Gimme More Middle School Titles!

I have been thinking about expanding what I read.  As you may know, I absolutely LOVE young adult literature, especially targeting teens.  But then I thought, “Hey!  Wait a minute!!  Young adults aren’t just in high school!”  So middle school, here I come!  And here are two titles I read that made me REALLY enjoy reading middle school titles (and they made me laugh too!!)

24 hours24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling.  2018, Sterling Children’s Books

The town of Nowhere is exactly located where it says it is in the state of Arizona.  It’s a town where “no” precedes a lot of things.  No one wants to visit it.  No thing really exciting ever happens.  But at the start of the day, Gus finds himself in a spectacular situation.  He is about to eat a cholla cactus.  No because he wants to, but because Bo Taylor is making him.  And it’s about to happen until Rossi saves him the only way she can.  She gives Bo her dirt bike in exchange for a life.  And the day keeps getting better.

Gus wants so badly to get that dirt bike back for Rossi.  The reason why is because he wants HER to win the next race with a huge prize involved and knows if Rossi isn’t it in, Bo will win.  In order to do that, he decides to find hidden gold currently found only in tales in the Dead Frenchmen Mine (emphasis on dead.)  Bo decides to send one of his buddies with him, and along the way Rossi decides to join.

And what happens in the mine in the rest of the 24 hours of that day….

Bowling writes a novel that contains both humor and the hard parts of life teens go through.  Readers will connect with Gus and his travails with bullying, his life situation without his parents, and his determination to make things right.  And that’s the beauty of this novel that will make you laugh out loud.  Everyone can find themselves in it.  HIGHLY recommended for junior high/middle school libraries.


sam wu

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang.  2018, Egmont, UK

Sam is ready to go visit the Space Center.  He has his Space Blasters suit on and can’t wait to be part of the fun.  Unbeknownst to him, the “fun” is already beginning to percolate for some of his classmates, especially with Ralph Zinkerman.  Once they get there, he dares Sam to take a ride in the Astro Blaster. And Sam, not wanting to look scared, does it.  But he comes out of the situation humiliated and with a new name – Scaredy Cat Sam.

Undaunted (well, a little), Sam decides to channel his inner space hero to prove he’s not scared.  That means getting a side-kick of the most unusual variety.  But it takes more than that, and Sam takes the big step of inviting his best friends over to help him achieve his goal (and show off his side-kick!)  He asks his family to make his favorite dishes for dinner when Zoe and Bernard show up.  And when they do, the humor is amped up!  Enter Sam’s sister Lucy, his grandmother, and the introduction of an Asian family’s culture to his friends who have never experienced it before.

And then add the ghosts!!

Katie and Kevin Tsang write such a gloriously wonderful book for middle graders by creating characters of all kinds and best of all, from all different kinds of backgrounds.  Add a great storyline with some equally great images, and you have the type of book that readers will flock to because who doesn’t like books with pictures AND humor.  This is going to be a great new series!! HIGHLY recommended for middle/junior high school libraries.


Middle School Boys… UGH!

Aren’t middle school boys the worst? I mean they are almost as bad as middle school girls! LOL! But really… you know the type: they come in to the library with their arms crossed, telling everyone how much they hate to read. When they are asked to check out a book, they wander around the library (usually in groups of 3 or 4) and by the end of the class period they have blindly chosen a book off the shelf with absolutely no intent of actually read it.


However, these students are not a lost cause! When I have a student (boy or girl) who inform me that they hate to read, I see it as a challenge! I usually start by asking the student about their hobbies or favorite TV shows. I try to get an idea of what the student’s interests are before suggesting books, and I always suggest more than one! Give them three options, allow them to pick a favorite. If you hand a kid one book and tell them to check it out, what happens if the kid doesn’t want that book, or ends up not liking it; your credibility has just gone down the drain and they will never ask you for another book recommendation again. I always give them a few choices and if they don’t like the one they picked then it is back on them. I also make sure the students understands it is a “no pressure” choice. If they aren’t hooked by the first thirty pages then bring it back and I can help them find a different book. I tell my students over and over the worst mistake a reader can make is forcing themselves to finish a book. If you aren’t enjoying the book you have, then you need to abandon it, get rid of it, turn it in and find a new one. Now, there are always those situations when a student thinks they can abandon every book they check out because they just don’t want to read, and that is a whole other conversation!

