Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.


I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!


Greetings! This evening, I bring you yet another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. This short yet powerful novel combines historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural, and readers end up with a moving tale of a young girl looking for a sense of family.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!


Many of my students may pick up Gingersnap for the length (only 160 pages), but I hope they stick around for this heart-warming story. In just a few pages, Patricia Reilly Giff gives readers a fairly realistic look at what life may have been like for a young girl during World War II. We see how a family can be torn apart by war, how a girl will do whatever she must to survive and thrive, and how scarcity and rationing can have a huge effect on not just a family’s meals but also keeping a business going.

Peppered throughout Gingersnap, readers see Jayna’s soup recipes. These recipes reflect exactly what Jayna is going through, and the instructions are at once charming, funny, and reminiscent of many recipes created by kids–or my own mother, a woman who makes soup by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and cooking until it tastes right. (Whatever she does, it works. My mom’s soup is the best.)

Even though the ending of this book is a tad predictable, I still appreciated Jayna’s journey. She learned quite a bit about herself, her family’s past, the war going on around her, and what it really feels like to be part of a family and the community around her. And even though everyone around her had their own reasons to be cynical and angered by the circumstances of war, they were all kind and caring, and they showed Jayna just what it meant to be there for one another in difficult times.

As for the “supernatural” bits of Gingersnap, neither I nor Jayna are sure if a ghost was at work. It’s possible. This part of the book is definitely open to interpretation, and the discussions about this presence could be quite interesting.

I think Gingersnap is a great read for those in third grade on up. (Yes, even middle schoolers and teens will find something to enjoy.) This book could lead to further research on World War II and the fighting in the Pacific, and it would be a good novel study presenting a different view of the war. (As my fellow educators likely know, most novels with a WWII-focus tend to center on the fighting in Europe and/or the Holocaust.)

A Snicker of Magic

Greetings, dear friends. I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I’ve been fighting a wicked bad sinus infection. When I’m sick, all I feel like doing is vegging out in front of the TV. Also, it’s difficult to get involved in a book when you have to stop every few seconds to sneeze or blow your nose.
  2. I’m wrapping up another school year. The beginning and end of the year are the absolute craziest times in a school library, and this has been one of the worst finales I can remember.
  3. My weekends have been jam-packed with birthdays, family celebrations, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not going to apologize for that.

Anyway, I’m back today with another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This one is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and, to be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get into this book. (The reasons listed above are partly to blame.) I actually only got really invested in the book last night, and I read 3/4 of it within the past 18 hours or so. (I even skipped watching Supernatural last night so that I could read more. That’s huge.)

So, even with a somewhat slow start, I found A Snicker of Magic to be a delightful, poignant book, and I can only hope that my students–and you–agree.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!


Aside from A Snicker of Magic being a heart-warming (and tear-inducing) book about the healing magic of love, music, family, friendship, and forgiveness, I think it has great potential to expand readers’ vocabularies. The words that Felicity collects are descriptive of the people and places around her, and it could be a fun exercise for young readers to explore that a bit. What words do they associate with their friends, family members, teachers, school, home, and anything else in their lives? Like Felicity, they could craft poems or songs out of these words and create some magic of their own.

A Snicker of Magic is already a big hit in my school library, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now that I’ve read it myself, I’ll definitely encourage others to do the same. I look forward to talking to my students about this spindiddly book and sharing the beautiful words and magic found within its pages.

For more information about A Snicker of Magic and author Natalie Lloyd, you can visit the author’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and even Pinterest.

The Boy on the Porch

Today, I bring you yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. My latest read, The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, isn’t a very long book, but it packs quite an emotional punch. It is sweet, heartwarming, suspenseful at times, and it leaves the reader with a feeling of contentment. If I’m being totally honest, though, I think adult readers will appreciate it more than children will.

One day, John and Marta step outside, and they find a boy asleep on their porch. They don’t know why he is there or who left him. The boy, Jacob, doesn’t speak, so John and Marta don’t know where he’s from, who his family is, why they were chosen to care for him, or when someone will return for the boy. So they care for him as best they can.

John and Marta grow rather attached to Jacob. They love him as if he were their own…and Jacob seems happy with them. He still doesn’t speak, but he makes music, he paints, he enjoys time with the couple’s animals, and he communicates in his own way. He thrives in this young couple’s care.

