School Year Reading Reflection

I know many book bloggers reflect on their reading life at the end of the calendar year, which I do as well, but as a teacher I like to also reflect on my school year reading. It helps me plan my summer reading so I can work on filling in any gaps I may have had over the school year. I don’t like to plan my summer reading too much, however, because it’s my time to truly dig into my reading pile and relax. Plus, I don’t know what my new group of students will need in terms of reading, but it’s still good for me to always be mindful about my reading choices.

During the 2015-2016 school year I read 56 books which is an increase from last year. I’m sure most of that has to do with Jack being older and I made a concerted effort to listen to more audiobooks this school year. For this post, I’m going to break down my reading life by different categories and some books will be listed more than once depending on the category. It’s important to remember that one book can appeal to a variety of readers for different reasons.

School Year Reading

Historical Fiction/Historical Novels (10 novels read): This school year I tried genre binges which I can tell REALLY helped me diversify my reading since I tend to read mostly contemporary realistic fiction. Through this process I discovered a real interest in reading historical novels.

  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
  • Jackaby by William Ritter
  • Girl at War by Sara Novic
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowry
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • American Ace by Marilyn Nelson
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Tomboy by Liz Prince

Fantasy (Roughly 8 novels read): Another binge reading genre for me was fantasy novels mostly because of my fantasy panel at ALAN this past year. I always enjoy reading fantasy, but I’ve noticed that a fantasy novel isn’t always the first one I grab from my TBR pile when choosing a book. I really need to work on that because I sometimes feel like I’m always recommending the same fantasy novels to my students.

  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (I reread this as a read aloud/paranormal fantasy)
  • Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins (one of my classes wanted me to read the sequel as a read aloud)
  • Jackaby by William Ritter (this has paranormal elements)
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (I go back and forth about whether to qualify this as fantasy)
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk (maybe paranormal because of the whole Cupid thing)

Mystery/Thriller (8 novels read): My students this year, maybe more than previous years, love and often requested more mystery titles. This category is tough for me to break down because so many books can be viewed as mystery depending on the plot and the reader.

  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Jackaby by William Ritter
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
  • The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
  • Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
  • Perry’s Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber

Science Fiction (3 novels read): I simply don’t read enough of this genre. I would love some current (2015-2016) sci-fi recommendations!

  • Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
  • Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Racially Diverse Characters (10 novels read): I’m really trying to expand my knowledge of books with racially diverse characters because even though the district where I teach is not racially diverse, I don’t want a “white-washed” classroom library. And I know my students don’t want that either; they want broader perspectives than their own. This is still an area of improvement, however.

  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt (this also works as a loose Romeo & Juliet retelling)
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
  • The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blockmon Lowry
  • American Ace by Marilyn Nelson
  • Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins (features racially diverse characters in some of the short stories)

LGBTQ Characters (5 novels read): I’ve been working on this area of my reading life for years now. Within the last few years I can tell that it’s making a difference because more and more of my students are openly requesting more of these titles and sharing them once they’ve read them. Also, for the purpose of this post I’m only listing books that feature an LGBTQ main character.

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins (features multiple LGBTQ short stories)

More Than One Point of View (13 novels read): My students love books written with more than one point of view.

  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (occasionally see the serial killer’s POV)
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord
  • Unrivaled by Alyson Noel
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Graphic Novels/Illustrated Novels (3 novels read): I really enjoy reading graphic novels, but I know I don’t read enough of them during the school year.

  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blockmon Lowry
  • Tomboy by Liz Prince

Romance (22 novels read): Not all of these are strictly romance, but many of them feature romantic storylines.

  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (this one isn’t as romantic as her others, but there’s still an element there)
  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (I like that this one applies more as dealing with mental illness)
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
  • Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
  • Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger
  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
  • Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk
  • Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
  • Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
  • The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins
  • Unrivaled by Alyson Noel

Some other areas of reading/genres/categories I want to read more of are memoirs, books dealing with mental illness, books featuring characters with disabilities, and more books dealing with sexual violence/rape culture. I read a couple books this school year with characters in poverty and I’d like to read more like those. I also noticed that I only read one novel in verse this school year, which is really unusual for me.

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw Blog Tour + Character Playlist


Let me first and foremost start by apologizing for this post being a day late. I received my blog contents on Monday afternoon and woke up yesterday morning to create my post only to discover that my internet at home is down (and still is!) and to top it off our internet at school failed. Yesterday in general was a major fail of a day. Anyway, I’m super thankful the internet at school is working and that I have time this morning to compose this post because it’s a fun one!

I have for you today a playlist that Anna Breslaw created for this post with Scarlett Epstein in mind. She is such a fun character to read and this playlist suits her perfectly. At the end of the post I’m also including a few of my favorite funny lines from the book because there were multiple moments that either made me laugh out loud or snort. Gotta love that!



“Valerie,” Amy Winehouse
Scarlett’s mom blasts this in her bedroom when she gets ready for OK Cupid dates. (Scarlett can hear it through the wall.)

