually.

Why You Should Read Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me: You’ll want to learn more about raising butterflies (it’s fascinating!). You’ll want to scream at Aubrey. You’ll want to yell at Dad over JL’s phone. You’ll want to hug Mom and tell her everything will be okay. You’ll want to help Max see the love that is standing there, waiting for him. And you’ll want to encourage JL to live her best life, leaving her past behind. This book is remarkable. Gae Polisner has done it again.

My Rating: *****

IMWAYR: Spring Break at Home

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It’s Spring Break! Since we are home for the duration, I decided to re-read some amazing books along with the authors this week. One of the positive memories I will take away from the COVID-19 mess is the authors and illustrators who generously give their time to read aloud to a wide virtual audience, including teachers, parents, and students. Thank you so much!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (April 6 – 10 on Facebook Live at 10:30 am ET)

Dear Dragon and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk (Saturdays at 11 am on Instagram Live)

Tomorrow’s highly-anticipated book birthday — Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me — finally arrives. Happy Book Birthday! We will celebrate by eating cake and listening to Gae read aloud at her Virtual Facebook Live Launch party! (April 7 on Facebook Live from 7-9 pm ET)

Stay safe and healthy out there!

It’s Monday! What Are YOU Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and Kathryn decided to give “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

 

Book Review: Green Lantern Legacy by Minh Lê

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Mihn Lê adds to the popular trend in middle grade books — comic book heroes — with Green Lantern: Legacy. (DC Comics, 2020)

Teen artist, Tai Pham, hangs out and draws in his grandmother’s (Bà’s) store, Jade Market, after school, dreaming of his future. Another brick through the front window, another attack. The family (who lives in the apartment upstairs) wants Bà to sell the store, but she refuses, saying, “We will not let fear drive us from our home. Not again.” She refers to leaving Vietnam many years ago and shows her resolve to keep what she and her family have gained from years of work in Coast City. Jade Market is not just a store. It is home.

When Bà passes, her jade ring becomes Tai’s keepsake. What he learns is that ring chose him to join in a secret — a society of space cops called Green Lanterns — who work against fear, and Yellow Lanterns, to save the earth. Can he handle the power and pressure? Tai’s friends may be able to help him, but he must find his inner strength to carry on his grandmother’s legacy.

This new graphic novel is sure to capture attention from a wide range of readers. Andie Tong’s colorful comic illustrations and Minh Lê’s captivating text make this book a must-read for middle school readers, and there are references to woo the adult crowd, as well. Add Green Lantern: Legacy to your reading list today.

Audiobook Review — Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Read by Jason Reynolds, with an introduction by Ibram X. Kendi

(provided by libro.fm)

Wow, wow, wow. I’m not an audiobook reader, but I’m listening to books more in an effort to be intelligent while also cleaning house on the weekends. I can tell you, Jason Reynolds can read to me any time.

Stamped… is NOT a history book, as Jason explains. It is a text for the here and now. Reviewing the story of how systematic racism (in the form of needed slavery) started, the book takes the reader (listener) through time periods in history where power and control were keys to success. Any time that power or control was threatened, people changed roles, laws, and society to “right the white.” It’s scary — all that learning (I DID know about Thomas Jefferson’s “other side”) — only to come to the present time, still living the exact same truths.

It was a disturbing, yet entertaining listen; Jason Reynolds’ laughter while relaying a snippy comment or the humor attached to an unjust situation (I’m thinking of the Thomas Jefferson story again: “Oh, no! Oh, no!”) makes the audiobook flow and keeps the listener engaged. It’s a conversation piece, too, and that makes Stamped… perfect for book clubs in secondary history classrooms, university discussions, or even your own living room.

Chapter 7…whoa! Chapter 9 was my favorite, where Jason spoke about “Uplift-suasion” — Abolitionists urged the newly-freed people to go to church, speak proper English, etc. “Black people couldn’t be accepted as themselves…Make yourself small. Make yourself unthreatening. Make yourself the same. Make yourself safe. Make yourself quiet to make white people comfortable with your existence.”

If you haven’t read Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You yet, add it to your reading list. Better yet, listen to the audiobook, read by Jason Reynolds. It will make you think. Then you should act accordingly, as if you have learned something. I know I learned.

 

 

 

Book PREview: Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin

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Joy and Lukas had been friends ever since second grade, when Mr. Carter told each student with a summer birthday to stand up and be recognized before the end of the school year. “August…How weird is that? What are the chances?” (p.15) Lukas loved math, so he tried to figure out the chances. Joy played along. As time moved along, the two became closer, literally living in next-door apartment buildings. They studied math together, solved puzzles and riddles, and Lukas set up an elaborate scavenger hunt for Joy to figure out each year on her birthday. Even though Lukas had a troubled older brother, Joy hung out with him while her parents cautiously watched. Her own family was a little difficult, with a sort-of-snobby-but-caring older sister and two younger siblings who needed lots of attention. So Joy and Lukas were the perfect pair — together for all time. Until Lukas died on Joy’s twelfth birthday.

