The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

It’s time, dear friends, to bring you another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler. This heart-warming book illustrates that beauty can be found anywhere. All we really have to do is look for it.

Auggie Jones is pretty happy with her life. She lives with her Grandpa Gus, rides around in his old truck, and helps him with his trash hauling business. She doesn’t really care that she and her neighbors live on the poor side of town. They have everything they need, and they’re always willing to help each other in times of need.

All of that, however, is about to change. This year, thanks to budget cuts, Auggie is being moved to a new school, where she’ll come face to face with people who judge her and her neighbors for what they don’t have. One of Auggie’s new classmates, Victoria, is particularly cruel, and it doesn’t help matters that she’s a junior member of the newly formed House Beautification Committee, a group intent on making the town a little more pleasing to the eye. But whose eyes are they worried about pleasing? And what does this mean for those who don’t have the money to make large improvements?

Well, Auggie decides to show the committee and Veronica that her house is something to be proud of. Auggie begins looking through the trash that Gus hauls around, and she starts to see potential in some of the discarded items. Where some people might simply see a broken toaster, Auggie sees a lovely metal flower. Where one person sees broken windows and pottery, Auggie sees a way to make colorful mosaics. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty soon, Auggie and Gus are taking old, broken-down machines, and giving them life as whimsical pieces of art.

But not everyone sees Auggie’s creations as the beautiful works of art that she does. Some call them eyesores and demand they be removed…or else. What is Auggie to do? How can she convince people that her house and others in her neighborhood are beautiful in their own special ways? Can she find a way to show people that beauty is all around? It doesn’t matter if it comes from a trash dump or a fancy store. Beauty can be found anywhere if one takes the time to simply look.

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The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a great book for libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s a quick, easy read, and it also teaches some important lessons: staying true to yourself, looking for beauty in the world, standing up for what you believe in, forgiving those who’ve wronged you, and working together to affect change. I don’t care what age you are; these lessons are important for all of us.

I also think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky would be a great read for those interested in art, recycling, or just making stuff. (I’m trying to figure out a way to make some kind of display centered around this book and my library’s new Makerspace. If you have any ideas on this, let me know in the comments.) I plan to share this book with the art teachers at my school as well as the sponsors of our Environmentalist Club and Robotics Team. I think there’s definitely something they can use here. And now that I think about it, there may also be some parts of the book that fit with science standards–recycling, engineering, etc.–so there’s a whole new connection to explore. It’s kind of exciting!

I’m very happy that The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a part of this year’s SCCBA nominee list. I hope my students (and teachers) enjoy it as much as I did. If you think you might enjoy this book and want to learn more about it, you can connect with author Holly Schindler on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter. You can also learn a bit more about the book by checking out the book trailer below. Enjoy!

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Evil We Love

Yesterday, the brilliant Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman gave us another gripping story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The Evil We Love is the fifth story in this collection. If you’ve got a bit of catching up to do before installment #5, the first four stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, The Lost HerondaleThe Whitechapel Fiend, and Nothing But Shadows.

In The Evil We Love, readers see Simon Lewis near the end of his first year at the Shadowhunter Academy. It has not been easy for him this year, but he’s definitely learned quite a bit about what it means to be a Shadowhunter…both the good and the bad. Simon is stronger, his memory is returning, and he feels like he might actually have a place here. But all that could change when Isabelle Lightwood strolls through the Academy doors once again…

Isabelle hasn’t arrived at the Academy alone, though. She’s with her father, Robert Lightwood, also known as the Inquisitor. He’s speaking to the Academy students about Valentine and the origins of the Circle. He talks about his own involvement in the group, his conflicted feelings at the time, and how easy it ultimately was to relinquish control to Valentine.

Valentine was a charismatic leader that recognized the vulnerabilities in those around him, and he exploited those supposed weaknesses to get others to do his bidding. He had an agenda that would place Shadowhunters, particularly those who agreed with him, at the top of the food chain–above Downworlders and mundanes alike. Anyone who got in his way–including those close to him–would regret it.

While Robert Lightwood is trying to tell the Academy students about the beginnings of Valentine’s circle and how someone so evil could come to be so loved, Isabelle seems intent on stirring up trouble. She’s flirting with Simon’s nemesis, trying to get the other students to sneak out and break rules, and letting Simon know that he’s no longer part of her life. As for Simon, he may not remember most of his time with Isabelle, but he does remember some of his feelings for her, and her current behavior is destroying him.