“Why Can’t I,” Liz Phair
And then blasts this in her bedroom when she comes home from a good OK Cupid date. (The walls are thin.)

“Hurt,” Johnny Cash
And then blasts this in her bedroom when he doesn’t text her again. (The walls are VERY thin.)

“Put Yourself First,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend OST
Scarlett’s getting into this show now that Lycanthrope College has been cancelled—and this song is the perfect mix of cuttingly feminist, funny, and catchy AF.

“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
She listens to this on the train back to New Jersey from visiting her dad in Brooklyn.

“Whole Wide World,” Wreckless Eric
Scarlett’s dad and her new stepmom (who is, by the way, far superior to her real mom) danced to this song at their wedding. She now thinks it’s the most romantic song ever.

“A Milli,” Lil Wayne
Scarlett does a stupid dance to this song to cheer up her friend Avery when she gets a B on a test.

“Royals,” Lorde
Singing-in-the-shower song.

“Circumambient,” Grimes
She listens to this when she’s writing.

“A Certain Romance,” Arctic Monkeys
The lead singer’s description of his town reminds Scarlett of her own.

“Hello,” Adele
When she’s sad about Gideon.

“Ghost,” Halsey
See above.

“Going Down For Real,” Flo Rida
I mean, it’s just impossible to avoid this song. This song is everywhere.

“Empire State of Mind,” Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys
When she’s daydreaming about graduating and moving to New York to become a writer.

“Walk On The Wild Side,” Lou Reed
Her dad used to listen to this when she was little, and she puts it on when she misses him.

And here are some of my favorite lines:

“Ave is pretty, too, but she’s like a wilted version of Ashley with braces and slightly duller hair. If they had been fetal twins, Ashley definitely would’ve consumed Avery for nutrients, and all that’d be left of Ave would be a tumor with a few teeth in it.”

(Taken from a conversation between Scarlett and her elderly neighbor)
“What’s your teacher’s name?”
“Mr. Radford.”
“What’s he like?”
“Uh, young,” I thought. “Enthusiastic.”
“You should do him!” She said it with the same tone of wholesome encouragement you’d use to say You should do yoga! or You should visit Lake Placid!
“Don’t look at me like that. Every great writer has ‘turned the screw’ with a professor. Obviously it would be better if his balls hung a little lower, if he was older, more established, but. . .” She shrugged.

About the novel:
Title & Author: Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw
Release date: April 19th, 2016
Publisher: Razorbill
Find it: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Scarlett Epstein Hates It  HereSummary (From Goodreads):

Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her pot-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.

When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. Scarlett never considers what might happen if they were to find out what she truly thinks about them…until a dramatic series of events exposes a very different reality than Scarlett’s stories, forever transforming her approach to relationships—both online and off.

My 2015 Reading Year

In the past I’ve written a few posts summing up my favorite reads of those years. Honestly, I don’t have time to do that this year so I’m going to compile it all into one post.

I’ve read 71 novels in 2015, 29 of which were audiobooks. I’ve read at least 55 picture books this year (courtesy of Jack), and most of those have been read over and over and over again. I’ve also abandoned a handful of books.

This year I’ve focused on expanding my repertoire of different genres/authors and am happy with the results:

Mystery: 10 novels
Historical Fiction: 4 novels (not many, but all within this school year)
Fantasy: 6 novels
Memoir: 4 novels (I have a couple in queue for 2016)
New to me/Debut authors: 40 novels

Based on my list of top ten favorite books of 2015, it’s obvious that contemporary realistic fiction is my favorite genre to read. This list is in no particular order because it would be way too hard to narrow it down.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (my review): I can’t imagine my list of favorite 2015 reads existing without this book on the list. It’s outstanding and Willowdean will probably stay one of my absolute favorite characters for a long time. Plus, it was a great audiobook.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson and 16 additional authors: I still need to write a book review for this, which I’m mad at myself for not having done sooner. This is the type of book that all teachers should read. It’s being passed from reader to reader in one of my senior classes right now and I couldn’t be happier about that. There are a number of characters in this novel who are still on my mind even a month or so after reading it.

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (my review): This read more like historical fiction to me than fantasy, which worked perfectly fine. The audio is fantastic and really kept me hooked. I’m a huge Rae Carson fan which is one of the reasons I’m using The Girl of Fire and Thorns as a hero’s journey book club book with my freshmen. In one class, however, only two students chose to read that (totally surprised me) and one of students ended up being unsure about whether she wanted to stick with it. That student didn’t want to leave her peer behind though, so she didn’t know what to do. I had my copy of Walk on Earth a Stranger handy, so I suggested she try reading it instead so she and her other group member could maybe at least read books by the same author. My student came in the next day and was so excited about Walk on Earth a Stranger that she realized since it’s so awesome The Girl of Fire and Thorns must be just as great too. She’s now reading both books. Total win.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: Here’s another book that I wish I would have reviewed after I finished reading it. I loved The Summer I Turned Pretty and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but P.S. I Still Love You officially made me a Jenny Han fangirl. I felt like I was right there experiencing everything with Lara Jean as I read it. Jenny Han made me feel like I was part of Lara Jean’s family; I was left feeling kind of sad when I finished reading because I wasn’t ready to leave those characters behind. It would be perfectly okay with me if she writes a third book or even a book written from Kitty’s point of view. I’d pre-order either book!