A year later, Joy strums her beautiful red birthday guitar and thinks about Lukas. She thinks about his troubled older brother – how people warned her about “that family.” She knew none of it was true. As she celebrates her birthday, she thinks about her friend who will not celebrate this year. She thinks, “If I don’t tell the stories – of cupcakes and scavenger hunts and holes in the sand – they will be lost forever.” (p.11) She must tell the story of her friend, Lukas, the story that’s true. She decides to open the envelope that held the first clue to the scavenger hunt Lukas set up for her a year earlier. Before his death. Before he could reveal the one thing that he never could during his lifetime. Now, Joy has to keep the birthday tradition alive. She has to find the next clue.

Seven Clues to Home is the story of Joy and Lukas: their friendship, their families, and their last scavenger hunt. Told in alternating chapters, Joy tells the story of the hunt in present time while Lukas tells his story of setting up the hunt the year before, and how the clues would lead to his biggest secret, finally revealed. Although it’s a story about grief and loss, it’s also a friendship story, a family story, and a town’s story of sticking together in the best and worst of times.

I love Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin. Separately, their writing is intriguing, interesting, inspiring. When they collaborate…wow! Make sure you don’t miss Seven Clues to Home, coming June 9, 2020 from Alfred A Knopf Books. Start your summer with this 5-Star book.

 

Book Review: The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski

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The Wonder of Wildflowers is a MUST read, but also MUST discuss title. This book covers lots of topics in a kid-friendly way — and encourages empathy while also staying true to yourself. 

Amber is a liquid magic — when you drink the recommended amount each day, you are stronger, healthier, and smarter. Amberland is the place to be to experience the benefits of Amber. Mira’s family moves to Amberland by invitation — her mom is a scientist working with Amber. But as an immigrant, Mira is not allowed to have Amber like her friends, Krysta (the mayor’s daughter) and the others, at least not until the citizenship papers come in, which will be any day now. 

Mira is excited to see what Amber can do for her, but her new science partner for the wildflower project, Daniel (the weird classmate who doesn’t seem to benefit from the magic), is a constant reminder that Amber may not work the way it’s intended. But, why? Tata (Mira’s father) refuses to use Amber, saying he is enough without it, and Mira’s current talents (like writing) are enough, too.

Will Mira and her family be able to reap the benefits of magical Amber? Or will Mira discover something else instead? As the story unfolds, so does the mystery.

I am moved by how many social issues are presented through the pages of this book, recommended for ages 8 and up. I would posit that middle school and high school students could benefit from deep discussions surrounding immigration, government funding and regulation of foods and drugs, corruption, as well as peer pressure and school-based issues. I love how the story is perfect for the elementary age range, but the handling of these deeper topics is also compelling for the older group.

The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski is timely and important, and Tata (MC Mira’s father) is my favorite parent of #kidlit so far this year. 

Thank you, Simon & Schuster and Ms. Staniszewski, for allowing me an Advance Reader Copy of The Wonder of Wildflowers. I enjoyed it, and I know fellow readers will, as well.

 

Best Books of 2019 — What a Year of Reading!

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Here it is! The Best Books of 2019! What a Year of Reading!

I pored over my book lists and reviewed my book stacks to create this “Best of 2019” list. I found it difficult to decide which books are “best,” since I (pretty much) like everything I read. I’m also a reader who reads what my friends recommend, and as a middle-school teacher-librarian, I read many #kidlit books, which makes this particular list different from some others I’ve seen. I’ll explain briefly. My criteria for this “Best Books List” 2019:

  • Book was published in 2019
  • Book was rated “5 Stars” on my Goodreads account
  • Book meant something special to me as a reader
  • This is my list as a teacher-librarian/reader, not influenced by other readers or reviewers.

This list is of books is organized by release date. I did not rank the books other than their “5-Star status.”

January 7, 2019 — The Art of Comprehension, by Trevor A. Bryan

January 8, 2019 — What is Given From the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack

January 29, 2019 — Cicada, by Shaun Tan

February 5, 2019 — Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

February 5, 2019 — Song For a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

February 12, 2019 —How I Became a Spy, by Deborah Hopkinson

March 5, 2019 — When You Are Brave, by Pat Zietlow Miller

March 12, 2019 — Shout! by Laurie Halse Anderson

March 12, 2019 — Just Like Rube Goldberg, by Sarah Aronson

March 19, 2019 — Internment, by Samira Ahmed

March 21, 2019 — Reading to Make a Difference, by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly

March 22, 2019 — Carl and the Meaning of Life, by Deborah Freedman

April 1, 2019 — Carter Reads the Newspaper, by Deborah Hopkinson

April 2, 2019 — The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander

May 7, 2019 — Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

May 14, 2019 — My Papi Has a Motorcycle, by Isabel Quintero

June 4, 2019 — On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

June 4, 2019  — Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

June 18, 2019 — How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander

September 3, 2019 —White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

September 3, 2019 — More To the Story, by Hena Khan

September 17, 2019 — At the Mountain’s Base, by Traci Sorell

September 17, 2019 — Stormy, by Guojing

October 1, 2019 — Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee

October 1, 2019 — The Tornado, by Jake Burt

October 1, 2019 — I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day

October 8, 2019 — Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

October 8, 2019 — Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

October 15, 2019 — Give and Take, by Elly Swartz

November 5, 2019 — Every Stolen Breath, by Kimberly Gabriel

What were YOUR favorite books of 2019?

 

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