Simon wants no part of whatever game Isabelle is playing, but he does still care about her…and his fellow students. He needs to figure out what’s happening here–and put a stop to it–before things really get out of hand. But what’s really going on? Is there more at work than meets the eye? And what could it all mean for Simon, Isabelle, and any possibility of a future together? We’ll just have to see…

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The Evil We Love alternates between Simon’s experiences at the Academy and Robert Lightwood’s time there in 1984. Even though the reader may not immediately realize it, the two perspectives do intertwine.

We see just what Valentine was like through Robert’s eyes. We also learn much more about Robert, what was important to him, and how he was manipulated by his own weaknesses. Valentine took advantage of Robert–as he did with so many others–and essentially took over his life. Robert, coward that he was, allowed it. He also lost one of the most important relationships in his life, the one with his parabatai, because of his own cowardice–an action that can’t be placed at Valentine’s feet.

Robert Lightwood has many regrets that shine through in this story, but, in my view, he’s attempting to use his experiences to keep the same thing from happening again. He’s also trying to mend fences with his daughter, no easy task with someone as strong-willed as Isabelle. Is he able to accomplish all of this during his brief time at the Shadowhunter Academy? Well, his methods are at once cruel and brilliant, and while he might get one point across, I think he may have a bit more work to do with Isabelle.

Isabelle, for her part, kind of drove me a little bonkers in this story…before I figured out what was really going on. I hated what she was seemingly putting Simon through (even though I totally get why she would want to), and I just wanted to reach through the pages and force them to kiss and make up. If only…

I guess that about does it for this installment of Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. As for how The Evil We Love stacks up against the other stories, I can’t say that it was my absolute favorite. That honor goes to either The Whitechapel Fiend or Nothing But Shadows. I can say, though, that it was entertaining, enlightening, and it has me eager for more.

Speaking of more, the next story in this collection, Pale Kings and Princes, will be out on July 21st. In this one, we’ll learn a bit more about Andrew Blackthorn and the events that led to the births of his half-faerie children, Mark and Helen. I can hardly wait!

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spellbinder

If you’re not caught up on C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post or Spellbinder, the upcoming novella set in this magical world. The books in these series thus far are:

And now we have Spellbinder, a story that takes place after the events of Eternal, the second Shadow Falls After Dark novel. This novella will be released in eBook format on June 30th, and it centers around Miranda, a young witch who is trying to live up to the expectations of those around her…even when it could put her very life at risk.

Miranda Kane has always been something of a klutz when it comes to managing her magic. She can never seem to please her exacting mother, who wants nothing more than for Miranda to be a Wiccan high priestess. Miranda never gets her spells quite right, and she’s sure that’s not going to change in the latest spell-casting competition her mother’s dragged her into, especially when Tabitha, Miranda’s nemesis, is also competing.

Almost immediately, things get off to a rocky start for Miranda, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that surrounds her. Something is off about this competition, and Miranda’s not the only one that senses it. She shares her concerns with her best friends, Kylie and Della, and all of them eventually realize that someone–or something–is targeting the witches in this competition. Why? Who would care so much about a spell-casting competition for teenage witches?

As the competition leads Miranda and company to Paris, the threat intensifies, as does Miranda’s confusion about the turmoil that is her life. Why does Tabitha seem to hate her so much? Why are her parents keeping secrets? What’s going on with her ex-boyfriend, a shapeshifter currently living in Paris, and why does she even care?

Miranda Kane is about to get the answers she needs, but she may not be ready for what those answers might mean. How will they change her life and what she’s always believed about herself? And how will they impact her future?

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I know we’ll see more of Miranda in the third Shadow Falls After Dark novel, Unspoken, but Spellbinder has really whet my appetite for a meatier story centering on Miranda. Given what happened in this novella, I’m certain she’ll get another story, but I don’t know at this point if it will be a full-length novel. I hope it is.

Remember that this story will be released to the masses on June 30th. (Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read it early!) If you’re new to the world of Shadow Falls, you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before then. If you’re all caught up, I think you’ll be as pleased with Spellbinder–and its connections to the other books–as I was.

For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the Shadow Falls books and C.C. Hunter, you can connect with the author on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Every Last Word

Last month, I read OCD Love Story, a book about a teen girl struggling with OCD. Late last night, I finished yet another book about a girl with OCD. The two books, however, are very different in my humble opinion.