But John and Marta are always waiting for someone to return for this boy they’ve grown to love…and one day, it happens. This young couple doesn’t want to say good-bye to Jacob, but they seem to have no choice. Even when Jacob leaves, they let him know that he is welcome to return at any time.

As days go by, John and Marta miss Jacob, and they look for ways to help other children who need special care. They open their home and their hearts to kids who need a little extra love, and they always remember the boy who started them on this journey. And they hope that one day, their beloved Jacob, the boy on the porch, will return to them once again.


I can’t help but think that The Boy on the Porch is a must-read (and a great gift) for foster parents. This book shines a light on the sacrifices many of these people make to care for children in need. They often provide a safe, loving home for kids who’ve only known the opposite. Many, like John and Marta in this story, give children a voice in a world that doesn’t really understand them. This poignant book honors that and shows that the love that foster parents get in return is more valuable than diamonds.

Now, having said all that, I will admit that I don’t think this book will be a huge hit with my students. It doesn’t read like a “kid’s book.” Yes, it’s heartwarming, sweet, and all that other mushy stuff, but, in my opinion, it comes across as a short book for adults. The story is told from the adults’ perspectives. It’s not Jacob’s story. I doubt most young readers will be able to relate to the struggles of a couple tasked with caring for a young boy. Maybe I’m wrong, but this may be one book I market to the parents of my students rather than the students themselves.

So, while I enjoyed this book and think some of my students will pick it up solely because of its length, I sincerely doubt that most 2nd-5th grade readers will be able to pick up on the subtle–and even the more obvious–messages in this book. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you disagree.

If you’d like to learn more about The Boy on the Porch and other books by Sharon Creech, click here.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I’ll Give You the Sun

Sometimes, when it takes me a while to finish a book, it’s because I just couldn’t get into it. (See my previous post.) Other times, however, my reasons are more complicated. My latest read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, took me about six weeks to get through, but the problem definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t get into it. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’ll Give You the Sun–like the works of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Rowell–is one of those books with the power to completely take over everything, causing me to forget to sleep or eat and making me resent going to work. So, I had to force myself to only pick up this book when I could devote all of my attention to it…and I was finally able to do a lot of that this weekend. I consider it a weekend well spent…even with all of the ugly crying going on.

This amazing book tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who have been torn apart by heart-breaking circumstances. Told in alternating perspectives–the earlier years by Noah and the later years by Jude–this story allows readers to see both sides of a tarnished (yet still beautiful) coin.

Through Noah’s eyes, we see Noah and his obsession with the pictures in his head, the enigmatic boy next door, and his fear that both he and his art are simply not good enough. We see Jude, her wild ways, and Noah’s confusion over why she’s drifting away from him. We also see the pain of being different, Noah’s struggle to find–and accept–his own identity, and how secrets big and small have the power to rip a boy’s soul to pieces.

Through Jude’s eyes, readers see what the twins are like just a few short years later. Jude is no longer the wild child of the bunch. That honor goes to Noah. Jude is now the withdrawn, artistic twin, and she wants to find some way to reach her brother and force him to really be his true self. All the while, Jude is also wrestling with her own ghosts and seeking a measure of peace in her life.

What could have caused such a drastic personality switch in these once-close twins, and is there any way to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a happy future?

With the help of a couple of people with odd connections to the twins’ past, there may be hope for these two siblings to once again find each other. The journey will not be without its painful revelations, but, if they can make it through to the other side, they may just find everything they thought they’d lost.


As so often happens with books that grab me and won’t let go, this post doesn’t begin to do I’ll Give You the Sun justice. I laughed, I cried, and I roared at the vindictiveness of siblings, twins who claim to love each other more than anything. I’ll Give You the Sun was an intense, emotional roller coaster, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the ride to end. That may be another reason I took my time with this one. On some level, I knew that this book would be one to savor.