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby (my review): I feel like all I’ve done this year is spread the book love for Things We Know by Heart, but I love it so much it’s hard not to. Thankfully my students trust my recommendations and have been thoroughly enjoying it as well. One of my freshmen has read it more than once and even created her own playlist for it. Another teacher in my building was reading it at the same time as one of her students and told me about how much fun it was to discuss Quinn’s story as they both read it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (my review): My goodness, if you want to read a steamy fantasy, add this one to your list. I was seriously bummed when I found out that ARCs weren’t going to be made for the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury, because I have been wanting to read it for almost a year now!

Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin: Time got away from me and I didn’t write my review after listening to this audiobook. Oh my goodness, is this debut funny and engaging! I didn’t want to stop listening to the audio because it was seriously that good. When I was at NCTE I requested the sequel, but they didn’t have it. Honestly, I’m kind of glad they didn’t have it because I think I want to listen to the audio again. If you’ve been wanting to read more sci-fi, but it isn’t really your cup of tea, I’d read Denton’s story; it’s what I like to call sci-fi lite. The idea behind the story could be classified as science fiction, but the story reads very much like realistic fiction, if that makes sense.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Fixer over the summer which is also written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It was actually the first book of hers that I’ve read. Because I enjoyed it so much and because many of my friends have read and recommended The Naturals, I decided to give the audio for it a go. I have to say, Jennifer Lynn Barnes is fast becoming one of my favorite mystery authors. The narrator for this was really good and paced the story well. It’s a little bit predictable, but the reveal was still fun. This is perfect for fans of the TV show Criminal Minds and the books I Hunt Killers and The Body Finder. The only complaint I have is that I’ve been told there most likely won’t be audiobooks made for books two and three in this trilogy.

Stand-Off by Andrew Smith: Ryan Dean West is another one of my absolute favorite characters. I’m so thankful that we’ve been gifted with the rest of his story after such a tough ending in Winger. I adored this book and was left completely satisfied when I finished reading it. Of course, if Andrew Smith decides to write a third book about Ryan Dean I won’t complain; I’ll pre-order it as soon as it’s available if that ever becomes an option. What I really liked about Stand-Off is that it’s still laugh out loud funny, but it’s also full of heart and introspective moments for Ryan Dean. It reminded me of what Geoff Herbach crafted in I’m With Stupid as he wrapped up Felton’s story.
P.S. I’m sorry I didn’t write a full review after I finished reading this. I was racing to get all the things read and finalized for NCTE.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: I received an ARC of this when I was at NCTE and it’s the only 2016 title I’ve read so far. It feels like cheating adding a 2016 title to this list, but there’s no way I can be honest about this list and not include it. In fact, Jeff Zentner’s debut will be on my 2016 favorites list as well because it’s utterly fabulous. I’ll probably read it a second time if my students don’t hog my copy, but I’m predicting this is going to be a book I rarely see during the school year. I promise to write a full review in time for the March 2016 release, but I’ll leave you with this: The Serpent King was reading in almost one sitting–which is nearly impossible to do these days–and it made me ugly cry FOR MULTIPLE PAGES.

And because I can’t stop at ten and because I don’t like leaving good books off my list, here are some titles I’ve read in 2015 that my students are loving this school year:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: My students and I really dig the multigenre format to this novel; it makes for a quick and engaging read.

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy: I love it when authors feature athletic girls in their stories and make that aspect of the character a primary focus in the story. There aren’t enough female characters who are student athletes in YA novels, which is a real disservice to our teens. I was a swimmer in high school and the high school I teach at has an impressive swimming program, so Abby’s story really resonates with my students.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I listened to the audio for this before it was announced as the 2015 Printz winner and was over the moon thrilled about it. As usual for the past few years, we had a snow day when the awards were announced so I had to wait to tell my students all about the win. Since last school year I’ll Give You the Sun has been passed from reader to reader in my classroom. My freshmen last year kept a constant waitlist for it and have even told my current freshmen about it. I love it when a book becomes so widely loved that my students recommend it to friends outside my class. Also, the audio for this is fabulous!


I’d love to know which books were your 2015 favorites! Happy New Year, lovely readers!



Where Are The Non-Celebrity Authors?

Something’s been bothering me and I feel the need to write about it. Since Jack was born (and I’ve been waking up MUCH earlier) I’ve started watching TV morning shows like Good Morning America and Live! With Kelly and Michael. They interview authors often, but lately they’ve interviewed some YA authors. I’m happy to see YA novels receive more coverage, but what bothers me is that celebrity authors are being interviewed.