I struggled to get through OCD Love Story. It took me a month to finish it. My latest read, though, gripped me from the first page. The book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, and I finished the entire beautiful story in one sitting. (It’s been quite some time since I’ve had the luxury of doing that. Thank the Maker that my summer vacation has begun!)

Every Last Word, which will be released next Tuesday, June 16th, introduces readers to Samantha McAllister. On the outside, Samantha seems to have it all. She’s pretty, popular, smart, and athletic. On the inside, though, she’s at the mercy of a constant stream of thoughts, some of which frighten her at times. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD, and no one outside of her family and her therapist know about her struggles with this disorder…and Sam needs to keep it that way.

Sam knows that one wrong move will forever damage her standing with her so-called friends, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep her true self from the girls she’s been close to since kindergarten. But if she loses them, Sam fears that she’ll really go crazy, and she simply can’t risk it.

Everything changes for Sam when she meets Caroline. Caroline seems to have a confidence that Sam longs for, and the two girls form an instant bond. Caroline leads Sam to a secret part of the school, Poet’s Corner, a refuge for those who have no place else to go. Sam doesn’t realize immediately that this hideaway may be exactly what she needs to finally express all of the thoughts that stay bottled up inside, but with Caroline’s encouragement and a bit of attention from the guitar-playing AJ, Sam begins to find her true voice.

Sam is still struggling with her changing relationships with her oldest friends, but she’s coming to realize that change can be good. Caroline, AJ, and Poet’s Corner have given her a new perspective and made her realize that she’s stronger than her OCD, and the “normal” she’s always craved may finally be within her reach.

But what will happen when Sam realizes that her mind has betrayed her? What she thought was so real may just be a trick of her anxiety, and the realization could jeopardize everything Sam has fought so hard for this year. When the truth is revealed, she could end up losing not only her old friends but also the safety and love she’s found in Poet’s Corner…and AJ’s arms.

Will Sam become a prisoner of her own mind once again? Or will she work through the maelstrom of emotions, thoughts, and worries that have held her back for so long? What will it take for her to become the person she so desperately wants to be?

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It’s been difficult for me to encapsulate this wonderful book into one short blog post. That’s what happens to me when a book grabs me and won’t let go. I grew very attached to Sam in this book, and the big reveal at the end quite simply tore me apart. I was doing a lot of ugly-crying, and it took me a long time to wind down when I finally finished Every Last Word.

Even though not every person who reads Every Last Word will identify with Sam’s OCD, I do think every reader will relate to Sam’s desire to fit in. I think we’ve all had those friends who we remain close to simply because it’s too difficult to move on from them. I know I’ve held onto some toxic friends way too long because it was just easier.

Sam’s journey throughout this book is a familiar one. She works to find her true self–through swimming, therapy, poetry, and friends who are truly there for her–and realizes just how lacking her old relationships have become. Is it difficult for her to separate from the girls she’s held onto since childhood? Yes…but she can’t grow into the person she wants to be while holding onto people who don’t really know her anymore. (I’m still working on that one myself.)

I think Every Last Word, while a somewhat serious book at times, has elements of Mean Girls that many readers will recognize. Sam is working to move beyond the mean girls in her own life, and, even though the road is often rocky, she’s slowly growing more comfortable in her own skin and her own mind, a huge deal for anyone suffering from any kind of mental illness. Finding Poet’s Corner ultimately leads to Sam finding herself. All teens should be so lucky as to find that one group in high school where they can totally be themselves.

The author’s note at the end of this book provides readers with a closer look at Purely-Obsessional OCD and the importance of a close patient-therapist bond in dealing with this disorder. It also leads readers to websites that may be useful in learning more about OCD and other anxiety disorders. That’s something that was sorely lacking in OCD Love Story, so I’m glad to see it included in Every Last Word.

For further information on Every Last Word and Tamara Ireland Stone, you can connect with the author on her website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Remember that Every Last Word comes out next Tuesday. Pick up a copy of your own! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*Note to those who select books for middle grade readers: There is one sex scene in Every Last Word, but it is not gratuitous. Additionally, there is some mature language. That being said, this book may be okay for readers in eighth grade and up. As always, though, read the book yourself first, and use your best judgement when recommending this book to readers.*

Lying Out Loud

Several weeks ago, I read The DUFF, a highly entertaining read by Kody Keplinger. This past Tuesday, I finished its companion novel, Lying Out Loud. (Normally, it doesn’t take me so long to write up a post after finishing a book. I blame end-of-school-year craziness.)

