The Inside of Out

I had an unexpected connection with my latest read, The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne.

This story, which will be released on May 31st, takes place in and around Palmetto High School in South Carolina. I actually graduated (almost twenty years ago) from Palmetto High School in South Carolina. Now, the school in this book is located somewhere around Charleston, and my high school is in the Upstate (Anderson County, if you want specifics), roughly 200 miles away, but I still thought this connection was pretty cool. (Yes, I know I’m a dork.)

Anyhoo, The Inside of Out, takes a look at a very special friendship and what one girl will do to stay involved in her best friend’s life when things begin to change.

Daisy and Hannah are best friends. They share almost everything with each other. It comes as little surprise to Daisy, then, when Hannah comes out just before the start of their junior year. Daisy is beyond prepared to be a supportive friend…even though she despises Hannah’s girlfriend, Natalie. (There’s a bit of a history there.)

Even though Hannah shies away from the spotlight, Daisy is determined to be the staunchest ally her friend could ever hope for. She joins the school’s Gay Alliance, and, before she really knows what she’s doing, Daisy is leading a campaign to end the school’s ban on same-sex partners at dances. She actually becomes the face of this campaign–which is gaining international attention–and everyone simply assumes she’s a lesbian. Daisy plays along, but she’s straight. Surely this little white lie couldn’t lead to problems, could it? (I bet you’ve already figured out the answer to that question, haven’t you?)

Daisy’s fight for equality is getting out of hand, and her relationship with Hannah is suffering. Hannah never really wanted any of this, and it’s driving a wedge between the two friends…and between Hannah and Natalie. Daisy’s love life isn’t much better. What could be a connection with a college journalist takes a back seat to Daisy’s quest to create an inclusive homecoming event.

Everything is spiraling out of control, and Daisy doesn’t know if she can hold on. How can she possibly deliver on everything she’s promised? What will all of this mean for her friendship with Hannah? Is there any way for Daisy to untangle the mess she’s made while being true to herself and her best friend? Find out when you read The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne!


So…even though Daisy was grating at times and I found the ending to be a tad unrealistic, I did enjoy this book. I think it’s a good look at what it might be like to be the straight best friend. I know it’s all-too-easy to see people as issues instead of friends. Daisy took things a bit farther than most probably would, but I can understand how she would want to be supportive of her friend no matter what.

I also think The Inside of Out addresses the issue of privilege in an easy-to-understand way. At the end of the book, Daisy is called out on her gung-ho quest for equality. If she fails, she really loses nothing. She can go home, live her life, and nothing major will change. For many of the other students in the Gay Alliance, however, that’s not the case. They face ridicule, hatred, and even violence regularly, and that will still be true whether or not Daisy’s plans fail. This book has helped me to check my own privilege and look at a variety of issues and scenarios through different lenses.

I think The Inside of Out is a great pick for libraries that serve young adults. It is an especially important book for collections looking to build up their book selections for LGBTQIA readers and allies.

If you’d like to learn more about this book and Jenn Marie Thorne, visit the author’s website, and remember to look for The Inside of Out on May 31st!

A Million Ways Home

Last night, I finished one more of the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. Those who know me can take one look at the book’s cover and figure out why I was a little hesitant to read this one.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover.

Well, I read the book anyway, and I have to admit that I’m glad I did. Though the dog plays a part in things, he’s not the major focus of the book. That honor goes to Poppy, a girl dealing with much more than any kid should be expected to handle.


After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.


A Million Ways Home is a quick, moving, and entertaining read that is sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle grade readers. Readers will empathize with Poppy and wonder what they would do if placed in similar situations.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it is too “busy.” There’s already a lot going on in this book–Poppy’s reluctance to go back to the children’s center, her encounter with a criminal, Grandma Beth’s illness, Gunner’s fate, Lizzie’s problems, etc. Adding revelations about Poppy’s parents, Trey’s regrets, and even Lizzie’s issues with her dad, in my opinion, muddy the waters a bit and make the narrative confusing at times. I understand why the author included these details, but I didn’t feel like they contributed a great deal to the story as a whole. Just my two cents.