Now if you have accepted the challenge to help these reluctant readers find a book then I’m here to help with a few of my favorite recommendations for those boys who hate to read. These books are popular with my junior high boys and always my first go-to when it comes to recommending a book. If you know of any other books that are popular with the middle school boys, let me know and I will make sure to add them to my library collection!

Ghost (Track, #1)

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.


Zom-B series by Darren Shan
From Darren Shan, the Master of Horror, comes the first book in the Zom-B series that will have you on the edge of your seat and questioning what it means to be a human or a monster.


I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis
History’s most exciting and terrifying events are brought to life in this fictional series. Readers will be transported by stories of amazing children and how they survived!


Vietnam and World War II series by Chris Lynch
Best friends Morris, Rudi, Ivan, and Beck, having been either drafted or enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War, pledge they will come home together, and Morris, a sailor on the USS “Boston,” relies on that promise to stay strong while his courage and resolve are tested under attack.


Shadow Squadron by Carol Bowen
Shadow Squadron hits the ground running in their first mission, operation SEA DEMON. When well-organized Somali pirates kidnap several V.I.Ps at sea, Lt. Commander Ryan Cross and his men are called upon to put these pirates down before innocent blood is shed.

Football Genius (Football Genius, #1)

Football Genius and Baseball Great series by Tim Green
Troy, a sixth-grader with an unusual gift for predicting football plays before they occur, attempts to use his ability to help his favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, but he must first prove himself to the coach and players.


Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse (The Crossover, Rebound, Booked)
Fourteen-year-old twin basketball stars Josh and Jordan wrestle with highs and lows on and off the court as their father ignores his declining health.

Phase One: Marvel's The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers series by Alex Irvine
Gathered together by S.H.I.E.L.D, Captain America, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye must protect the world from ultimate destruction. Join the action as these Super Heroes battle against Loki and his army for the fate of mankind as told in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Maximum Ride, Vol. 1 (Maximum Ride: The Manga, #1)

Maximum Ride: The Manga by James Patterson
Fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride, better known as Max, knows what it’s like to soar above the world. She and all the members of the “flock”—Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman and Angel—are just like ordinary kids—only they have wings and can fly. It may seem like a dream come true to some, but their lives can morph into a living nightmare at any time.

One State, Two VERY Different Stories…

Coincidence is an anomaly people don’t really know what to do with, but it happens all of the time.  Sometimes, it’s a good thing, while other times it isn’t as good.  Luckily, my coincidence happened to fall on the good side of things.  I finished reading Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman when I picked up The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman.  Coincidentally, both books take place in California, and they are both about current issues relevant in teen’s lives today.  Everything else about these books are on two very separate spectrums.  Here are short reviews for both:


38355098Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman   2018, Simon & Schuster

Alyssa and her family, including her little brother Garrett understand the drought conditions California is having.  They also know about the restrictions the “Tap-Out” has had on their lives.  But that all changes the day she turns on the tap and nothing comes out.  Day One isn’t so bad, but then Day Two happens and panic begins to set in.  By Day Five, people are turning into water zombies….

Rumors of desalination plants along the beach prompt Alyssa’s parents to seek it out, but they never return home.  Now, Alyssa and Garrett go in search of them and their lives, and those of others they are with become deadly.

Alyssa’s neighbors, including their son Kelton, are survivalists and Kelton’s dad has been waiting for the end to happen.  While others around them are literally wasting away, Kelton and his family are doing quite well, until word gets out they have water….

The lives of these teens and her kid brother go from bad to worse, especially when they find themselves entangled with two other strangers, both with quirks in their thinking and personality, which could prove to become more dangerous than they imagined.  The only way to survive it all just have one more sip.

If they can….

Told in various voices, the reader gets to see everything that happens to these characters, including the good and the ugly, and can only wish to help them when all the reader can do is turn to the page to see who lives.  Shusterman (both Neal and son Jarrod) take us straight to the beginning of a dystopic piece of our nation (while in other news, hurricanes are devastating others at the same time).  More than that, he takes the reader into the forefront of current social issues and the possibility of what could happen.  Yes, this is a dark read.  Yes there is horror, but there is also redemption.  And yes…you will re-think your thoughts about potable water, one of the most precious commodities in the world.