If you’re like me then you view YA authors as celebrities, so you might wonder why I’m bothered by these authors being interviewed. Over the summer Kelly and Michael featured After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga, Peter Facinelli, and Rob DeFranco. When I saw this book in the line-up I was geeked because I thought maybe Barry Lyga would be on the show. Nope, they interviewed Peter Facinelli. Just this month Shay Mitchell was on Live! With Kelly and Michael talking about her YA/NA novel Bliss: A Novel. It seems like Good Morning America is more apt to interview authors who write novels for adults, like today they interviewed Michael Strahan about his new book.

I have nothing against Peter Facinelli or Shay Mitchell. I’m happy to see authors and their novels receiving national coverage. I’m especially happy to see YA novels earning such wide attention; hopefully those books will land in more teen’s hands now. But why can’t non-celebrity authors be interviewed on morning shows or national TV in general? Aren’t their books worthy of more attention? Don’t viewers read books other than those written by actors? How do we make this happen?

If any television producers happen to be reading my little blog (ha!), here are some YA authors my students love who write books that you should consider featuring on your shows:

Jason Reynolds–His newest book, All American Boyswhich he co-wrote with Brendan Kiely–is timely, important and powerful.

David Levithan–Besides the fact that I could listen to him talk for hours, he’s so smart and deeply insightful. His books make my teens think in ways they may not otherwise.

Gae Polisner–What I love about Gae is that she truly loves teens. She bends over backwards to connect with them, especially teens who are aspiring authors. Her most recent release, The Summer of Letting Go, has been so popular I haven’t seen my copies since the school year began.

Courtney Summers–Courtney understands how complex teen girls are. Her novels are loved by my students because they’re raw and real and deep. Her newest novel, All the Rage, zooms in on rape culture in ways that many books do not but should.

Julie Murphy–I haven’t told anyone this, but I had a dream a few weeks ago that Julie Murphy was being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel. How cool would that be?! Dumplin’ is a book that should be featured on TV because of its focus on being body positive and being so appealing to teens in general.

Kwame Alexander–Um, he wrote a Newbery award-winning novel, so why HASN’T he been on national television?!

Cinda Williams Chima–Fantasy is always a popular genre and Cinda Williams Chima writes FANTASTIC fantasy series! Why not feature an author who writes fantasy that Lord of the Rings fans will love?

Sherman Alexie–He’s a well-known author in the publishing world. His YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned or censored multiple times despite its need to be in the hands of teens. Sherman Alexie would be great to interview because of his insight on censorship and the need for diversity in the publishing world.

Rae Carson–Rae is another fabulous fantasy author. Her newest release, Walk on Earth a Stranger, is a stunning piece of fantasy historical fiction that’s on the Young People’s Literature National Book Award longlist.

Libba Bray–She’s too smart and her writing too brilliant NOT to be featured on television.

I could go on and on with this list, but I’m going to stop here. Let me know in the comments which authors you’d love to see on national TV!

Top Ten Tuesday: If These Authors Write It, I’ll Buy It

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

It’s not very often that I’ll auto-buy an author’s book, but these 10 authors have made the cut for various reasons. Which authors’ books will you buy automatically? I’d love to know which authors I should add to this list.

Miranda Kenneally

1. Miranda Kenneally–Although the Hundred Oaks series isn’t your typical series, I usually get bored after five books. That’s simply not the case with these books. I can’t get enough of them! I’ve read all six and every single one is different and very much its own book. I’ll buy whatever Miranda writes.

2. Trish Doller–I don’t think I need an explanation for Trish’s books either, to be honest. Her books never fail to make me swoon and/or cry.

3. Matthew Quick–Adult or YA, I will automatically read his books. They are so utterly fabulous, which is why he’s my author crush.

Sarah Dessen

4. Sarah Dessen–Does this choice really need an explanation? 🙂

5. Amy Fellner Dominy–Amy’s books keep getting better and every time I read one I thoroughly enjoy it.

6. Geoff Herbach–Geoff Herbach’s writing has such a strong and authentic voice that it’s impossible to resist reading his books. Not that I would ever feel the need to resist reading one!

Michelle Hodkin

7. Michelle Hodkin–The Mara Dyer trilogy was too much fun not to trust that the rest of Michelle Hodkin’s books will be great.

8. Laurie Halse Anderson–Maybe not her middle grade since I’m not as drawn to MG titles, but I’ll definitely always buy her YA. There are times that I find myself craving a Laurie Halse Anderson book, which is usually when I decide to read Speak out loud to my students.

9. Neal Shusterman–I still need to finish reading the Unwind dystology and I plan on reading Challenger Deep before school starts, but nevertheless, he’s a staple in my classroom library. His books are smart, insightful and engaging.

10. John Green–It feels like a cliche adding him to this list, but I have to be honest. Even though I’m not into all the hype, I do enjoy his books and know that I will.