Anyway, Lying Out Loud, which takes place a few years after the conclusion of The DUFF, revolves around Amy Rush (Wesley’s sister) and her best friend, Sonny Ardmore. The best way I can describe their story is Easy A meets Cyrano de Bergerac. But since that doesn’t really go into how cool this book is, let’s take a closer look…

Sonny Ardmore is a world-class liar. She’s discovered that sometimes lies–especially those concerning her parents–are much less painful than the truth. Not even her best friend Amy knows exactly why Sonny needs to sleep over every single night…and Sonny’s in no real hurry to tell her. Sonny knows Amy would by sympathetic, but telling the truth would mean admitting what’s really going on to herself, and Sonny’s not ready for that.

So…the lying continues, and it’s about to land Sonny–and Amy–into quite a mess.

Ryder Cross is the new kid at Hamilton High. He’s pretentious, standoffish, and totally drool-worthy. And he has a crush on Amy. One night, Sonny and Amy (mostly Sonny) respond to a message from Ryder and basically play him for a fool. When Ryder calls them out on how mean they’ve been, Sonny responds and apologizes. The two end up chatting all night long, revealing pieces of themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else. There’s just one big problem, though. Ryder thinks he’s talking to Amy.

When Sonny realizes that there’s been a mix-up, she initially tries to tell Ryder the truth, but he loathes her and won’t give her a chance to fess up. So, liar that she is, Sonny decides to enlist Amy’s help in turning things around. She convinces her best friend to do everything she can to make Ryder let go of his ridiculous crush and turn his attentions to Sonny.

All the while, Sonny continues to text Ryder all the time–and he still thinks he’s talking to Amy. Sonny knows it’s wrong, but she can’t give up this tenuous connection to Ryder. She tells him things she’s told no one else, and he’s doing the same. Sonny just wishes he’d realize that the girl Ryder’s talking to is right in front of him, waiting to be noticed.

Ryder is very confused about the whole situation, and he’s not the only one. Amy is growing tired of Sonny’s schemes, and even Sonny is having trouble keeping up with all of her lies in her quest to prevent the messy truth of her life from being revealed. But that’s the thing about truth. It has a way of making itself known no matter what a person does…and Sonny’s day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Sonny does everything she can think of–short of being totally honest–to unravel the mess she’s made, but her lies are catching up to her. She’s totally panicked, and she’s terrified that she’s about to lose Ryder, Amy, and any possible hope for her own future.

What will happen when Sonny is forced to face the truth? Have her lies hopelessly damaged her relationships with both Amy and Ryder? And how will Sonny and those closest to her deal with the circumstances that led Sonny to make her life one big lie in the first place?

Uncover the truth for yourself when you read Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger!

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Lying Out Loud is a quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always charming read that fans of The DUFF will adore. Readers will especially enjoy the glimpses of Wesley and Bianca in this story. (He’s still charming, she’s still sarcastic, and they’re still really cute together.)

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was that it was just as much about Sonny’s relationship with Amy as it was about her burgeoning romance with Ryder. In fact, I daresay the Sonny/Amy relationship was the most important in the book. If it had come down to choosing between Amy and Ryder, I honestly think Sonny would have chosen to keep Amy in her life. (I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though.) Sonny was kind of horrible to Amy for much of the book, but Amy stood by her side–until even she couldn’t take the lying anymore. When Sonny realized that she was about to lose the greatest person in her life, that’s when she really turned things around. I don’t think Ryder alone would have been able to be that catalyst for change (though he definitely had a part in it).

I think Lying Out Loud is a great read for young adults looking for a book that really delves into relationships–friendships, family (with all of their complications), adversaries, and even one girl’s relationship with herself. Sonny examines her own part in the relationships around her, especially her tendency to lie in an effort to make things easier for her, and I think she eventually realizes just how much she matters to those who really care for her and how much damage she’s truly done. The lies are not necessary. Those who really love her will do so no matter how bad or ugly the truth may happen to be.

If I’ve piqued your interest with this post and you’d like to learn more about Lying Out Loud and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, TumblrFacebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. Have fun!

