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.

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).

The Mighty Miss Malone

It’s time to celebrate! I’ve finally finished reading this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award! All in all, I’m pretty happy with the list. Even the books I put off reading were great. My last of the nominees, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, was an excellent book that I hope my students and teachers will love. This is another historical fiction novel (which explains why I put it off to the end), but the themes in this book are timeless, and I think many young readers will relate to Deza Malone, a character introduced in Curtis’ Bud, Not Buddy.

As frequent followers of this blog know, I don’t read much historical fiction unless I have to–or unless there are elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in. The Mighty Miss Malone is a book that I had to read…and I’m glad I did. At first, I was reluctant to get started, but it didn’t take long for me to love the main character. A passage I read on page 31 only cemented that.

“I’m different from most people and one of the main reasons is, I think I might have two brains. Whenever I get nervous or mad or scared or very upset, I have thoughts that are so different from my normal thoughts that there isn’t any way they could be coming from just one brain.
My first brain decides it doesn’t want to know about what is happening and stops working. Then my second brain takes over.
And that brain is always looking to start trouble, to hurt someone or break something.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this totally relatable, and I knew from this one glimpse into the mind of young Deza Malone that I would enjoy my time with her.

Twelve-year-old Deza Malone is probably the smartest girl in Gary, Indiana. Everyone–including Deza–knows she’s destined for great things, but the journey from here to greatness is going to be a long, tough road.

The year is 1936, and the Great Depression is in full swing. It’s tough for folks to find work, especially black folks. Deza’s father is no exception. The Malone family is struggling, and things are going to get much worse before they get better. At least they have each other, right?

After tragedy strikes their community in Gary, Deza’s father leaves to find work in Flint, Michigan. He’s promised to send word when things are well, but, when the Malones hear nothing from their beloved father, Deza, her mom, and her big brother Jimmie–who has problems of his own–set off to find Mr. Malone.

Their journey is peppered with disappointment, adjustments to new and often frightening situations, and simply trying to survive in a world that is by no means kind to those who are poor. Through it all, Deza tries to keep her spirits up and her eyes focused on a brighter future. It’s not always easy…especially when her father–and eventually her brother–seem to be slipping farther away. It’s also difficult for Deza to accept that some people (like her new teachers in Flint) can’t see past the color of her skin.

Deza does what she must to be strong for her family. Will that strength see her through the tough times and into a future filled with possibilities? What will Deza learn about herself and the world around her during this journey? Will the Mighty Miss Malone win in the end? Find out when you read The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis!

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This book is yet another of the SCCBA nominees in which the voice of the main character is one of the novel’s main strengths. It really shines through, and, in a book that is filled with its fair share of depressing and desolate situations, Deza brings a bit of humor to make things just a little brighter.

The Mighty Miss Malone is also a book that I hope will generate discussions about the Great Depression, how it impacted children in poverty, and how society still treats the poor. This book may be a work of historical fiction, but I doubt anyone can read this book without making connections to how those in poverty are treated in today’s world. It’s tragic, disturbing, and–I hope–eye-opening.

For more information about this book and others by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis, visit http://www.nobodybutcurtis.com/. Happy reading!