For more information on author Jandy Nelson and this amazing book, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

*This amazing book is being touted as one of the great new YA reads, and I totally agree with that. I would, however, caution some librarians, teachers, parents, and others that recommend books to young people that I’ll Give You the Sun does explore some mature themes–sexual identity and alcohol abuse being two of them. Those themes may be par for the course for many teen readers, but I doubt I’d recommend this book to anyone below the high school level…unless that reader showed incredible maturity. Of course, you know the young people in your lives better than I do, so do what you will.*

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

The title of this book alone should have told me that I would love it. (I did.) I am an unapologetic band geek, and I probably always will be. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek allowed me to relive some of the happiest memories of my adolescence, and I imagine that any former or current marching band members will feel the same. This book could also show prospective band members–and maybe even those who look down on this bunch of dorks (I’m looking at you, Jim Rome)–just how awesome marching band really is. Seriously, band geeks are the coolest people in any school, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Now, on with the show…

Elsie Wyatt lives and breathes music. Her main goal in life is to take over her father’s position as principal French horn player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She’s just got a few things to get through first…like band camp.

As part of the requirements for the prestigious Shining Birches summer music camp, Elsie must take part in a musical ensemble. For Elsie, that means joining her new high school’s marching band. She’s confident in her ability to play her horn, but that confidence takes a big hit on her first day of band camp. Not only is she encountering a musical culture that she never expected–one in which she’s humiliated before things even get started–but she’s also being forced to trade in her gorgeous French horn for a mellophone, a poor substitute that will require her to essentially start from scratch. Yeah…this is going to be a blast.

Now, Elsie must worry about perfecting her audition piece for Shining Birches as well as learning a new instrument, marching techniques, even more music, and navigating the tough waters–and friendships–that come with entering high school. And the friendship thing seems to be the hardest thing for Elsie to handle. Her horn has always been her best friend, and she doesn’t really know how to really talk to people, how to focus on someone other than herself, or how to control her temper when she’s having a troubles (musical or personal). She has to find a way to be a better friend, something that is becoming more and more important to her.

Even as Elsie is learning–and loving–more about the marching band and the friends she’s making, she’s still struggling with the pressure to be great. While part of her really wants to hang out with her band friends and let loose a little, she knows she must stay focused if she wants to earn a spot at Shining Birches and prove to her father that she’s a worthy, serious musician. She knows he doesn’t think she has what it takes, and Elsie will do just about anything to prove him wrong.

All of her intense focus, though, is turning Elsie into someone she doesn’t like or even recognize. (The people around her aren’t so crazy about her, either.) She’s snapping at everyone, even the people who would be there for her if she’d only let them, and her increasing anxiety is about to cause her to break. And when one more thing is added to Elsie’s already full plate, she has to decide whether she’ll rise to the occasion or buckle under the pressure.

Join Elsie in the wonderful world of marching band–band camp, rehearsals, passing out, bizarre rituals, parades, football games, competitions, pranks, bus rides, and much more–and learn how the one thing she thought would be nothing more than a means to an end has the power to change her entire life.


My time with the marching (and concert) band was my favorite part of school. Most of my friends were in the band, and I spent every spare moment with them in the band room. I have so many fond memories of band camps, football games, and competitions, and I still try to take in at least one marching band or DCI (Drum Corps International) competition every year. (I’ve blocked out most of the sunburn, dehydration, soreness, yelling, running laps, crying, and all the other not-so-great stuff that comes with being part of this tight-knit group of awesomeness.) Not to be too melodramatic or anything, but marching band is a way of life, and it’s something that stays with you long after your last show. Erin Dionne, the author of this amazing book, totally gets that.

If I have any issues with this book, it’s with the main character herself. I just wanted to knock Elsie upside the head sometimes. (If I’d been her section leader, I probably would have.) She was just so mean to everyone around her, and, at least until the end, she didn’t see how her words and attitude impacted those around her. I know she had to display some personal growth throughout the course of the book, but, man, was that journey ever rocky. (Her parents didn’t help matters, either, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.)

Even with my desire to give Elsie a good wallop, I confess that I absolutely adored this book, and I will be recommending it to all of my fellow band geeks. I think it’s safe to say that Notes from an Accidental Band Geek will give every one of them some pretty awesome flashbacks. I know it did for me.*

For more information on Notes from and Accidental Band Geek and author Erin Dionne, check out her website and Twitter. Enjoy!

*Sadly, my time in the band came before digital photography was huge, so I have very few pictures of these wonderful moments. Here’s one, though, that I’m willing to share with the masses.