My issues aside, I do think my students will enjoy A Million Ways Home, and I’m happy it’s on next year’s SCCBA list. Now, I get to figure out how to sum up this book in a minute-long book trailer to help me with promoting it! (Check my library’s YouTube channel later to see what I come up with.)

For more information on A Million Ways Home and other books by Dianna Dorisi Winget, visit the author’s website.

Happy reading!

The Rookie Bookie

It’s time, once again, to bring you one of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Today’s post focuses on The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz.

This book is an interesting, quick read that will appeal to both math and sports enthusiasts, but I’m not sure how many upper elementary school students (the target audience for the SCCBA nominee list) will be able to follow all of the economics, statistics, and sports strategy talk presented in this book. I think they’ll enjoy getting to know the characters and seeing how they get into and out of trouble, but I think this book may be more suitable for middle grade readers than many of my little ones.

Mitch Sloan is the new kid at school, and he doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to fitting in. At his old school in California, he was bullied for being a nerd. He doesn’t want the same thing to happen here in Indiana, so Mitch tries out for the football team and attempts to tone down his love of math, money, and correcting people.

One person who seems to connect with Mitch immediately is Jamie, a girl who loves sports as much as Mitch does. She examines strategy just like he does, and he finally feels like someone finally gets him…and he absolutely does NOT have a crush on her.

One day, Mitch and Jamie take their love of sports to the next level, and they bet on a pro football game. Mitch uses his love of strategy and statistics to skew the bet in his favor, and, though Jamie is upset at first, an idea begins to take shape. What if they can get other kids at school to bet on some games? Mitch and Jamie could serve as middle-men–or bookies–and make a little money with no risk to their own wallets. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty soon, kids are lining up at Mitch’s locker to make bets and receive their winnings. Mitch and Jamie are making money, their “customers” are having fun, and Mitch feels what it’s like to be popular. He kind of likes the feeling, even though he wonders just how many of these people are really his friends.

Eventually, this business begins to spiral out of control, and Mitch and Jamie find themselves in more trouble than either of them have ever been in. (Who knew that operating a middle school gambling ring was against the rules?) Can their friendship recover from this huge mess? And can they find a way to redeem themselves in the eyes of their parents, their classmates, their teachers, and the whole school?

Answer these questions and many more when you read The Rookie Bookie!


I think The Rookie Bookie is a good fit for readers who enjoy football, particularly those interested in fantasy football or anyone who grew up in a town where high school football is a community-wide event. I also think this could be used as a novel study in a math class. It could help students with real-life applications of statistics and finance. Additionally, this book could teach some life lessons, like the importance of honesty, what it means to be a true friend, using talents to help others, dealing with bullies, and owning up to one’s mistakes and trying to make amends. 

While I do think The Rookie Bookie is more suited to middle grade readers, I know some of my older readers (4th and 5th graders) will enjoy it. Hopefully, they won’t decide to start up an elementary school gambling ring. We shall see.

Pack of Dorks

Yesterday, I managed to finish one more of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. (That brings my grand total to five…out of twenty.) This latest read was Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel, and, though the protagonist is a 4th grader, I think the story itself will resonate with readers in older grades as well.

Let’s jump right in…

Lucy is pretty secure in her status as one of the most popular girls in the 4th grade, but her best friend Becky convinces her that kissing Tom Lemmings at recess will really make her cool. Lucy reluctantly agrees, and that action may just cost her dearly.

After the ill-fated kissing incident, Lucy quickly finds herself moving from the top of the heap in 4th grade to the bottom. Tom is no longer her boyfriend, Becky is being mean to her, and the other kids are laughing at her. And her situation at home isn’t much better. Her new baby sister has Down Syndrome, and Lucy’s parents are totally focused on the baby. They don’t seem to care at all about Lucy anymore. She feels all alone and doesn’t know who she can turn to.

