Ruby on the Outside

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This book, Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin, was a quick but powerful read, and it handled a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity.

What is life like for kids whose parents are in prison? Well, Ruby Danes can tell you that it’s not easy. She doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth of her mom’s situation and risk becoming an outcast. That makes forming real friendships very difficult. But Ruby is getting ready to begin middle school, and what she wants more than almost anything is her very own best friend to face the future with her.

As it turns out, Ruby may just get what she wants. A new girl, Margalit, has moved in nearby, and she and Ruby hit it off almost instantly. They spend most of their summer days together, and Ruby thinks she’s finally found the best friend she’s been looking for. Can she trust Margalit with her secret, though? Would Margalit judge Ruby for her mother’s crimes?

When Ruby begins to piece together what led to her mother’s incarceration, she doubts that Margalit could ever want to be best friends. It seems that Margalit’s family may be closely tied to the crime that landed Ruby’s mom in prison. This devastates Ruby, and it forces her to finally deal with some deep feelings that she has toward her mother.

Will Ruby be able to forgive her mother for the decisions she made in the past? Will she be able to reveal her secret to Margalit and find the friend she needs? Find out when you read Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin.


Ruby on the Outside is an important book to add to upper elementary and middle school library collections. It addresses a situation that is often overlooked, but, like it or not, that situation is all-too-real for many children, even those in our own spheres of influence.

This book is not preachy, overly optimistic, or terribly gritty, but it does offer a simple, realistic, and touching look at the life of one girl dealing with her mom’s imprisonment. That one thing colors nearly everything in Ruby’s life, and it’s interesting to see how she looks at things that most of us may take for granted. Something as simple as “Have your mom sign this permission form,” for example.

Ruby on the Outside is a powerful little book with many big lessons. I hope many students and teachers in my school–and many others–will give this book a chance and use it to foster discussions about empathy, forgiveness, and friendship.

To learn more about Ruby on the Outside and other works by Nora Raleigh Baskin, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also hear more about this book from the author herself in the video below. Enjoy!

Two Summers

I love it when I come across a book that’s different from anything I’ve read before. That’s what I got in Two Summers by Aimee Friedman.

At first glance, this book is simple contemporary YA fiction, but it’s more than that. Without getting too technical, Two Summers explores the possibility of parallel universes and how simple decisions can take us on very different paths. Could those diverging paths lead us to the same place? I guess that depends on the situation, but I enjoyed how things played out in this book, which was essentially two stories–or two summers–in one.

This is going to be a summer to remember…in more ways than one. Summer Everett, a girl for whom very little ever changes, is planning to spend the summer in France with her father. She’s both nervous and excited about this trip. As she’s about to board her flight, Summer’s phone rings, and she has to decide whether or not to answer this call.

Summer ignores her phone.

Soon she’s soaring over the Atlantic, about to spend the summer in Provence, France. She’ll get to spend some time with her father, a painter, and explore the French countryside. What could be more idyllic? Well, for starters, her father could be at the airport to pick her up. He’s not, and Summer soon learns that he’s the one who was trying to call her earlier. He’s in Berlin, and Summer is now virtually on her own in an unfamiliar country.

Summer eventually finds her way to her father’s home, and she’s met by Vivienne, a friend of her father’s, and Eloise, a girl close to Summer’s age who seems to hate her on sight. Things aren’t off to a good start, and they don’t get much better until Summer has a chance encounter with Jacques. Maybe France won’t be so bad after all.

Summer answers her phone.

Her dad wants her to postpone her trip…as she’s about to board the plane. He’s in Berlin, so what’s really the point of going to France if he won’t be there? Summer turns around and makes her way back to boring Hudsonville, New York, for the same old summer she’s always had. That’s not exactly how things work out, though.

Summer’s best friend, Ruby, is drifting away. She’s hanging out with the popular crowd and seems to resent that Summer did not leave for France. What’s Summer to do? Well, for starters, she’s taking a photography class taught by her Aunt Lydia. In this class, she’s exploring her own artistic abilities and getting to know Wren, an eccentric girl from school, and Hugh Tyson, Summer’s long-time crush. Maybe staying home this summer won’t be so bad after all.