35795898The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman    2018, Swoon Reads

Elise’s mother has just told her they are moving.  What makes it worse is that they’re moving her senior year.  Elise is devastated by this news, but at the same time, she also knows it’s for the best.  They’ll be living in the same town as her adorable niece she loves and her sister-in-law.  But there’s one person who’s missing and always will.

Elise’s brother joined the armed forces and during his time in Afghanistan, he was killed.  No one really know how or why, but that’s something Elise really doesn’t want to know.  She has enough to deal with in real life, including her distant mother and now, this trip.  No friends, an empty summer.  The only thing that is making her summer bearable is the new puppy her mom got her.

And one day on the beach, she sees a stranger step into the cold water of the Pacific and doesn’t stop.  Without thinking twice, Elise jumps in to rescue this person, whose name it Mati.  When they start talking to each other, Elise recoils when she finds out he’s from Afghanistan, the same country…the same people, who killed her brother.

Since moving to this small seaside town, he and his family haven’t been shown a lot of kindness from the community.  Stereotypes, prejudices and anger make his family’s life difficult and Mati is both confused and depressed by it.  Until he meets Elise.  Has has to make her realize that stereotypes are often wrong, and all it takes is a handful of sand.

Together, they make each other’s lives fuller and richer but they still have many  obstacles to overcome on both sides.  Mati’s family is very traditional, and Elise isn’t welcomed with open arms. Because of Mati’s heritage, Elise’s family don’t want to have anything to do with him.  Can they make a difference, even within their own personal circles?

This book is more than just a summer romance. It’s a snapshot of real life, real prejudices, and being able to see the world through two perspectives. Upperman stitches together a girl who has lost her brother t the war in Afghanistan with a young man living in the US from Afghanistan. Elise’s voice is written in prose and shows the gutsy person she is. Mati’s voice is written in narrative poetry and reflects the person he is. LOVED this book about love, prejudice, and racism of two families and how these teens transcend it.

NF Graphic Novels That are Short but Powerful

As a YA enthusiast, I read as much as I can.  Most of the times, these books take a a few  days (or a week with a busy schedule!) to read.  So it’s a nice little surprise for me when I get to read shorter YA books.  And these three were SO SATISFYING!!  Not only are they short, but they are also graphic novels.  It’s like a two-for-one treat for me!!  Another bonus?  Any type of reader can get through these and hopefully, they’ll leave wondering and actually searching for more information on them.  Perfect for junior high and high school!  Here’s a quick review for each book:

36086562I Am Gandhi by Brad Meltzer.  2018, Dial Books.

We all have heard or know about the great leader and inspiration Gandhi was.  But what made him do what he did?  This graphic novel starts at his early childhood and tells his story from all aspects of his life.  It answers a questions as to what shaped him to become an inspiration to millions and why he chose to live the way he did.  What makes this graphic novel stand out is that 25 diffrent acclaimed illustrators take on their piece of his life and artfully depict it.  Meltzer then takes them all and crafts a wonderful biography replete with beautiful images.


37955650Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper by Mannuela Santoni.  2018, Graphic Universe

Jane Austen had a pretty….ordinary life.  She took what she knew best and put pen to paper, writing her famous novels (Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice) based on her life experiences, which consisted of dances, vacations, life at home, family and love.  Another thing she wrote were a lot of letters, but unfortunately, many of them were burned by her sister Cassandra, according to Jane’s wishes.  But in a few that survived, we see the name Tom Lefroy mentioned, and how mad she was about him.  And this is what this graphic novel is about…the “what could have been” life of Jane and Tom and where it would have taken her.  So for fans of Austen, they’ll love this book.  For those who haven’t read her books, read this graphic novel and perhaps…just perhaps….you’ll want to read them afterward.


36912588The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown.  2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The struggle for democracy in Syria began seven years ago when some teenaged guys graffiti-ed a wall that read “Down with the regime.”  The dictator, Assad, was quick to put down any rivalry against his rule and the boys were quickly taken to jail and tortured.  But little did the dictator know this one event would change Syria and its citizens profoundly.  At the onset of civil unrest (and war), Syrians began leaving the country to make a new life for themselves.  And that is the foundation and basis for this book.  Don Brown knows how to weave a graphic novel and he does it again with this one.  The reader will get perspectives from those who fled…what happened, who survived and the hardships they endured.  Religion and politics were left out, but the reaction to these victims of war shows the ripple effect that happened across the globe.  After reading this and more importantly in the middle of this GN, readers may start to search about the war in Syria and everything else.  At least this reader did!


