Reading Teacher Writes

Sharing a love of literacy with fellow readers and writers

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Book PREview: Race Against Death by Deborah Hopkinson

Race Against Death is a scary, suspenseful look at POWs’ lives after Pearl Harbor. Deborah Hopkinson brings the story of The “Angels of the Underground” to readers, detailing the horrific conditions the American and Filipino servicemen endured while stuck in the Philippines under Japanese military control.

This a story of suffering and death attributed to war and its conditions, but also a celebration of the hope and dedication of US Army Rangers who risked everything to save their fellow soldiers. The Great Raid was an unknown war story for this reader, and I hope many more readers will come to know about this Race Against Death. Powerful. Interesting. Needed.

Recommended for middle school/high school.
5 Stars!

Thank you to the author for the early peek ARC. This title publishes in April 2023 by Scholastic Focus. #NewBooks #TrueStories #WarStories #middleschool #reading #independentreading #WWII #ReadingTeacherWrites #booksojourn


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Book PREView: Sunshine by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

In this companion to Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett takes us with him to Camp Sunshine, a week-long camp for pediatric cancer patients and their families. Jarrett volunteered when he was a senior in high school, and it changed his life.

Reading Sunshine changed my life – I can only read about Jarrett’s experience with Diego, Eric, and their families, but I wish my high school would have done a service project like this when I was young. I loved reading about the kids and all of the cool activities they got to do while at Camp Sunshine, despite their diagnoses.

Jarrett was a lovely host for Diego, encouraging the wheelchair-bound teen to speak a little more loudly and try activities that may have otherwise been impossible. Everything was possible at Camp Sunshine. Jarrett also made lifelong friends, special people who led him to be the wonderful human he is today.

Thank you to the author for sharing this wonderful graphic novel with readers. We are better people now that we’ve entered your world.

Recommended for ages 10 and up. Make sure you read the author’s note and acknowledgments. 5 Stars!

Sunshine publishes April 18, 2023 with Graphix. Thank you to Jarrett and the amazing people at Scholastic for the preview copy.

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Book Review: Hands by Torrey Maldonado

Book Review: Hands by Torrey Maldonado (Publishes January 24, 2023 – Nancy Paulsen Books)

How do you use your hands? Trev wants to learn to box so he can take care of his stepdad, who threatened Mom before going to prison. Trev thinks that “throwing hands” is the answer to his family problems. His friends and family members, especially the uncles, try to point Trev in a different direction. You see, Trev is smart. Never gets anything lower than 85% in school and is a fabulous artist. He could use his hands for good. The question is, what will Trev ultimately decide?

Hands is a story about a loyal family member who struggles with how to handle life. He’s “all good,” but not really. He worries. He tries to find solutions. He strives to discover himself as he works to use his hands. Metaphors include using “hands” in many ways, which lead Trev through his own story.

Middle schoolers will love this look at life: the dialogue is real, the inner and outer conflicts drive the plot, and the characters seem like family you want to talk with and protect.

Torrey Maldonado’s hands wrote another engaging, quick-but-meaningful text that teachers should add to their classroom libraries and librarians need to offer on their shelves. Recommended for ages 10 and up. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Book PREview: The Door of No Return

In The Door of No Return, Kwame Alexander introduces the reader to 11-year-old Kofi and his tight-knit family. Kofi is smart, friendly, and a strong swimmer, showing off in the waters of the Offin River, the fastest of all his friends. Kofi dreams of water and wonders what his dreams mean. Nana Mosi, his grandfather and the village storyteller, warns Kofi, “The water is not your friend, at night…” Kofi wonders about all Nana Mosi’s sayings and stories but pays attention. Kofi knows his dreams and his grandfather’s teachings will keep him alert to the changes in the village. He will need every ounce of this knowledge in the future.

Kofi’s story weaves the reader in and then untwists the mind and heart as the plot moves forward. Hope builds, then curtails as the reader gasps for a breath before each new chapter. This novel-in-verse is a perfect collection, examining several forms of poetry through the pages while examining human existence. As the water of the Offin drifts, the reader’s expectations roll along, waiting for the next wave. (This book is the first in a trilogy.)

Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and the author for the early copy of this fabulous tale and the expanded education for all readers. (Expected publication on September 27, 2022)

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Book PREview – Invisible: The Graphic Novel

Invisible tells the story of five students at Conrad Middle School who are called to the principal’s office regarding their actions that led up to April 18. The principal and community member conducting the interview assume that the students don’t speak much English, just because of their names and little-known backgrounds. These students are otherwise invisible at school. 

As the interview progresses, the story reveals how these students met — as community service patrons working in the school cafeteria, gathering hours towards graduation. They don’t know each other. They assume the stereotypes one would expect in school: the brain, the jock, the tough one, the rich one, and the loner (“The Breakfast Club” reference). To the adults, they are just “the Spanish-speaking kids.” They perform their tasks without much thought of community, until they meet someone outside the school fence. Things advance quickly, and the students have to learn about each other and band together as the community service members they are. Can they be unexpected upstanding citizens, even as middle schoolers? “How can you be yourself when no one sees the real you?” 

Read this book to find out more about being invisible and how being seen as your true self is the greatest reward. 

The text includes English and Spanish, a welcome inclusion in this engaging graphic novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Gabriela Epstein. Recommended for ages 10 and up. You’re going to want to add this title to your middle school shelves in the fall. Publishing August 2022 by Scholastic Graphix. Thanks to the author and publisher for the early read.

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Book Review: IN THE WILD LIGHT by Jeff Zentner

I’ve waited a long time to celebrate this book — coming on Tuesday! Thank you for writing another important and heart-filled YA title, Jeff Zentner!

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner. Published by Crown Books for Young Readers.

Cash Pruitt is a hard-working 17-year-old from Sawyer, Tennessee who has a hard past. Now living with his grandparents, Cash mows lawns, attends Sawyer High School, and hangs out with his best friend, Delaney Doyle. The two share heartbreaks (Cash’s mom died of an opioid addiction and Delaney’s mom is headed down the same path) and adventures (traveling on the river and digging in caves). When Delaney’s adventures lead to an important medical discovery, Middleford Academy in Connecticut offers Delaney a scholarship to the prestigious private high school, but she won’t go unless Cash joins her.
How does a teenager pick up and leave the only home he’s ever known? Mamaw cannot possibly handle working night shifts and take care of Papaw all by herself. But new places and faces are an opportunity for Cash as much as for Delaney. When a teacher introduces poetry, Cash discovers that writing can bring home and family to whatever setting he happens to occupy at the time. 
Packed with references to recognized settings, readers will relate to Cash and Delaney and their stories. The gorgeous language of Zentner’s storytelling, especially the details of scenes and scents, makes the reader stop and appreciate nature, especially the river and how it nourishes the soul. Cash learns to navigate life through his poetry, something he can use to reveal his love. Readers will love In the Wild Light and maybe even uncover their own passion for life — the feelings will grip and hold on for a long while. “Home is where the heart is” never had truer meaning.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

5 Stars *****

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IMWAYR: PREview – The Shape of Thunder

I don’t read many books in one day, but The Shape of Thunder was such a gripping story, I had to finish before bedtime. Cora and Quinn used to be best friends, before Quinn’s brother did the most awful thing one can imagine to Cora’s sister, Mabel and others at the local high school. The girls cannot be friends now. It’s impossible.

It’s been almost a year since that terrible day. Can the two girls ever come to terms with what happened and be friends again? Maybe not. Maybe. Only time will tell.

Jasmine Warga weaves such intricate stories — readers are lost in the woods with Cora and Quinn, looking for answers that may save their friendship once and for all. Can Cora and Quinn turn back the clock? Using the scientific method, is it possible to travel back in time and change the story of that fateful day?

Family dynamics are at the heart of this novel. There is trauma and grief, but also love, wrapped with feelings that no one can share. Parents are imperfect and siblings prove that difficult relationships can tear a family apart, and the consequences are far-reaching.

Thank you, @NetGalley and @BalzerandBray for the early read. Thank you @JasmineWarga for another wonderful title, which I’ve added to my list of 2021 books to purchase. (May 2021)

Recommended for upper middle and high school. Trigger warning: death/school shootings

My rating: ****


IMWAYR: Graphic Novels Count as Reading!