Yep, that’s me in all my seventeen-year-old glory. I was tuba player and Band Captain for the Mustang Regiment of Palmetto High School. I loved every minute of it.*

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

As you may know, a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was released yesterday. After I voted, I rushed to my closest bookstore and purchased ten copies for my school library. (I’m fully aware that this is probably not enough.) Before I took the books to school, though, I sat down to read this ninth installment, The Long Haul.

In The Long Haul, Greg Heffley is about to take part in that most dreaded of family activities–the road trip. Greg’s Mom thinks this will be the greatest summer activity in the world, and she’s billing it as a vacation and learning experience all rolled into one. Well, it’s definitely a learning experience, but I doubt dear old Mom had these lessons in mind…

From rundown hotels to lost wallets and cell phones to destructive pigs to unfortunate car mishaps, the Heffley family goes through loads of mayhem and madness on this most epic of road trips. Everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong on this horrible vacation.

Crammed in the back of the family van, Greg tells readers all about his vacation misadventures, and readers young and old will find it all too easy to sympathize with Greg’s plight. (Who hasn’t endured a heinous family road trip?!)

Will Greg and his family make it out of this with their sanity intact? Can anything go right for them during this trip? What more could they possibly endure?

Join Greg Heffley on yet another wild ride when you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul!


I don’t have to do a whole lot to sell this book to my students. Setting it out on the shelf is usually enough. I do plan to tell them, though, that The Long Haul is probably my favorite of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It’s just so relatable, no matter what the reader’s age may be. I can remember long car rides with my family–my sister and I fighting over the smallest things, my parents getting more irritated by the minute, all of us fussing about my dad’s choice in music, having no escape from all the togetherness. Oftentimes, we needed another vacation from our vacation. I think lots of readers–like myself–will be able to see themselves in everything that goes wrong with the Heffleys’ road trip.

I’m sure we’ll see more of Greg Heffley and his infamous diary in the future. The Long Haul didn’t wrap up in a nice, neat little bow, so be on the lookout for another book this time next year.

For all things Diary of a Wimpy Kid, be sure to visit For a quick look at The Long Haul, you may also want to take a peek at the video below. You can find loads more videos on the Wimpy Kid YouTube channel. Enjoy!

Published in: on November 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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Red Thread Sisters

I can see the finish line in the distance. Last night, I read my 18th nominee for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Only two more to go!

My latest SCCBA nominee is Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. It is a short but powerful book that could encourage young readers to explore their differences, appreciate families of all types, and examine the true meaning of friendship.

 “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” ~Ancient Chinese Legend

Wen has spent the past several years in a Chinese orphanage, but her life is about to undergo a drastic change. She has been adopted by an American family, and she’s leaving her best friend in the world, Shu Ling, behind. Wen promises that she’ll do whatever it takes to find a home for Shu Ling, but that may not be so easy when Wen is trying to adjust to a new family and an unfamiliar country and language.

Wen’s new life in Boston is much more difficult than she could have imagined. She misses her best friend desperately, and she remains distant from her new mom and her little sister, Emily. It’s also hard to make friends at school when she’s so different–and when she can’t understand many of the words spoken around her.

Eventually, though, Wen does make a very good friend…but how can Wen be totally happy with her new life when she knows that Shu Ling is counting on her to find a forever family?

Young Wen becomes determined to help her best friend, but time is running out. In a matter of weeks, Shu Ling will no longer be eligible for adoption. What can one eleven-year-old girl do to make sure her friend, a disabled thirteen-year-old in a Chinese orphanage, is adopted by an American family?

Well, Wen will discover that she’s capable of quite a bit, but will her efforts be enough? Will she find a home for Shu Ling in time? Will these “red thread sisters” ever see each other again? If not, can Wen ever be truly happy with her new life in America?

Read Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock to see just what one young girl will do to ensure the happiness of her best friend…and herself.


Red Thread Sisters is a great book that is sure to pull at the heartstrings. I think every reader will root for Wen to connect with her new family and find a home for her best friend. The book may even make people stop and think about how they treat those who come from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe they’ll be a little more empathetic after reading this book. Maybe they’ll learn to focus on what connects them instead of what sets them apart.