Class, Meet These Online Book Creators

Since time immemorial (or at least since I began teaching a long long time ago!) The first few days of school were meant to establish norms, understand expectations and get to know students.  It was easier in a small school where I had a graduating class of 50, not so much when I worked in a school with 2500 kids.  But regardless of class size, knowing a student’s name is ESSENTIAL to creating a positive relationship with them.

Here’s a great idea you can create to allow students to know you better, and also be a great example for them to jump into the waters of technological creativity.  Write a short story about yourself!  There are SO many ways to do this, but here are a few sites you may want to try and get students to try to make it happen:

CaptureBook Creator – You create a library, give students a code, and it fills up with their creations.  Add audio, video, images, text and hand drawn items to the book in either a traditional storyboard or a comic book.  The free version allows one library with up to 40 books in it and is compatible with Google accounts and email.  After creating a library, give the code to students to start creating their own.  You can even invite other teachers to make a bookshelf for your PLCs or department too.

CaptureStoryboard That – Storyboard that is an amazing tool to tell a quick story with a few boards.  Add images, text, characters, shapes and create a story with them through simple drag and drop.  There’s a lot of customization you can do with this too.  It’s easy to log in with Google, Microsoft or social media and the story board can be saved and edited later, shared via slideshow or embedded.  Students can create a free account, but there is an option for an educational account as well.

CaptureToondoo – Create a simple comic book strip with easy layouts (compile them into a book for a longer story).  All of the features have drag and drop capabilities, which makes creating easy.  Once dropped, users can use various tools to adjust size, font, and even have your own gallery space.  You can share it with the world or keep it private and it allows users to save their work.  The user needs to create a simple account for this without using an email.  This site a more wieldy than the others and may require some tutorial, but not rule it out as an option.

CaptureFlipsnack – This online digital book creator allows the user to upload pdfs or start from scration and create a streamlined, flippable online magazine.  Add text, images, videos to start creating your layout or upload your pdf to make an attractive book.  Users can create up to 15 pages for free (more pages will come with a small cost).  The outcome is a beautifully flippable online magazine you can share via social media, send as a link or embed.  It even has a handy chat with someone from Flipbook if you need help.

AND….if users don’t have access to internet (or connection isn’t as great as it should be…think afternoons at schools) you can always use Old Reliable, Powerpoint.  It has the option in transitions for a page curl.  But alas!  With the newest version, that transition is gone (GRRRRR!!)  Just a head’s up on that….

Sharing stories has been around since the beginning of mankind.  How to tell stories has changed and morphed throughout the years, but one thing stays constant – people enjoy talking about themselves and seeing others listen.  Using digital tools like these not only shares the stories, but also expands their narrative and expertise, both in the telling and the creating.

Happy New School Year!!!



A Fanfarade for YA Fantasy!

I’ve been fast and furiously reading a ton of YA novels, and there are two very distinct fantasy novels that have passed through my hands.  Here’s a short review of two of them:

34275232The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert  Flatiron Books, 2018

Alice is used to her quirky life with her mom.  Constantly moving, she has never really created roots.  But then her mother stops moving and finally Alice can take a breath, even though she must share her breathing room with a new family.

Alice never really knew anyone in her family, but she knows of them, especially her famous grandmother, who lives at the Hazelwood and is world famous for the only book she wrote: Tales from the Hinterland.  And now, Alice will need that book in order to find and rescue her mother….

This book isn’t any old and ordinary fairy tale book.  The tales spun in them are dark, brooding and dangerous, with the main characters in each tale more than likely to do harm than grant wishes.  She enlists the help of Ellery, a friend from school, to track down not only this dark and dangerous book, but to find the Hazelwood…

Only to find herself alone in the Hinterlands, coming face to face with the nightmare terrors the book describes….rescue or escape is now a possibility, not a fact…

Some may call this fantasy, while others may call it magical realism.  Whatever genre or sub-genre you call it, it’s still a great read that can definitely cross over beyond teens to adults.  Albert weaves a provocative tale that splits the real world the characters live in with the equally real world the others make a home. If your readers enjoyed Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, they will definitely enjoy this! Recommended for 9-12 grades.



