Real Friends

Thanks to NetGalley, I have come across a book that is a must-purchase for my school library. As a matter of fact, I think this book will probably be a welcome addition to most elementary, middle school, and public libraries. I wish it had been around when I was growing up. The book is Real Friends, a graphic memoir written by Shannon Hale and wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

To say that I related to young Shannon in Real Friends would be a drastic understatement. Make her a chubby girl in a small town in South Carolina, and parts of this book could have been my own story. I’m sure that anyone who ever had trouble making friends as a child (or even as an adult) will be able to see themselves in this book.

Shannon met Adrienne on the first day of school, and they became best friends. For Shannon, Adrienne was her only friend. Adrienne, on the other hand, had lots of friends. It was sometimes hard for Shannon to share her best friend with others, but she tried. She even made a new friend when Adrienne moved away, but she was always waiting for Adrienne to return and things to go back to normal.

Well, Adrienne did return, but things didn’t exactly go back to the way they were. Shannon and Adrienne were still friends, but Adrienne was also part of The Group, some of the most popular girls in school. Shannon didn’t always fit in with The Group, but she hung around with them anyway to stay friends with Adrienne.

One of the girls, Jenny, seemed to really dislike Shannon, and she made it pretty clear that she wanted Shannon out of The Group. Shannon took this really hard and spent a lot of time crying in the bushes. (This was something she did at home, too. Her older sister wasn’t exactly nice to her a lot of the time.) Shannon didn’t know what she’d done to make Jenny so mean to her, but she was growing a little tired of it all. Maybe she didn’t want to be part of The Group after all if this is what she had to deal with.

Eventually, after she and The Group ended up in different fifth grade classes and Adrienne transferred to a different school, Shannon made a couple of new friends. These friends were popular as well, but they were popular because they were nice…unlike Jenny. They seemed to like Shannon just as she was, but could it last? These girls were in the sixth grade and would be going to junior high next year. What would Shannon do then?

Join Shannon as she navigates the ups and downs of friendship (and even sisterhood). It’s not always an easy path, but putting in the effort to find real friends–and to find peace within–is always worth it.


Let me reiterate this one more time: Real Friends should be added to every library that serves elementary or middle grade children. Young readers will love the graphic novel format, and they’ll stick around for the thoroughly relatable story. Market it with Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny Side Up, and it will surely fly off the shelves.

Look for Real Friends when it’s released on May 2nd. Your library patrons will thank you.

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All the Answers

I’m a world-class worrier. I can obsess over the smallest thing and make it into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. This has been a skill of mine for years (and still drives my mother crazy). I have to force myself to stay away from things like WebMD because a cough is never just a simple cough. In my head, it’s always much, much worse.

No one–including myself sometimes–really understands why I worry so much, so it’s often refreshing for me when I encounter someone–real or fictional–who “gets it.” A couple of days ago, I finished reading a book about a character who definitely “gets it.” In fact, she may worry more than I do. The book is All the Answers by the always entertaining Kate Messner, and the character is young Ava Anderson.

Ava Anderson knows what it means to be anxious. She worries about everything. She panics before every test, and this morning is no different. She’s got a big math test today, and Ava knows she’s going to flub her way through it. She knows the material, but when tests roll around, Ava’s anxiety always gets the best of her. This morning, however, is going to be a little different…

It looks like an ordinary pencil, the kind someone would pick up at a conference or something, but this one turns out to be very different. When Ava grabs it out of her parents’ junk drawer, she has no way of knowing that this pencil is going to change her life.

Ava uses the pencil during her dreaded math test, and, wonder of wonders, when she presents questions to this strange pencil, it gives her the answers! For the first time in forever, Ava feels great about how she performed on a test. But does this magical pencil only work on math questions? Well, Ava and her best friend Sophie are about to find out…

Ava and Sophie soon realize that the special pencil will only answer factual questions, and it won’t answer anything with free will involved. The girls decide to use their new “power” to get some important information. For instance, which boys at school have a crush on Sophie? (This information leads to some rather sticky situations, as you can imagine.) They also use the pencil to figure out what would make Ava’s grandfather and his friends at the nursing home truly happy.