Any teachers looking to use Red Thread Sisters in their classrooms are in for a treat. The author has an amazing teacher guide on her website that connects this book to so many areas of study. (It even has the Common Core standards addressed by the book included.) If any of my upper elementary or middle grade teacher friends are looking for a new novel study–and you don’t want to do all of the legwork yourself–consider Red Thread Sisters and this wonderful resource (linked directly for your convenience).

If you’re interested in learning more about Red Thread Sisters and Carol Antoinette Peacock, check out the author’s website. You may also want to take a peek at the book trailer below. I know I’ll be using it when I promote this book to my students!


In April, I read a moving novel centered around one twelve-year-old boy’s experiences during Hurricane Katrina. That book was Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. Last night, I finished another book that takes a look at how this monstrous storm impacted a young boy. The book is Buddy, a 14-15 South Carolina Book Award nominee by M.H. Herlong. Both books are told from the perspective of twelve-year-old boys, and the boys in both stories have a strong connection with their pets. Those similarities aside, these two books are very different. While Zane and the Hurricane presented a harrowing tale of what it was like to remain in New Orleans during Katrina, Buddy gives a glimpse of what life may have been like for those who left–those who evacuated their homes, often leaving possessions, friends, and even beloved pets behind.

Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts has wanted a dog forever, but he never quite expected to get one the way he did.

On the way to church one Sunday morning, Li’l T’s dad hits a scraggly, old dog with the car. Even though the family doesn’t have the money to take care of this injured dog, Li’l T is convinced that this dog, who he names Buddy, is meant to be his. With the help of some folks at church, Buddy gets the help he needs, and even though the dog loses a leg, he gains a home with Li’l T.

Li’l T sacrifices a lot to make Buddy a part of his family. He sells his GameBoy so that he has money to buy food for Buddy. He starts mowing lawns so that he can keep caring for his dog. He spends hours talking to Buddy and trying to convince this dog to make the most of his second chance at life. Buddy may only have three legs, but Li’l T knows his dog can do just as much as any four-legged dog around.

Li’l T and Buddy are the best of friends, but something is about to happen that could tear them apart forever. A hurricane named Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans, and the family has to leave everything behind…including Buddy. There’s just no room for him in the family car. Li’l T wants to stay behind with Buddy, but his parents won’t hear of it, so they leave Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with enough food and water for the next couple of days. Surely the storm won’t keep them away more than two days, right?

No one is prepared for Katrina’s path of destruction. This monster of a storm even hits the family’s refuge in Mississippi, and Li’l T soon learns that there isn’t much left of his home in New Orleans. Flood waters have destroyed much of the city, and there may not even be a home to return to.

Immediately, Li’l T thinks of Buddy. Is his dog still locked up in the bathroom? Is he wondering why Li’l T hasn’t come back for him? Has Buddy been rescued, or did Katrina claim one more victim? Li’l T isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s determined to find out what happened to the dog that became his best friend.

It’s not always easy to keep moving when so much has been taken away from you. Li’l T and his family have lost so much because of Katrina, but they’ve still got each other, and Li’l T has the hope that he will be reunited with Buddy one day. But will their reunion be everything that Li’l T expects, or will he realize that sometimes the only thing you can do is move on?

Read Buddy by M.H. Herlong to see how tragedy brought two friends together, tore them apart, and taught one young boy what true courage and sacrifice really mean.


I freely admit that I didn’t look forward to reading this book. (It was billed as being like Old Yeller. What did you expect?) I did, however, find myself engrossed the more I read. Seeing Li’l T’s journey throughout this book was gratifying, and I think all readers will appreciate how much this character grew and matured throughout the course of this story.

I think Buddy is a great addition to any libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. There is some mention of gangs, violence, and drug use, but these things were true to the story and what was happening in the aftermath of Katrina.

While Buddy is a good book–and one that I will recommend to my students–I think Zane and the Hurricane is a much better book for those interested in Hurricane Katrina. It just seemed much more authentic to me. (Maybe I’m alone in that. I don’t know.) Hopefully, some of my students will read both books, and we can have some discussions on how each book addressed the storm that changed the lives of so many.

For more information on Buddy and author M.H. Herlong, check out the author’s website.