Published in: on June 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nothing but Shadows

Two days ago, Shadowhunter fans were graced with yet another Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy story from Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. In case you’re not caught up, the first three stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, The Lost Herondale, and The Whitechapel Fiend. Get to reading, my friends!

For those who are still with me, the fourth tale, Nothing but Shadows, continues Simon’s journey through the Academy and gives readers a look at the relationship between James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild.

As Simon Lewis navigates the rather gloomy halls of the Shadowhunter Academy, he’s learning more and more about those who came before him. It seems he’s not the only one to question the absolute certainty that Shadowhunters–especially those born to the life–are superior to everyone else.

Many years ago, two very different young men also questioned things…and, even though they had a rocky start, they eventually formed a virtually unbreakable bond. These two Academy students were James Herondale (son of Will and Tessa) and Matthew Fairchild (son of Henry and Charlotte).

James, a rather serious boy, really just wants to make a friend, but he’s shy, unsure of himself, and often prefers the company of his books. Matthew, on the other hand, seems to be James’ exact opposite. Matthew is popular, witty, outlandish, and, no matter what shenanigans he pulls, everyone is charmed by him. Everyone except James.

When a shocking truth is revealed about James, his heritage, and his abilities, he retreats even further from his fellow students. He’s now a total pariah, and he thinks that no one will ever want to befriend him now. As it turns out, he’s as wrong about that as he is about what really drives Matthew Fairchild. When James learns just why Matthew behaves the way he does, he finds himself as drawn to this charismatic boy as everyone else.

James and Matthew eventually form a strong friendship, and, when James’ future at the Academy is called into question, Matthew is right there by his side. He doesn’t care that James has some odd abilities passed on from his mother. He doesn’t care that others are afraid of James. Matthew sees James as a friend, a parabatai…and a way home to his father.

When Simon discovers what James and Matthew experienced during their time at the Shadowhunter Academy and beyond, how will that color his own experiences (and his slowly returning memories)? Is there someone at the Academy–or perhaps back home–who Simon would ask to be his own parabatai? Is Simon, the former Daylighter, finally coming to terms with his own murky past by learning about the complicated history of the Shadowhunters? Stay tuned to find out…

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As most of you likely know, I adore all things Shadowhunter (except for the crappy movie adaptation of City of Bones *shudder*). Going into this story, I didn’t think it was possible to love any characters more than Magnus Bane and the casts of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Well, I may have been wrong. (It’s too soon to tell.)

Granted, the glimpses I got of Will and Jem in Nothing but Shadows were amazing, but James and Matthew were definitely the shining stars (as they should have been), and I can’t wait to see more of them. James spoke to the shy bookworm in me, and Matthew was just too outrageous not to like. Their journey to friendship, though not without its bumps along the way, was a joy to witness, and I look forward to seeing how their parabatai bond changes how they view each other and the world around them.

I’m not sure James and Matthew will be shown in any other Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, but I know we’ll see them again in Chain of Gold, the first book of The Last Hours (due sometime in 2017). A sixteen-year-old James Herondale is featured in the fourth book of The Bane Chronicles, The Midnight Heir, if you want to see him a few years after the events of Nothing but Shadows. What happened in those few years? At this point, I can only begin to speculate…

The next story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is The Evil We Love, and it will be out on June 16th. This story will tell readers about Valentine’s Circle and their time at the Academy. I am giddy* with anticipation.

*Not really. I don’t think anyone has ever used the word “giddy” to describe me. I’m way too reserved for that. At most, I’m simply eager to read the next story in this collection. Do with that what you will.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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!

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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.

Half a Chance

Once again, it’s time to bring you yet another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, we turn our attention to Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

Half a Chance is a quick, engaging read that I think will speak to readers in upper elementary grades on through middle school. The setting is appealing, the characters’ adventures may encourage young readers to do some exploring of their own, and their struggles are true to life. Most readers–young and old–are sure to find something to relate to in this book.

Lucy and her family have just moved to a lake house in New Hampshire. Almost immediately, Lucy’s dad, a famous photographer, jets off on a job, leaving Lucy and her mom with the tasks of unpacking and getting to know their new surroundings.

Before Lucy’s father leaves for his trip, he inadvertently gives Lucy both a chance to explore her new home and a way to find out if her photos are really good. Dear old dad is judging a kids’ photo contest–a scavenger hunt of sorts–and Lucy sees this as her chance to prove herself to her father.