Two Summers collide.

In both worlds, Summer is experiencing the first stirrings of love and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. What will happen, though, when a scandalous secret throws her entire life into turmoil? The people who claim to love her the most have been keeping something huge from her, something that changes everything. How can she possibly trust anyone after all is revealed? How can she move on from something so earth-shattering?

Whether in New York or France, this summer will be one that forces Summer Everett to examine her life–her relationships with family and friends, her own abilities, and what’s holding her back from grabbing what she wants. How will these two summers take her where she needs to go? Read this imaginative novel by Aimee Friedman to find out!


I fully enjoyed the concept of Two Summers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read previously, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough for my enjoyment. (A lot of the time, I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over again. I didn’t get that with this book.) Throw in a bit of quantum physics and philosophy, and I’m sold. (Shout out to my book club buddy, Corey, for giving me this book. You did well!)

Two Summers, in my opinion, is a great pick for middle and high school readers. Maybe it will encourage readers of all ages to explore the world around them (and beyond) through photography and examine how the choices they make could lead them on different paths.

To learn more about Two Summers and other books by Aimee Friedman, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Wild Swans

Thanks to NetGalley, I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of Wild Swans, the latest novel from Jessica Spotswood. I finished the book late last night, and, while I’m paying for it today (seriously, there is not enough coffee to get me going), the time I spent reading this riveting book was well worth it. It is a great example of contemporary YA fiction, and I think many libraries that serve teen readers will be adding it to their shelves.

Ivy Milbourn knows a little something about pressure. Her grandfather drives her to be the best (at nearly everything) and live up to the Milbourn family legacy. But what legacy is that? Using her talent to achieve success? Dying too young? Or abandoning her family?

A few Milbourn women took care of those first two things, and Ivy’s own mother handled the last. Ivy wants to be successful–without being driven crazy–but she also wants to prove that she’s nothing like her mother, a woman she hasn’t seen since she was two years old. Ivy is looking for a way to stand out, but she’s constantly tormented by her own feelings of mediocrity.

Well, this summer, which Ivy thought was going to be relatively pressure-free, may just be the one that breaks her and forces her to really examine what it means to be a Milbourn woman. Ivy’s mother, Erica, has come back home…with Ivy’s two little sisters.

Ivy doesn’t quite know how to handle her mom’s sudden reappearance, especially when faced with Erica’s blatant animosity. Why does her mom hate her so much? What could a two-year-old have possibly done to earn so much loathing, and why does this virtual stranger seem to delight in making Ivy miserable now? What’s more…why does Erica insist that Ivy’s sisters never know of their true relationship?

As if this huge mess with her mom and sisters is not enough, Ivy is also dealing with a changing dynamic between her and her best friend, a potential love interest (who is also one of her grandfather’s students), and the continuing struggle to both live up to and break free of her grandfather’s expectations and the Milbourn family legacy.

Will Ivy be able to handle all of the burdens on her young shoulders? Will she crack under the pressure or find some way to rise above it all while remaining true to herself?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood.


Any reader who’s ever dealt with family pressure will find something to relate to in Ivy. (Doesn’t narrow the audience down much, does it?) Ivy didn’t always handle things in the best way, but she did experience quite a bit of personal growth throughout the course of the book. She learned to speak up for herself and let others know how they made her feel. It wasn’t easy, but Ivy came to realize that it was necessary. That’s a lesson that many adults–myself included–have yet to learn.

As much as I liked this book and most of the main and supporting characters, I have to say that I loathed Erica. (Kudos to the author for making me despise someone so much.) This woman’s behavior was absolutely atrocious for the vast majority of the book. Erica is definitely a character that readers will love to hate, and they’ll cheer when Ivy finally confronts her. Even though there is a hint of redemption for this troubled woman by the end of the book, she still comes off as the villain of the piece…as she should.