Published in: on September 1, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Torn Away

Sometimes books (and movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, etc.) make me emotional. I can usually shed a few tears and move on with my life. There are a few books, however, that turn me into someone even I don’t recognize. I cry so hard that I can’t catch my breath, I get so angry that I want to hit things, and I’m so exhausted by the whole experience that I have to take a very long nap to recuperate. I read one of those books this weekend. It was Torn Away by Jennifer Brown. This book put me through the wringer, and, despite today’s three-hour nap, I’m still emotionally exhausted from the experience.

Torn Away tells the story of Jersey Cameron. Jersey is finishing up her junior year in high school in Elizabeth, Missouri, and, like many teen girls, she’s focused on her own life. She rolls her eyes when her mom tells her to do chores, and she doesn’t want to be bothered by her little sister, Marin. All she wants is to be left alone.

When the tornado sirens sound one evening, Jersey is home alone waiting for her mom and sister to return from dance class. At first, she’s sure that things aren’t that bad outside. They’ve heard the sirens before, and nothing has happened. Unfortunately, that is not the case on this fateful night. A massive tornado is heading right for Jersey’s town, and it won’t just rip buildings to shreds. No, it will destroy Jersey’s entire world. Jersey wanted to be left alone before. Now, she has no choice.

The disaster that leveled Jersey’s home also took her mother and sister, and her stepfather can’t deal with Jersey’s pain on top of his own. He sends Jersey to live with her father and paternal grandparents, people she’s never met, and her already tragic situation is made even worse. Jersey lives in a constant state of fear, she has no one to lean on, and the people who should be there for her want nothing to do with her. In fact, they make it known that she’s not welcome, and they’re only taking her in because they think they have to.

Jersey can’t take living with her father and his loathsome family, so she does the only thing she can think of. She runs away. Jersey hopes that she’ll be able to stay with friends or even her stepfather back in Elizabeth, but, yet again, she’s sent to live with more relatives she’s never met. This time, she’s staying with her maternal grandparents, the same people who disowned her mother so many years ago.

Jersey’s existence with her mom’s parents is much more comfortable than it was with her father’s family, but Jersey is still holding onto so much anger, fear, and sadness that she can’t let anyone in, especially the people her mother taught her to despise. But did Jersey really get the whole story from her mother? What led to the separation between daughter and parents, and did either party ever try to bridge that gap? Should Jersey be the one to make things better? Is that even an option when her grief is eating her alive?

As Jersey spends more time with her grandparents and learns more about her mother’s life (and secrets), she realizes that maybe there are people in the world who still love her. People who, like her mother, will do everything in their power to make her feel happy and safe. People who share in her grief and want to help her heal. People who can return a sense of family to her life. All Jersey has to do is let them in. Will she? Or will she let the tornado that took her mother and sister tear away her future as well?


This post hasn’t even come close to describing the intense, heart-wrenching journey that is Torn Away. I cried so much that I had to read most of the book with my glasses off. I kept Kleenex beside me the whole time. This wasn’t one of those books that elicits tears just at the end. No, like The Fault in Our Stars, Torn Away had me sobbing from beginning to end…and some of those tears were shed in anger.

I’m pretty sure I did serious damage to my Darth Vader pillow when I got angry at some of the people in Jersey’s life (which is kind of funny when you think about it). I got mad at her stepdad because he either couldn’t or wouldn’t see the damage he was inflicting on Jersey, but most of my anger was reserved for Jersey’s biological father and his family. Her father’s family was seriously horrible. All of them–with the minor exception of her aunt–were rude, insensitive, callous, and malicious people who didn’t try to sympathize with Jersey and even took delight in her pain. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them white trash. If anyone is offended by that, I’m sorry. Read the book. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.) I had to put the book down on a couple of occasions because I was so mad. I may have actually applauded Jersey when she finally escaped this situation.

I do think anyone who’s ever experienced loss will identify with the character of Jersey. I know I did. I felt her pain, her anger, her hopelessness. I imagined what I would do in a similar situation, and let me tell you…I wouldn’t have fared nearly as well as Jersey did. Jersey is a strong, sympathetic character who did her best to survive when it would have been all too easy to give up. Did she always to the right thing? Of course not, but she survived and held on to the memories of her family while working to make a life for herself in a world without them.

If you’d like to read Torn Away, pick up a box of Kleenex first and then head to your local library or bookstore. (I read a copy via NetGalley, but the book is already available to the masses.)

To learn more about Jennifer Brown and her other books–like Hate List–visit her website or Twitter.

Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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