Memorial Day Reading: YA Novels Featuring Soldiers and War (Updated)

During Memorial Day weekend in 2012 I wrote this post about YA novels featuring soldiers and/or war. Since then I’ve read and discovered even more that I’d like to share with you. Just like last time, I’d love to know if there are more books I need to add to this list.

Some of the books will have summaries and some will have commentary.

World War II novels:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is always a popular novel in my classroom, even more so since the movie released. Being written from the point of view of death adds an intriguing layer to a beautiful, heart wrenching story.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow: Karl’s story is interesting because he’s a Jew hiding in plain sight until the Nazi presence grows stronger. He wants to grow strong and become a talented boxer since he’s bullied. I really enjoyed the cartoons he draws throughout the story.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: The tenth grade teachers encourage students to read this novel during the independent reading war unit. They don’t have to try very hard since it’s almost always a favorite. Students are often very surprised to learn about the Lithuanian ethnic cleansing that took place during WWII.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads):

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner (Goodreads):

With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he’s sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Koji’s story, based on true events, is brought to life by Matt Faulkner’s cinematic illustrations that reveal Koji struggling to find his place in a tumultuous world-one where he is a prisoner of war in his own country.

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads):

Walter Dean Myers brilliantly renders the realities of World War II.

Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are on their way to an uncertain future. Their whole lives are ahead of them, yet at the same time, death’s whisper is everywhere.

One white, one black, these young men have nothing in common and everything in common as they approach an experience that will change them forever.

It’s May 1944. World War II is ramping up, and so are these young recruits, ready and eager. In small towns and big cities all over the globe, people are filled with fear. When Josiah and Marcus come together in what will be the greatest test of their lives, they learn hard lessons about race, friendship, and what it really means to fight. Set on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, this novel, rendered with heart-in-the-throat precision, is a cinematic masterpiece. Here we see the bold terror of war, and also the nuanced havoc that affects a young person’s psyche while living in a barrack, not knowing if today he will end up dead or alive.

Non-Fiction War Novels:

BombBomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Goodreads):
In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

ImprisonedImprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler (Goodreads):
While Americans fought for freedom and democracy abroad, fear and suspicion towards Japanese Americans swept the country after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Culling information from extensive, previously unpublished interviews and oral histories with Japanese American survivors of internment camps, Martin W. Sandler gives an in-depth account of their lives before, during their imprisonment, and after their release. Bringing readers inside life in the internment camps and explaining how a country that is built on the ideals of freedom for all could have such a dark mark on its history, this in-depth look at a troubling period of American history sheds light on the prejudices in today’s world and provides the historical context we need to prevent similar abuses of power.

TrinityTrinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (Goodreads):
Trinity, the debut graphic book by the gifted illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, depicts in vivid detail the dramatic history of the race to build and the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. This sweeping historical narrative traces the spark of invention from the laboratories of nineteenth-century Europe to the massive industrial and scientific efforts of the Manhattan Project. Along the way, Fetter-Vorm takes special care to explain the fundamental science of nuclear reactions. With the clarity and accessibility that only a graphic book can provide, Trinity transports the reader into the core of a nuclear reaction—into the splitting atoms themselves.

The power of the atom was harnessed in a top-secret government compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where some of the greatest scientific minds in the world gathered together to work on the bomb. Fetter-Vorm showcases J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves, the fathers of the atomic bomb, whose insights unleashed the most devastating explosion known to humankind. These brilliant scientists wrestled daily with both the difficulty of building an atomic weapon and the moral implications of actually succeeding.

When the first bomb finally went off at a test site code-named Trinity, the world was irreversibly thrust into a new and terrifying age. With powerful renderings of the catastrophic events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fetter-Vorm unflinchingly chronicles the far-reaching political, environmental, and ethical effects of this new discovery. Richly illustrated and deeply researched, Trinity is a dramatic, informative, and thought-provoking book on one of the most significant and harrowing events in history.

The Nazi HuntersThe Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (Goodreads):
A thrilling spy mission, a moving Holocaust story, and a first-class work of narrative nonfiction.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the head of operations for the Nazis’ Final Solution, walked into the mountains of Germany and vanished from view. Sixteen years later, an elite team of spies captured him at a bus stop in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel, resulting in one of the century’s most important trials — one that cemented the Holocaust in the public imagination.

THE NAZI HUNTERS is the thrilling and fascinating story of what happened between these two events. Survivor Simon Wiesenthal opened Eichmann’s case; a blind Argentinean and his teenage daughter provided crucial information. Finally, the Israeli spies — many of whom lost family in the Holocaust — embarked on their daring mission, recounted here in full. Based on the adult bestseller HUNTING EICHMANN, which is now in development as a major film, and illustrated with powerful photos throughout, THE NAZI HUNTERS is a can’t-miss work of narrative nonfiction for middle-grade and YA readers.