Lucy looks for potential photo subjects everywhere, including next door. It is there that she meets Nate, a boy who visits the lake with his family each summer. Nate decides to help Lucy with her photo project and, in the process, introduces her to some of the best parts of her new home. They look for loons and their chicks (and try to figure out a way to protect them), they climb a mountain, and they work together to get the perfect photos for Lucy’s contest.

But one day, in Lucy’s quest for a great photograph, she snaps a shot that reveals more than Nate is ready to see. In it, Nate’s Grandma Lilah looks scared and lost, and her deteriorating memory is right there for everyone to see. Nate doesn’t want Lucy to use the photo in her contest, but Lucy knows that this particular picture is powerful, shows great emotion, and truly captures what Lilah is going through. How can she not use it?

As the summer winds down, Lucy must decide what to do about the contest. Should she enter the photo of Grandma Lilah even though it could damage her friendship with Nate? Should she enter the contest at all, knowing that she could be disqualified for being the daughter of the judge? Will her father ever take her seriously as a photographer? Answer these questions and many more when you read Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

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Okay…first off, I love the photography contest featured in this book. My hope is that my students read Half a Chance and get inspired to do their own photo scavenger hunt. Maybe I’ll make that a library-based activity for students who read the book. I don’t know yet. I’m still playing around with things in my head, but what an awesome way to integrate literature and visual arts!

Secondly, I think this book could help readers to see and experience the larger world around them. Even Lucy, who usually viewed everything behind a camera lens, realized that some things simply need to be lived. One needs to be in the moment, taking everything in, and not worrying about capturing the perfect photo. (This applies if the photo is for a contest like Lucy’s or…maybe for a Facebook or Instagram post.) A lot of people could take this message to heart.

I also like how Half a Chance featured loons and talked about the many dangers they (and other animals) face in the wild. In this book, the characters decided to do something to spread awareness about loons, their habitats, and how community members could protect these birds. That’s a great example for young readers interested in protecting animals and the environment or just getting involved in their communities in whatever way they can.

Finally, this book takes a look at dementia from a kid’s perspective. (We see a little of what it’s like for Grandma Lilah, but the primary focus is on Nate and Lucy.) When I was a kid, I watched my great-grandmother slowly decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, so this really resonated with me. How great would it have been for me to read about a character going through the same thing? I’m guessing that other readers will be able to see themselves in Nate–wondering when his grandmother just won’t remember him anymore–and this book may help those readers to cope just a little better and look for ways to make this terrifying time easier for their loved ones and those around them.

Half a Chance is an excellent book, and I’m thrilled with its placement on next year’s SC Children’s Book Award nominee list. I hope my students feel the same way.

For more information on this book and other by Cynthia Lord, click here.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watch the Sky

I was just talking to one of my colleagues about my most recent read, Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard, and, in a nutshell, I described it as “kids of Doomsday preppers.” She reminded me that we actually have some of those kids at our school, so I think this book, which comes out on April 7th, will eventually be added to my school library collection.

Watch the Sky is an interesting book–told from the perspective of a young boy–about a rather fascinating (and disturbing, in my opinion) lifestyle choice. Now, I’ve never watched Doomsday Preppers or anything like it–nor do I intend to–but I think this book gives readers a small glimpse into what life may be like for the kids in those situations. It can’t be easy to live in fear all the time while finding some way to balance school, friends, and loyalty to family. That’s what Jory is going through in Watch the Sky

Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, is always telling the family to look out for signs. Signs of what? Jory’s not entirely certain, but Caleb seems to be sure enough for everyone. These mysterious signs could be things like an odd newspaper article, a meteor shower, some dead birds, or even the simplest, seemingly innocent thing. Jory’s not sure what makes something a “sign,” but he trusts Caleb to keep the family safe from danger.

Jory must also do his part to keep his family safe. He must follow all of Caleb’s instructions. He can’t draw too much attention to himself or the family, he always wears heavy work boots, and he can never tell anyone about his sister Kit. And he must make sure to “watch the sky” for signs.