Wild Swans, which will be released on May 3rd, is a good fit for teen readers. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle grade readers, simply because there is some frank talk of sexual situations, a lot of underage alcohol use, and a fair amount of swearing. (Having worked in a middle school, I’m not stupid enough to think that some middle school students don’t have experience with that stuff, but I am certain that they’re not mature enough to deal with a lot of it.) This is a book for high school libraries and YA collections.

If you’d like more information on Wild Swans and other books by Jessica Spotswood, check out the author’s website as well as her Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads pages.

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.

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.

Almost Home

Confession time. I’ve only managed to read six of the twenty nominees for the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award this summer. I have about a month to finish the other fourteen books…along with all of the other books I’d like to read this summer. It’s not looking good. I can do it, but I’m going to have to really push myself. Will power, especially during the summer, is not exactly my strong suit.

All that being said, I did manage to finish one of the SCCBA nominees this morning, and it packed one heck of an emotional punch. The book was Almost Home by Joan Bauer. I was a little nervous when I first picked up this book. Books with dogs on the cover always make me kind of anxious. (I blame Old Yeller.) In this case, however, the dog was sort of the bright spot in the book, and that little bundle of fur helped to bring light into the life of a girl who was dealing with way too much.

It takes a lot to bring Sugar Mae Cole down. This twelve-year-old tries to always look on the bright side of life, even when things are looking rather dim. And things are about to get pretty dark for Sugar and her mom, Reba. Sugar’s absent dad has gambled away all of their money, and Sugar and her mom are being forced out of their home. Sugar doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but she’s determined to keep her spirits up and be strong for both herself and her mother.

Sugar has a little help along the way. Even when Sugar has to move to Chicago, she keeps in touch with Mr. Bennett, a teacher who encourages Sugar to express herself through writing and to be her best self. Sugar also has Shush, a rescue dog with trust issues of his own. It’s not easy living on the streets or moving from shelter to shelter with a dog in tow, but Sugar is determined to be there for little Shush…the way she wishes someone would be there for her.

When Sugar’s mom shuts down from the stress of everything that has happened, Sugar knows she has to be stronger than ever. Luckily, she’s got Shush…and a chance at a real home when she’s placed with a loving foster family. She’s doing well in her new environment, but the worry about her mother–and her mother’s dependence on Sugar’s no-good father–continues to eat at Sugar’s happiness. Sugar wishes she could do something to open her mother’s eyes, but she knows that Reba must confront the reality of her situation herself.

Through everything that Sugar encounters, she holds onto the dream of home. A home where she, her mother, and Shush can be safe, happy, and together. A home where she doesn’t have to worry that she’ll be kicked out one day. A home where she can shine, thrive, and help others who are going through hard times. A home where she can simply be a kid without so many adult worries. She’s almost there. Sugar Mae Cole is almost home.

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In this post, I’ve tried to capture just how optimistic Almost Home‘s main character really is. I hope I’ve succeeded. Sugar is definitely a character to be admired. I’m confident that I would not fare so well if I were in her shoes. Even when things were at their worst, Sugar maintained hope that things would get better one day. That’s not to say that she was blind to the realities around her. No, she knew that things were bleak, but she didn’t let that get her down for long. She always found a way to be thankful for the little things, and that’s an example all of us could stand to follow.

I also liked how Sugar explored her situation through her writing. She wrote poems and letters that really highlighted what she was going through. Sometimes it’s easier to write the hard stuff down rather than saying the words out loud. (I know that’s true for me. Why do you think I devote so much time to this blog?) Through poetry, Sugar was able to express how she was feeling. She didn’t always share her words with those around her, but, when she did, they had an impact…especially with the teacher who meant so much to her.

(I’m not even going to get started on Sugar’s connection with her former teacher, Mr. Bennett. If I do, I’ll get all emotional about how teachers don’t do their often thankless jobs for the money. We’ll seriously be here all day if I get on that particular soapbox. Just read between the lines a bit.)