Lucy eventually finds an ally in quiet Sam Righter. The two share a table at lunch and work together on a class project about wolves. Through this project, Lucy compares the behavior of wolf packs to the treacherous world of school life. She looks at the actions of alphas, lone wolves, and how the weak or different are treated in wolf packs. The similarities between wolves and the kids in her world are striking, and Lucy thinks about how she could form her own pack. A pack of dorks.

As Lucy learns more and more about wolves and grows closer to the other outsiders at school, she also thinks about her own behavior. Maybe she was not-so-nice in the past. She doesn’t want to be that way anymore, and she really doesn’t want her little sister to be the target of bullies just because she’s different.

Can Lucy change her ways and become the person she wants to be? Will her “pack of dorks” be able to stand up to the bullies that torment them? Will Lucy find her place at school and within her own home?

How will Lucy’s home and school situations be resolved? Find out when you read Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel!


In addition to being an excellent book for addressing topics like bullying, respecting differences, and handling conflict, I think Pack of Dorks is also great for teaching the concept of voice. Lucy’s voice in this book is engaging and authentic, and I feel that many readers–no matter their ages–will respond to that. (Lucy is kind of snarky…like so many readers I know.) This wonderful book would make an excellent read-aloud in upper elementary and middle grade classrooms, and I’m already thinking of students and teachers who will adore it.

If Pack of Dorks sounds like the book for you, there’s more awesomeness to come. The sequel, Camp Dork, will be out on May 3rd. I’ve already added it to my next library order, and I look forward to reading it when it comes in.

For more information on Pack of Dorks, Camp Dork, and Beth Vrabel, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


With that, I bid you adieu for today. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon. My Spring Break begins today at 3:00 sharp, and I’m planning to read as much as possible. Join me, won’t you?

All the Bright Places

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Like The Last Time We Say Goodbye–also a SCYABA nominee–All the Bright Places deals with the subject of suicide. The two books differ, however, in how they approach the topic. While The Last Time We Say Goodbye takes a look at what happens after a loved one commits suicide, All the Bright Places kind of shows readers what leads up to it. Yes, this book also gives a glimpse of the fallout, but the bulk of the book focuses on the “before,” for lack of a better word.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Both of them are there thinking about doing something drastic. In Finch’s case, he never really stops thinking about ending it all. Violet, for her part, is overcome by grief following her sister’s death and simply wants to escape.

On that fateful day, this unlikely duo eventually climbs down from the bell tower, and, though their classmates think they know what happened up there, no one but Finch and Violet knows the truth. Who really saved whom?

After the “bell tower incident,” Finch and Violet partner up for a class project. Their assignment is to explore the wonders of the state of Indiana. At first, Violet is less than enthused about the project…and working with Finch. Ever since her sister’s accident, Violet won’t get in a car. That sort of limits just how much of Indiana she and Finch can explore. Finch doesn’t let that stop them. He’s determined to enjoy every moment with Violet. After all, how many moments do they have left together?

As reluctant as she was in the beginning, Violet is enjoying her time with Finch. There’s something about his seemingly boundless energy that makes her want to join the world again. But while Violet is starting to live again, Finch wonders how long he can stay “awake.”

Finch is pulling Violet out of her self-imposed shell, but he’s also retreating into his own. Violet senses something is “off” with Finch, but she doesn’t know how to help him…or if he’d even accept any help. And his friends and family don’t seem to find anything amiss.

What can Violet do if no one will admit that anything is wrong? And is there any way to stop Finch from doing the unthinkable and leaving Violet to wander this crazy world alone?


So, you’ve probably surmised by now at least a little of what happens in this book. No, there’s not some magical happy ending, but it doesn’t leave readers feeling totally hopeless, either. As someone whose life has been touched by suicide, I really appreciate that.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is the very realistic way it portrays bipolar disorder and the stigma attached to it and other mental illnesses. Some people–often even those suffering with mental illness themselves–don’t think they have an actual medical problem. After all, it’s not like they have cancer, diabetes, or anything like that, right? Wrong. People need to pay attention to the signs of mental illness and treat it as the serious medical–and treatable–issue it is. Would attention and treatment have been enough to change the outcome of All the Bright Places? I don’t know, but it might be what it takes to save someone you know and love.