The Effects of War at Home:

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson: I included this book on my previous list, but I hadn’t read it yet. I’ve read it since then and absolutely loved it. It’s not only a compelling story that deals with slut-shaming, but it also looks at life in a military-infused town.

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie: Kokie’s debut looks at what life is like for a military family when a son/brother has died overseas. Matt is dealing with grief, a strict father who won’t discuss Matt’s brother’s death, and Matt’s need to understand his brother more. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut and so do my students.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: Hayley’s father suffers from PTSD and consequently they move from place to place since he struggles to escape his past in Iraq. Sadly, Hayley is also basically suffering from her own form of PTSD stemming from her father’s outbursts and her troubled past. Laurie Halse Anderson fans waited a long time for a new YA novel and this was worth the wait.

Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Goodreads):

Her sister was captured in Iraq, she’s the resident laughingstock at school, and her therapist tells her to count instead of eat. Can a daring new girl in her life really change anything?

Angie is broken — by her can’t-be-bothered mother, by her high-school tormenters, and by being the only one who thinks her varsity-athlete-turned-war-hero sister is still alive. Hiding under a mountain of junk food hasn’t kept the pain (or the shouts of “crazy mad cow!”) away. Having failed to kill herself — in front of a gym full of kids — she’s back at high school just trying to make it through each day. That is, until the arrival of KC Romance, the kind of girl who doesn’t exist in Dryfalls, Ohio. A girl who is one hundred and ninety-nine percent wow! A girl who never sees her as Fat Angie, and who knows too well that the package doesn’t always match what’s inside. With an offbeat sensibility, mean girls to rival a horror classic, and characters both outrageous and touching, this darkly comic anti-romantic romance will appeal to anyone who likes entertaining and meaningful fiction.

It has been awarded the Stonewall Book Award-Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award for 2014.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (Goodreads):

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Like to Check in With

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Ugh, I’m not thrilled with that post title, but you get the idea, right? I like this post topic, but I was struggling on the title so I went with the prompt. Oh well 🙂

Anyway, these are the characters that I’ve worried about, fell in love with, and just plain wish were my friends. Which characters do you want to check in with?

Lakshmi from Sold by Patricia McCormick–How could you *not* want to check in with her after what she went through?! And by the way, did you know that Sold was made into a movie? I only just found out about this.

Felton from Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach–Felton will always make this kind of list because he’s such an authentic character. I’m With Stupid leaves us in a good place with Felton, but I still want to know how he’s doing in college.

Violet from The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting–I still think there’s need to be a fifth book so I truly know how Violet is doing. I love that story, I love Violet as a character, and I love her relationship with Jay.

Eleanor and Park from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell–That ending! I really need to know what’s going on with these two because I love them and their story SO MUCH!

Samantha Reed and Jase Garrett from My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick–My adult, rational side knows that most teen relationships don’t last forever, but the YA reader side of me hopes that they do last forever. Hopefully in The Boy Most Likely To, Fitzpatrick’s companion to My Life Next Door, she gives us a glimpse into Samantha’s and Jase’s lives.

Rafe from Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg–Rafe’s a smart and funny and I simply need to catch up with him. He endures so much in this story.

Sutter from The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp–Sutter is on this list mainly because the ending left me wondering what really happened to him. It read like an ending that could purposely be interpreted in different ways.

Ethan from Dead to You by Lisa McMann–What the heck happened to Ethan?! If you’ve read this book then you completely understand that question.

D.J. from the Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock–Even though D.J. and I don’t have much in common, I know I’d be friends with her. I grew so attached to her and her family that I would love to know how all of them are doing. I want to know how D.J.’s doing in college, in particular.

Reagan and Lilah from Open Road Summer by Emery Lord–I loved this book. A big reason why I enjoyed this so much is because of Reagan and Lilah’s friendship. Besides the country music star aspect, their friendship is one that many readers will relate to. I mentioned it in my review, and I still think that Emery Lord should write a book from Lilah’s point of view.

Run Much? YA Titles Featuring Runners

When I think about sports books I’m typically thinking about football, basketball, and baseball. I honestly have a difficult time getting into those stories, but I’m try to read at least a few titles under that category each year. I think, however, that it’s easy to forget about our students who don’t participate in those sports. I need to remind myself that I also have runners, soccer players, swimmers, etc. in my classes. Thankfully I caught myself reading a few books in a row featuring runners. I’m going to guess that I’m not the only teacher or librarian who forgets about this, which is why I decided to write a post about YA characters who run for one reason or another.

Anna from Moonglass by Jessi Kirby (Goodreads): Anna runs on a team (cross-country, I believe), but she’s also running to clear her head. I liked this part of the story because while it added another element to the plot, it also added another layer to the conflict.

Jessica from The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (Goodreads): I listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jessica’s story is so much more than a story about a runner. It’s about overcoming adversity, friendship, family, and more. I was really touched by how much of a family Jessica’s track team was to her.