I find it rather odd that two of the books on this years SCCBA nominee list deal with characters named Sugar. What’s really striking is that both books show these girls–in different time periods and with different backgrounds–being forced to act beyond their years. In Almost Home, Sugar faces homelessness and all that entails. In Sugar, our main character is a former slave working on a plantation during Reconstruction. Both girls have to take on adult responsibilities, and both girls do so with spirit and a sense of hope for a brighter future. I think it would be interesting to have a book club or small classroom group read both of these books and draw parallels between these two characters. Yes, they have some pretty noticeable differences, but their similarities, in my opinion, are even more apparent. Something to think about there.

Almost Home is an excellent book for elementary and middle school audiences (and older readers, of course). I’m going to recommend this book to my guidance counselor as well. She knows better than I which of our students are dealing with homelessness, and my hope is that this book could offer those kids a bit of hope when things probably seem hopeless.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

Yesterday, I finished reading Elizabeth Eulberg’s Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality.  I suspected I would enjoy this book because I’d read two of Eulberg’s other books (Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow), and I adored them. Thankfully, I was right (as I so often am).  In addition to a fabulous title, readers are also given a wonderful story. I think many girls–both young and old–will be able to relate to the character of Lexi, a fun, smart girl with a great personality, who is often overshadowed by what passes for beauty in the world around her.

Lexi’s always been known as a girl with a great personality.  But when she spends her weekends following her mom and seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, on the pageant circuit, hearing about how beautiful her little sister is, Lexi gets a little tired of looks mattering so much.  She hates the artificiality of the entire pageant world, how pageants have turned her sister into a little monster, and the fact that her mom focuses all of her attention–and money–on pageants and pays little attention to her eldest daughter unless she’s considering how Lexi can help Mackenzie’s pageant prospects.

Lexi’s friends convince her that she’s great the way she is, but they admit that she could highlight some of the features that she tends to downplay.  So Lexi decides to venture into the world of makeup, hair care products, and form-fitting clothes…and the result is a little shocking to her.  For the first time, she’s the one getting noticed for her looks.  She’s being asked out and noticed by the popular crowd.  While Lexi is officially offended that people only started noticing her when she “glammed up,” a part of her is thrilled with the added attention.  Is this what keeps those pageant girls going week after week?

Pretty soon, though, the pressure gets to be too much for Lexi. Yes, she does like some of the makeup and hair stuff, but she doesn’t really feel like she’s being true to herself anymore.  Even when she snags the attention of not one but two popular guys, she questions why they really want to be with her.

Also, tensions are rising between Lexi and her mom.  No matter what Lexi does or says–or even what little Mackenzie does or says–her mom is all about the pageants, and the family is running the risk of losing everything to keep Mackenzie in these pageants. When Lexi’s mom does the unthinkable, Lexi must examine what really makes her beautiful and what she may have to do to finally open her mother’s eyes to the truth.

So how does this girl with the great personality finally get her revenge on those who think “beauty” is everything? Find out for yourself when you read this fantastic book by Elizabeth Eulberg!

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I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I loved–and identified with–Lexi’s character, her friends were awesome, and, even though I’ve never had much experience with the pageant world and its ups and downs, I felt bad for the toll it was taking on Lexi.  I appreciated how Lexi came to term with her own image and realized that the only person she needed to please was herself.

I will say, though, that I absolutely despised Lexi’s mom.  I’ve never watched an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms or anything like that, but she’s what I imagine when I even think about the parents on those “reality TV” programs.  Completely out of touch with what really matters to–and what’s best for–their children. I finished this book nearly 18 hours ago, and I’m still mad at Lexi’s mom for her atrocious behavior.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is, I think, an excellent book for readers in middle grades on up.  It examines what we–girls, especially–really think about beauty and body image.  By the end of the book, the main character learns that being herself is the best thing she can do, and that’s a lesson that all young women–and those of us who are a bit older–could stand to learn.

For more information on this book and others by author Elizabeth Eulberg, visit http://www.elizabetheulberg.com/.