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.

 

Shingaling: A Wonder Story

Read Wonder by R.J. Palacio before proceeding with this post. (Actually, read Wonder anyway. This is a book that everyone–regardless of age–needs to read.)

Last night, I finally made time to read Shingaling, the third “bonus” story that goes along with Wonder. At first glance, I wasn’t totally sure which character I’d be reading about. The title, which refers to a dance I’d never heard of before, doesn’t immediately give that away.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this story is told from Charlotte’s perspective. You might recall that she served as one of Auggie’s “welcome buddies” during his first days at Beecher Prep. That’s not the only thing that was going on in Charlotte’s life, though. While Auggie was dealing with his first year at school, Charlotte was wading through some issues of her own…

Charlotte has always been a nice kid. She gets good grades, she’s polite to adults, she helps the new kid at school, and she tries to stay out of all the drama that comes with middle school. Does she sometimes try a little too hard to be liked? Sure, but it’s just because she wants to belong.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellie, has been accepted into the most popular group in school, and Charlotte feels like she’s been left behind. It doesn’t help that Ellie’s new friends are sometimes mean to Charlotte and other students in school. Charlotte knows she shouldn’t care what this group thinks of her, but she can’t help it. She really wants them to like her.

When Charlotte is given the chance to dance in a very special performance–based on the shingaling–she also gets the opportunity to get to know Ximena, one of the popular girls, and Summer, one of Auggie Pullman’s closest friends. All three girls are spending hours each week practicing their dance, and they gradually learn that they have more in common than they thought. They become friends and talk about their interests, their fears, and their perceptions of the people around them.

It’s during these conversations that Charlotte realizes hat the kids at school think of her as a goody-two-shoes who’s only nice when teachers are looking. Charlotte tries to be nice to everyone around her, but maybe that’s not the same thing as being kind.

Join Charlotte as she learns what kindness, friendship, and even empathy really mean when you read Shingaling: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio.

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The little synopsis above is one of the most difficult I’ve ever written…and I honestly can’t pinpoint the reason for that. Even though this story was less than 70 pages long, it covered a lot, and I know I’ve left out a bunch of stuff and glossed over even more. I apologize for that.

If you’ve read Wonder and The Julian Chapter, you know that the boys of Beecher Prep had their own brand of drama going on during Auggie’s first year of school. Well, in Shingaling, we get to see the girls’ side of things. We see what they think of the “boy war” and how they are dealing with the cliquey girl drama that is so common in middle schools the world over. (This story definitely made me reflect on my own horrible experiences in middle school. I imagine other readers will have similar experiences.)

Auggie is barely a blip in Shingaling, and that, in my opinion, helps fans of the original book to realize that there was more going on at this school than just Auggie’s story (even though it’s an extremely important one to tell). Sure, Auggie’s journey had an impact on the character of Charlotte, but it wasn’t the sole focus of her year. She had her own issues to sort through, and, while Auggie had a small part in how that played out, Charlotte had to forge her own path and learn several lessons in her own way (as we all do).

As far as I know, Shingaling is the last of the Wonder stories. It’s actually now part of a print collection known as Auggie & Me, which includes The Julian Chapter, Pluto, and, of course, Shingaling. If you’re a fan of Wonder, I highly recommend reading each of these extra stories. I think they definitely add some depth to what we saw in Wonder. You might also want to check out 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. I haven’t read that one yet, but I understand that it’s a book of sayings–or precepts–supposedly compiled by Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Browne.

For more information on all things Wonder, visit author R.J. Palacio’s website.

The Terrible Two Get Worse

This time last year, I had the opportunity to read a hilariously funny book from the team of Jory John, Mac Barnett, and Kevin Cornell. That book was The Terrible Two. As soon as the book was released, it earned a place on my library shelves, and, to be honest, I haven’t seen it since. (My students know a good book when they see one.)

Now, almost a year later, I’ve been lucky enough to read the sequel to The Terrible Two, aptly named The Terrible Two Get Worse. (Thank you, NetGalley!) This second installment will be released a month from tomorrow, and, just like its predecessor, it will be added to my school library as soon as I can manage it.

I must confess that I liked the first book in this series more than the second, but the sequel still managed to keep me chuckling and eager to turn the page. It’s a quick read that will definitely appeal to any budding pranksters or anyone who enjoys a good laugh.

Miles and Niles make up the Terrible Two, the most excellent pranking team Yawnee Valley has ever seen. Their legendary pranks are sure to be recorded in the history books of the International Order of Disorder, especially since their primary target is Principal Barry Barkin (and his insufferable bully of a son, Josh).

Unfortunately for Miles and Niles–and Principal Barkin–the pranking has come to the attention of the school board. They wonder if Principal Barkin has what it takes to run the school if he can’t figure out who’s pulling so many pranks and bring them to justice. It doesn’t help that the former principal, who happens to be Barry Barkin’s father, agrees with the school board and decides to take matters into his own hands.

Now, Miles and Niles have to contend with a new leader in their school, Principal Bertrand Barkin, and this guy is not messing around. He vows to put an end to pranks…once and for all.

At first, the Terrible Two figure they can get something over on this new guy, but the elder Barkin proves to be one tough customer. He simply doesn’t react to any of their pranks, and what good is a prank without a reaction?! Pretty soon, pranks are a thing of the past at the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy, and Miles and Niles simply don’t know what to do with themselves. Something’s gotta give, right?

The Terrible Two eventually figure out what they must do to end Bertrand Barkin’s reign of terror…but they’ll need some help. That help, though, may have to come from an unexpected source. Could Miles and Niles possibly–*gasp*–join forces with their former principal, one Barry Barkin, to prank someone who is virtually unprankable? Find out when you read The Terrible Two Get Worse!

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As with The Terrible Two, this second book is a perfect book for any reader with a bit of a mischievous side. The text and illustrations mesh perfectly, and the book also emphasizes such important concepts as creativity, teamwork, perseverance, and friendship.

I would say that The Terrible Two Get Worse is highly recommended for any collection that serves readers from 4th grade on up. Some of the humor resonates more with older readers than with kids, but there’s definitely something here for everyone. I, for one, am hoping that we’ll see even more Terrible Two stories in the future.

For more information about this awesome series and its creators, check out the websites of Jory John, Mac Barnett, and Kevin Cornell. And make sure to pick up your copy of The Terrible Two Get Worse on January 12th!