Felton from Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads): If you’ve followed my blog for a while then you know how much I love this book. Felton is a stupid fast runner who runs on the track team (how his speed was discovered) and is a fast runner on the football team. Sports in general help Felton work through his family troubles and his personal conflicts.

Alice from On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor (Goodreads): Alice is a fun and quirky character who has decided she’s going to be a runner when her college plans don’t work out. I like that she’s goal-oriented and driven because so many of my students are. This is a great book for my seniors who are overwhelmed and stressing out about college, especially those who haven’t been accepted to their first choice schools. I’m not a runner by any means, but Alice’s story made me feel like I could be a runner, too.

Annie from Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally (Goodreads): Annie has decided to train for a marathon in honor of her boyfriend who died tragically. Miranda Kenneally’s characters continue to become more interesting with each book that she writes. I really enjoyed watching Annie become a marathon runner and watching her work through her grief.

Kate from Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads): Kate’s plate is more than full. She’s in charge of taking care of her family, she’s only applied to one college, her mother has passed away, and her father has taken in a family who she doesn’t get along with. Running is a way for her to calm her nerves and keep some control in her life. This is one of my favorite books written by Laurie Halse Anderson and one that I wish more of my students would read.

Nastya from The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (Goodreads): This is one of my favorite books and it’s because I got to know the characters so well. Nastya is dealing with more than her fair share of issues and running helps her feel in control. Running has also led her to Josh Bennett who is also dealing with too much. This is a wonderful story that I couldn’t get enough of.

Nico from Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (Goodreads): Nico is another character who runs to escape. His brother has died and so has his friend. Running helps him clear his head and relieve some of the anger he feels.

Books That Are a Breath of Fresh Air

I’m 33 weeks into my pregnancy, so I’m entering the lovely stage where I’m uncomfortable all the time and am finding it difficult to breathe. I was sitting on the couch reading my book, taking yet another deep breath, and thought, “I should write a post about books that are a breath of fresh air.” Since I’m often winded, I think it’s fitting 😉

I’ve included these books for a variety of reasons. I considered the way topics were approached, the way characters are written, the way authors deviated from the norm, etc. Which books would you add to this list?

Winger by Andrew Smith–Ryan Dean’s story was the first book I thought of because of how Andrew Smith wrote him. I’ve taught quite a few fourteen-year-old boys over the past seven years. Ryan Dean is written exactly like a fourteen-year-old boy and I love that. Too often characters are written with adult voices and that’s not the case for Ryan. I think it’s one of the many reasons why Winger has been such a hit with both my underclassmen and upperclassmen.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White–Paranormal YA is nothing new and Kiersten White’s debut has been out since 2010, but I still think it’s a nice change from the typical paranormal fare. Evie, the main character, isn’t busy pining away over some guy in her biology class. She’s working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency and prides herself on doing her job well. She’s pretty and girly and there is a love angle to the story, but it’s also funny and witty and original.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray–I’m more than halfway through the audio and can’t begin to explain how much I love this book. I’m purposely taking my time listening to it because it’s that good. And honestly, I could go on and on about why this book is such a breath of fresh air. The satire is spot on. The list of big issues being tackled in a very smart way is impressive. It’s simply a great book.

Party by Tom Leveen–By no fault of their own, teenagers are very self-centered. Yes, they think about others and do amazing things for others, but much of being a teenager is about figuring out who you are and worrying about yourself. The reason I say this, and I don’t mean any of that in a negative way, is because I don’t think a teen will necessarily think about every single person at a party (or in a classroom) and what their individual story is. Or how stories and paths might cross. Tom Leveen addresses this in Party. We are taken to a party and see that party through the eyes of eleven characters. We see how their paths cross and what’s really going on with each individual. It’s eye-opening for many of my students and has made them think more about others and what other people are going through.

I Know It’s Over by C.K. Kelly Martin–There are plenty of YA books that deal with teen pregnancy, but not many that I  know of–other than Jumping Off Swings and Living With Jackie Chan–that are told from the father’s perspective. I had mixed feelings overall about this book, but it was still refreshing to read about how Nick deals with the unsettling news that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and what she plans to do about it. This is also a book that I’ve had to replace every year since I originally bought it three years ago.

But I Love Him by Amanda Grace–Another common story told in YA is about abusive relationships. When my students read books about that they often tell me when they would leave and how they would never put up with a relationship like that. I’m always happy to hear that, but I also know from other students that it’s not always that simple. What I love about this book is that it isn’t told in chronological order. Because of this, there isn’t an easy spot for a reader to say, “I would have left him then.” It’s given a number of my students pause after reading it.

Every Day by David Levithan–I don’t know if I really need to explain why I’m including this book. I haven’t read anything else like it which makes it really difficult to help my students find a new book to read when they finish this and want something else like it.

