Book Review: Seven Clues to Home – Happy Book Birthday!

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It’s finally here! Happy Book Birthday to Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin!

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, out today from Alfred A Knopf Books. Start your summer with this 5-Star book.

 

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 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.

 

IMWAYR: Last Week’s Lines and a New ARC

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Reading just gets better and better! This year I’m working on staying on pace, and I’m failing miserably already. Through this first part of January, I’m learning that it’s not too bad — I’m savoring some great titles a little longer.

This week, I’ll finish The Fountains of Silence (audiobook by Ruta Sepetys), The First Conspiracy (by Meltzer/Mensch), and Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From (Jennifer De Leon). I received Seven Clues to Home by my friends, Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin (Thank you, ladies, and Knopf/Random House), which is just beautiful so far. The main character, Joy, turned 12 and lost her best friend the same day; that was a year ago. Now, she’s trying to pull together the clues that Lukas left her and pull herself together in the process, maybe finding a way to really live again. Oh, my heart! (due June 9, 2020)

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: Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me (April, 2020)

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Gae Polisner’s new novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is due in April 2020 from Wednesday Books, but you should pre-order this now.

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 Pre-Order 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. Add it to your list now, and be ready to read in 2020.

My Rating: *****

IMWAYR: I’m a Winner! Thank you, Susan Ross!

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I’m a winner! Thank you, Susan Ross (@SusanRossAuthor) for sending me Kiki and Jacques: A Refugee Story and Searching for Lottie from your #giveaway on Twitter. I can’t wait to get started! Searching for Lottie sounds perfect for my middle school students. Knowing that the characters are based on Susan’s own family will make this a personal Holocaust story I won’t forget, I’m sure.

I will finish Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me this week. I don’t want to give away too much, but whoa! This is another excellent book by Gae Polisner (how DOES she do it?) with characters that you want to yell at and hug all at once. JL Markham is one of my new favorite characters this year.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme 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 I 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.

IMWAYR: Picture Books are Perfect and New Book Mail

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This is a big week of reading, since I’ll be presenting my introductory professional development session, “Picture Books are Perfect for Middle School & High School” on September 14th at the Indiana State Literacy Conference in Noblesville, IN. I will read MANY picture books this week to finalize my presentation. Which books should I pack? Which ones are best for teaching theme? Which ones are best for teaching multiple perspectives? How about vocabulary? Setting? I have some ideas. If you are able, join us! Click here for more details. #ISLA19

 

I also received a special “book mail” package today. I am reading the upcoming Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner (Wednesday Books, 04/2020). Thank you to everyone at Macmillan for sending me an advanced reader copy. I’m honored.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme 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 I 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.

IMWAYR: In Sight of Stars

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It’s Monday, and I’m reading this masterpiece again. In Sight of Stars, by Gae Polisner, touched me and I needed to reread tonight.

In Sight of Stars is the story of Klee (pronounced Clay: long-a sound, after the Swiss painter, Paul Klee), an artist and high school senior who suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. He lived in New York City, which was perfect for this budding artist — his father took him to all the great museums and led Klee to study the great artists — until his father’s death.

Klee’s mother moves him to the suburbs. He is lost, until he finds Sarah, the perfect girl in his art class. Well, not perfect. Klee discovers his life is out of control, and he spins right into the “Ape Can” — a psychiatric hospital for teens. As Klee struggles to find out what in his life is real and what is imaginary, he holds tight to the artwork on the wall in the therapist’s office, and remembers his home in the city with his dad. Will he ever be able to overcome the dark nights? Maybe if he can set his sights on the stars…

This book moved me. Many times I related to Klee as a mother, as a teacher, as a possible friend. I felt his experiences as he did, and I struggled with him until the end of the book. The art discussions between the characters led me to research artists on my own — Klee, Van Gogh, and more. The twists and turns of the plot events swirled in my head and my heart. One intriguing move Polisner made in this story is using alternating timelines. The flashbacks and present time frames made the twists even more realistic — my own head was spinning out of control with Klee’s memories vs. current actions throughout the story. The ending then dramatically, and yet gently, allowed me to breathe again with the main character. Since I read the book the first time, I find myself outside at night quite a bit, looking at the stars. The cover of the book notes, “To find the stars, you have to face the dark.” Perfect.