I pulled a little collection of graphic novels out this week because we have three of them in our Battle of the Books stack this year and because Junior Library Guild delivered more with our school subscription last week. They will keep me busy, trying to keep up with the students and promoting the message, “Graphic novels are real reading!” Try some of these in your own reading life.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – Snapdragon lives in a town with her mom…and a witch neighbor. Jacks is scary, lives alone in a dark house, and sells skeletons from roadkill on the internet. When Snapdragon needs a favor, Jacks is the only one left to ask for help, so the two become companions, whether Jacks likes it or not. There are mysterious happenings and surprising relationships, and Snap wants to know what it all means, and how she is involved with the bigger picture of this little town.

This graphic novel comes complete with suspense and awe, and a cute little dog pal, to boot. Readers will take Snap in as a friend, and feel a family connection in the end.

Recommended for middle schoolers and up.

Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne – Middle school students are going to love Beetle and her cute ghost-BFF, Blob Ghost. This graphic novel is perfect for independent reading time and focuses on friendships (new and old), family, and finding a way to stand up for yourself in times of trouble.

Beetle is a 12-year-old goblin-witch who is homeschooled by Gran, the Town Witch. She’s not very good at her lessons: she can’t fly a broom well and doesn’t know how to make potions. Beetle would rather dream about becoming a sorceress and hang out at the mall with Blob Ghost. But the mall is being sold, and will be demolished in one week under the control of the new owner, Marla Hollowbone, a former resident and Gran’s nemesis.

Can Beetle and her old friend Kat (Ms. Hollowbone’s niece) find a way to help Blob Ghost escape the mall and be free? Will Kat find a way to stand up to her power-hungry aunt? Will the town ever be the same?

Next up…Superman Smashes the Clan by Gene Luen Yang, with art by Gurihiru.

Doodleville by Chad Sell. Cardboard Kingdom by Mr. Sell was such a hit, we had to get this one into the library! I haven’t read it yet, but I will this week.

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and illustrated by Manuel Preitano (DC Comics, 2020)

It’s MONDAY! What are YOU reading?

IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop with kid lit co-hosts Jennifer from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers. The original IMWAYR, with an adult literature focus, was started by Sheila at Book Journeys and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It’s a great way to share what you’re reading and get recommendations from others. We encourage you to write your own post sharing what you’re reading, link up, leave a comment, and support other IMWAYR bloggers by visiting and commenting on at least three of the other linked blogs each week.


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“Picture Books are Perfect” – Review of I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James is the newest must-read picture book for middle school, and everyone else! This is a joyful celebration of all good things: gravity, moonbeams, cinnamon rolls, skateboarding, using a microscope, being polite, paper airplanes, swimming…and being human! I love the language — “I am a lightning round of questions…” reminds me of my former 6th grade students and my current grandchildren. The references to family, creativity, respect, worth, and love make this the feel-good book of the year.

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Happy Book Birthday, Dusti Bowling!

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Nora’s therapist asks, “What do you fear?” (Dying.) and “Are you likely to die in this situation?” (Yes.)

It’s been a year since Nora and her dad lost her mother in a violent, unprovoked event. Dad has been grieving by taking Nora out of school and avoiding people; Nora doesn’t want to deal with the questions, either, and has pushed away her best friend in the process. After a year, it’s time to start healing. Dad and Nora take the Jeep to the canyon, where the family spent their lives climbing and hiking — a favorite bonding activity. To move forward, Nora and Dad must come to understand “why,” avoiding the “what-ifs” of this new life. Nora writes in her notebook to capture what was, what is, and what might be in the future.

As the father/daughter team climb through the canyon, terrible things happen. When a flash flood smashes them against a wall and sweeps her father away, Nora is left alone to face the scorpions, snakes, and The Beast. Can she use what her therapist taught her (breathe, move, hope) to find her father again, or will the canyon take what is left of her family?

Dusti Bowling is a master of words in this gripping and suspenseful new middle-grade Southwest story. Students should study the character development, writing engaging scenes, figurative language, and poetry (I love haiku, too!). Any reader who loves outdoor adventures will love this book.

Happy Book Birthday, Dusti Bowling! I’m so happy to see this book out in the world!