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi–Jessica Verdi’s debut made the list because of the topic she wrote about. For some this may be a spoiler, but like I stated in my review, I think it will draw in more readers if you know what the character’s dilemma is. Lucy, the main character, contracts HIV. I haven’t read or heard of any other YA novels that feature a character getting or living with HIV, so that’s why I included this title.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon–Cancer books. There are SO MANY. And they often make a reader ugly cry which is one of the reasons I typically avoid them. This is not that book. Hollis Seamon’s debut made me snort with laughter and look at hospice and cancer in a very different way. One of my seniors read this and told me that he felt guilty for laughing so much. I laughed quite a few times, although a few scenes invoked tears. But would else is there to expect from a book about a teen who has terminal cancer?

Super Bowl Sunday Post: Football in YA

Football fans across the nation (and lots of commercial fans) are gearing up for the Super Bowl tonight. I’m not a huge football fan, but I do love snacking and watching great commercials 🙂 Since it’s a football-themed day, I figured it’s the perfect day to share some YA football titles that my students enjoy reading. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, so I’d love it if you could share more titles in the comments. Read-alikes are welcome as well since my students are always looking for more.

I have a family party to get ready for (I didn’t have enough forethought to write this post last night), so I’m simply including the title, author, cover image, and summary.

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen (Goodreads):

A timely book about bullies, their victims, and a high school football team where winning is the only thing that matters

This intense sports novel will strike a chord with those who followed the tragic football stories that broke in 2011. In this heart-pounding debut, Joshua C. Cohen conveys the pressures and politics of being a high school athlete in a way that is both insightful and compelling. At Oregrove High, there’s an extraordinary price for victory, paid both on and off the football field, and it claims its victims without mercy. When the unthinkable happens, an unlikely friendship is at the heart of an increasingly violent, steroid-infused power struggle. This is a book that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher (Goodreads):

Ben Wolf has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world.

How can a pint-sized, smart-ass eighteen-year-old do anythingsignificant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho?

First, Ben makes sure that no one else knows what is going on—not his superstar quarterback brother, Cody, not his parents, not his coach, no one. Next, he decides to become the best 127-pound football player Trout High has ever seen; to give his close-minded civics teacher a daily migraine; and to help the local drunk clean up his act.

And then there’s Dallas Suzuki. Amazingly perfect, fascinating Dallas Suzuki, who may or may not give Ben the time of day. Really, she’s first on the list.

Living with a secret isn’t easy, though, and Ben’s resolve begins to crumble . . . especially when he realizes that he isn’t the only person in Trout with secrets.

Gym Candy by Carl Deuker (Goodreads):

Mick Johnson is determined not to make the same mistakes his father, a failed football hero, made. But after being tackled just short of the end zone in a big game, Mick begins using “gym candy,” or steroids. His performances become record-breaking, but the side effects are terrible: Mick suffers ‘roid rage, depression, and body acne. Gym Candy’s subject matter is just as hard-hitting as its football scenes. You’ll find yourself unable to look away as Mick goes down a road that even he knows is the wrong one to travel.

Payback Time by Carl Deuker (Goodreads):

Through the eyes of a distinctly non-athletic protagonist—a fat high school journalist named Mitch—veteran sports novelist Deuker reveals the surprising truth behind a mysterious football player named Angel.  When Angel shows up Lincoln High, he seems to have no past—or at least not one he is willing to discuss.  Though Mitch gets a glimpse of Angel’s incredible talent off the field, Angel rarely allows himself to shine on the field.  Is he an undercover cop, wonders Mitch?  Or an ineligible player?  In pursuit of a killer story, Mitch decides to find out just who this player is and what he’s done.  In the end, the truth surprises everyone.

Stupid Fast trilogy by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads):

I, Felton Reinstein, am Stupid Fast. Seriously. The upper classmen used to call me Squirrel Nut, because I was little and jumpy. Then, during sophomore year, I got tall and huge and so fast the gym teachers in their tight shorts fell all over themselves. During summer, three things happened all at once. First, the pee-smelling jocks in my grade got me to work out for football, even though I had no intention of playing. Second, on my paper route the most beautiful girl I have ever seen moved in and played piano at 6 a.m. Third, my mom, who never drinks, had some wine, slept in her car, stopped weeding the garden, then took my TV and put it in her room and decided she wouldn’t get out of bed.

Listen, I have not had much success in my life. But suddenly I’m riding around in a jock’s pick-up truck? Suddenly I’m invited to go on walks with beautiful girls? So, it’s understandable that when my little brother stopped playing piano and began to dress like a pirate I didn’t pay much attention. That I didn’t want to deal with my mom coming apart.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (Goodreads):

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

**Update–I can’t believe I forgot this title!** Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg (Goodreads):

Star quarterback Bobby Framingham, one of the most talented high school football players in California, knows he’s different from his teammates. They’re like brothers, but they don’t know one essential thing: Bobby is gay. Can he still be one of the guys and be honest about who he is? When he’s outed against his will by a student reporter, Bobby must find a way to earn back his teammates’ trust and accept that his path to success might be more public, and more difficult, than he’d hoped. An affecting novel about identity that also delivers great sportswriting.

Dairy Queen
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

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