Furyborn by Claire Legrand Sourcefire Books, 2018

Welcome to the world of Avitas, where wars for power and dominance take place.  Humans have finally, after years of bloody battle against angels, thwarted them behind powerful magic.  But that magic is slowly disintegrating….

Rielle has lived in the kingdom of Celdaria all of her life.  An appointed outcast by her father, she can be a threat to others with the power she possesses.  But harnessing fire is the only one that she is aware of.  It isn’t until assassins try to kill Celdaria’s prince, that her other latent powers come to the surface.  Now she must pass seven tests against her powers to be crowned queen, or die trying to establish the power she possessed.

A thousand years later, angels have begun to escape.  They invade human form and are now propelling their Undying Empire across the Great Ocean to Ventera, where Eliana lives.  Known as the Dread of Orline, Eliana lives for the hunt…and the kill. When girls and women in her town and nearby start to unpredictably vanish, Eliana’s focus is now to find her mother, with the help of a rebel leader, who remains mysterious and infuriating.

But what she and Simon uncover is far beyond her reckoning or imagination….

What a powerful first book in a series for this author!  She takes angels and makes them devils and the reader gets caught up in the magic of two different times in the same fantastical world.  Each chapter is told alternately by both strong female characters and soon the reader understands just how intricate and closely threaded Rielle and Eliana are.  Two queens, one prophecy.  This is an amazing fantasy for high school readers due to intimate relationships between the characters.  Recommended 9-12 grades.

BONUS:  Two different book trailers featuring both characters were created by the publisher.  This trailer describes the sun queen  while this second trailer describes the blood queen


A Heapin’ Helping of Non-Fiction

Living out in the country, there were a few fun things to do during the summer and one of them was to read.  We had all sorts of books, but I remember in particular a biography of the Red Baron, (Manfred von Richthofen, not the pizza) and became intrigued with non-fiction.

My love for non-fiction has never been quenched and I still read it and love it.  But what has changed in the format of non-fiction.  It’s more narrative and comes in hardcopy or graphic novel.  It comes as stand alones or in series.  It’s also disguised as great fiction too!

So here’s a list of non-fiction you should dive into this summer….so worth it (and you’ll learn a lot in the process!)


Brazen by Penelope Bagieu:  This is a great book that takes a unique approach to women in leadership roles.  Some you may have heard of, others perhaps not.  The author goes into details about women from history (Nzinga and Agnodice to name a few) to current (Betty Davis (the singer, not the actress) and Mae Jemison) to well-known names

(Peggy Gugenheim and Nellie Bly)If only all of the women

who kicked booty throughout history could have been added…


mary's monster

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge: While this is a

fictional account in novel in verse AND graphic

novel, this book is a must read.  Filled with beautiful images, that author takes the reader down a long, hard road along with Mary Shelley, who wanted to live a beautiful life in love but ended up being emotionally torn and pulled by the relationships she created.  Then along came her monster….




Devils highway


The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea:  I actually stumbled on this read through the Audiosync Summer reading series and boy, am I glad I did.  This is considered an adult non-fiction book, but definitely is on the forefront of current social issues in the US and one teens can enjoy.  The reader goes on a journey from Mexico to the US with a coyote, who smuggles over 20 men into the Arizona dessert…and where few come out alive.  The perspective is layered and the facts can be grim and difficult…altogether a fascinating read.



this is really


This is Really Happening by Erin Chack: This is an autobiography, but not just any autbiography.  This is one written by someone people may or may not know or follow, but who works for an online site most everyone has heard about:  Buzzfeed.  You have to be a unique writer to capture the attention of millions, and this is just what Erin has done.  She takes us through her life from before middle school to her life now and all of its ups and downs, from boyfriends to marriage, to cancer and friendship, all with that unique and humorous prose Buzzfeed is known for.  Short and sweet, a great read for teens and adults.


heart were young


Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner: I really should look up to see if Cornelia and her friend Emily are still alive, but I was sucked into their story of their escapades of the 1920s.  What is so unique about this book is that is was written over 76 years ago and details teenaged girls wanting the same independence, fun, and relationships teens want today.  Just another time period that can’t be “faked.”  You’re sitting front and center in this book to experience their lives unfold in very different but similar ways.  Great companion book to The Great Gatsby!