If you’re a librarian, teacher, parent, or other adult wondering if this book is a good fit for middle grade readers, I would honestly say that I’m not sure. There is some cursing, a couple of sex scenes (which for some reason freaks people out way more than graphic depictions of violence), and very frank talk of death, but that’s reality for lots of kids. Yes, even those in middle school. I would say to know your audience. Use your best judgement when recommending this book to anyone, but especially those not yet in high school.

I definitely enjoyed the time I spent with Finch and Violet, and I’m so glad the SCYABA committee chose to place this book on next year’s nominee list. All the Bright Places elicited a lot of feelings–not all of them comfortable–and I went through my fair share of tissues while reading. I predict that lots of other readers will have the same experience.

Apparently, we’ll be able to see Finch and Violet on the big screen sometime in 2017. Pre-production has already begun on the film adaptation of All the Bright Places, and Elle Fanning has been cast as Violet. I’m sure more will be revealed soon on the book’s website (which has tons of great information), but that’s all we know for now. This has the potential to be a great movie. I just hope Hollywood doesn’t screw it up (like they tend to do).

Everything, Everything

I decided to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on a whim. It wasn’t on my to-read list. It was barely on my radar. Basically, it was the first available book I saw when I logged onto Overdrive the other day. (By the way, if your school or public library offers Overdrive, USE IT! If they don’t, ask for it. It’s awesome!) I read the synopsis and said to myself, “Why not?” That impulse served me well.

Everything, Everything, which has been out for a few months now, is a quick, easy read, but it does pack an emotional punch. It’s a great piece of contemporary YA fiction, and I think it will find an audience with fans of  wonderful authors like Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, and many others. Also, I think it’s pretty great that the main character, Madeline, comes from a background that we don’t see a lot in books for teens. (Her mom is Japanese American, and her dad is African American.)

Madeline Whittier may as well live in a bubble. Seriously. Madeline has SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency), so the least little thing could make her extremely sick. She can’t remember the last time she left her house, and her only human interaction is with her mom and her nurse.

It’s not all bad, though. Madeline reads all the time, she has game nights with her mom, and she can connect with the world online. She’s never really known anything different, and she’s (mostly) accepted that this is her life.

All of that changes when she hears the moving truck next door. With one look out her window, Madeline knows that her life will never be the same. One glimpse at Olly is all it takes. (And the feeling seems to be mutual.)

They start out just looking and gesturing at each other through their bedroom windows. (Nothing creepy, I promise!) They then progress to texting and emailing. But soon that’s not enough for either of them. They want to meet in person. But how can they when Olly would have to get past Madeline’s mother and undergo a fairly extensive decontamination process just to get in the door? Well, as it turns out, Madeline’s nurse can be persuaded to keep a secret…

It doesn’t take long for Madeline to realize that she could be in some serious trouble with Olly. Her growing feelings for him–and his for her–could turn out to be very inconvenient. Aside from the fact that her mom would freak out if she knew of their relationship and his visits, Madeline doesn’t see how they can have a future together with her illness getting in the way. It’s not like they can go out on dates, take a walk, or do anything “normal” young couples do.

Or can they?


I’m going to leave you hanging on that note. If I keep going, I’ll give too much away…like how the ending totally threw me for a loop.😉

If you’re looking to add Everything, Everything to your library, I would have to say that I recommend it for teen and adult readers. There are some sexy times–which are obvious but not gratuitous–that some middle grade readers may not be ready for (I hope).

For more information on Everything, Everything and Nicola Yoon, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.

The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.

When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?

Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.

Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.

What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?


It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.

Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.

There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.

To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.

If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.