Before long, Caleb becomes convinced that all of his “signs” are pointing to a cataclysmic event, one that the family will need to prepare for. What do those preparations entail? Stockpiling supplies, getting used to eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), canning food…and digging. Almost every night, the entire family digs in the canyon beyond their house. Jory’s not sure exactly why or what they’re digging, but this mission soon becomes clear. They are creating a bunker to survive whatever danger Caleb feels is on the way.

While all of this is going on, Jory also has to go to school. He has to worry about keeping his grades up, staying out of trouble, and making friends with a couple of people who won’t let him blend into the background.

It’s hard to balance his schoolwork and friendships with everything happening at home, and Jory is starting to wonder why he should have so much to worry about. Why is Caleb so convinced that danger is coming? If things are really so bad, why aren’t they warning others? Caleb always taught Jory to question everything he was told, but what will happen when Jory begins to question Caleb? Is he prepared to live a life without fear if it means losing his own family? Or will Jory follow Caleb into an uncertain future away from the world around him?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard.

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I think Watch the Sky will spark some intriguing conversations with my students. I haven’t read anything like this book before, so it definitely fills a hole (that I didn’t know was there) in my library collection. I would recommend this book for libraries that serve elementary and middle grade readers.

That being said, I did have one big issue with the book. There didn’t seem to be much resolution at the end. I kind of expected what was going to happen, but there just needed to be more. More about what happened to Kit, both before and after her time with Jory’s family. More about how Jory and his family fared after their decision in the canyon. What came next? Maybe these things played out in the final version of the book (I read a galley copy via NetGalley), but I would have liked a bit more clarification.

For more information on Watch the Sky and author Kirsten Hubbard, check out the author’s Goodreads page.

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Was Here

It’s difficult to describe my feelings on Gayle Forman‘s latest book, I Was Here, but I’ll do my best. Don’t be surprised, though, if this post is a bit different from most others.

I Was Here deals with something that is hard to discuss. Suicide and those left to pick up the pieces. I won’t go into how suicide has touched my own life, but I will say that this book brought back all of the feelings of pain, grief, and guilt. No matter what anyone says, suicide doesn’t just impact the one contemplating or going through with it. It leaves total wreckage behind, and that’s what Cody, this book’s protagonist, is facing.

Cody and Meg were once as close as sisters, so how is it possible that Cody had no idea that her best friend was suicidal? Is there anything Cody could have done to stop Meg from carrying out the elaborate plan that would end her life? How can Cody go on without her other half, the friend who meant the world to her? And how can she figure out just what drove Meg to do the unthinkable?

All of these questions are plaguing Cody, and she is determined to find the answers that she needs. Her search leads her to Meg’s college apartment and a life that Cody was never a part of. She talks to Meg’s roommates and her friends in Seattle, including the enigmatic Ben McCallister, a young man with his own guilt about what happened to Meg. No one seems to know why Meg would have committed suicide, and Cody is growing frustrated with what seems to be a fruitless quest for the truth…until she discovers an encrypted file on Meg’s computer.

With a little help, Cody discovers exactly what Meg was hiding, and her investigation becomes even more intense. Cody becomes obsessed with Meg’s journey to suicide, and she’s getting drawn into something that is taking over her own life. She needs to find a reason for Meg’s decision, someone to blame for this horrible act that threw everything she thought she knew into a tailspin.

But will Cody really be prepared for what she uncovers? What will she do with the information? Will it change anything? And who will be there to help Cody pick up the pieces of her shattered life now that her best friend is gone?

Read I Was Here by Gayle Forman to learn how one young woman tries to live while attempting to find out why her best friend wanted to die.

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I Was Here was not an easy book for me to read. I had to put it down several times because I was, quite simply, getting too emotional. I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about some parts of the book. I guess some things may have hit a little too close to home. I will say, however, that I think this is an important book. It deals with subjects–suicide and depression–that many young people are facing…but not talking about. Nothing is glossed over or treated with the least bit of glamour (something the media tends to do with suicide). I Was Here is an honest look at what’s left behind when loved ones end their own lives. The feelings of guilt, loss, and hopelessness. It’s something that never really goes away.

I hope that this book, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, opens up a dialog about depression and suicidal thoughts. Young people need to realize that they are not alone, and, as trite as it sometimes sounds, things really do get better. The darkness will eventually pass. The road may not be easy, but it’s worth it, and no one has to walk it alone.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicide, please talk to a trusted friend or adult. Seek help. Call the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK. Go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website to learn more about warning signs and how to find local support groups for survivors.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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