One day, though, Ava asks the pencil a question, and the answer rocks the girl’s entire world. This information has the power to change Ava’s entire family, and Ava can’t stop herself from worrying about what it could mean. Is Ava strong enough to handle what is coming, or will panic take over?

As Ava deals with everything revealed by this mysterious pencil, she begins to wonder if having all the answers is really so important. Does knowing so much make things better, or does it give people even more to obsess over? Can Ava put her worries–and her pencil–aside and finally trust in her own strength? And will that strength get her through the tough times ahead?

For the answers to these questions and many more, read All the Answers by Kate Messner.

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All the Answers, which will be released on January 27th, is a definite purchase for any libraries serving upper elementary and middle grade readers. Many readers will surely identify with Ava’s test anxiety and her worries about navigating the perils of school, friends, and new experiences.

While being a thoroughly entertaining (and totally relatable) book, All the Answers also delivers an important message. Having all the answers may sound awesome, but it’s not the most important thing in life. Yes, a magical pencil like the one in this book may sound appealing, but it could also be a crutch, something that one learns to rely on instead of developing his/her own inner confidence, strength, and faith. (This was really brought home for Ava when she discovered her grandfather’s history with the pencil. It definitely opened her eyes a bit.) There’s nothing out there that can magically erase anxieties, but, like Ava discovered, there are some strategies that can make it easier to deal with.

As I wrap up this post, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read another book that I’ll be adding to my school library as soon as it’s released. I’d also like to send my heart-felt gratitude to author Kate Messner for writing another story that so many students will enjoy. I wish I’d had a story like this when I was younger. It would have helped so much to read about a girl who worried about stuff like I did.

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Happy holidays to all of my friends out there! Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts about books this year, and I hope you’ll follow me into next year. I’ll be taking the next couple of days off to bake and spend time with my family, but I’m always reading and looking for more awesome books to share with all of you. So…merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a wonderful winter solstice, and a fun Festivus for the rest of us! (And if you choose not to celebrate any winter holidays, I hope you have an excellent time as well!) Happy reading!

 

Rain Reign

I finished a book today that I can hardly wait to share with my students and teachers at school. That book is Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. It was released last week, and it’s already earned a spot on several must-read lists. I predict that this book will find a place on several award lists as well. It’s absolutely amazing, and this book should be included in every elementary and middle school library collection (at the very least).

In Rain Reign, we meet Rose Howard, a young girl who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism (also known as Asperger’s Syndrome). Her voice shines on every page, and readers get a small glimpse of what life is like for Rose. Rain Reign is a must-read for anyone–especially educators and other caregivers–who have any interaction with high-functioning autistic children. I know I was able to see one of my students in the character of Rose, and this excellent book may have provided me with just a bit more understanding.

Fifth grader Rose Howard loves homonyms, prime numbers, rules, and her dog Rain (whose name has two homonyms). Rain is the one of the few gifts Rose’s father has ever given her, and their bond is a strong one. When nearly everyone else–including Rose’s father–gets irritated by Rose’s obsessions, Rain is always there to provide a comforting and calming presence.

Comfort and calm is something that Rose will sorely need in the days to come. Hurricane Susan is making a beeline for Rose’s small Massachusetts town, and her precious routines will be tossed to the winds. The power goes out, creeks turn into rivers, bridges are washed out, trees fall…and Rose’s father lets Rain out of the house without checking on her return.

When the storm finally passes through, Rose realizes that her dog is missing. Did she forget her way home in the horrible storm? Was she carried downstream by the powerful currents? Where is Rain? Rose doesn’t understand how her father could have let this happened, but she’s determined to find her beloved dog…even if that means letting go of her routines.

Rose searches high and low for Rain. She enlists the help of her uncle, her teachers, and even her classmates. Rose does everything humanly possible to find her dog, but how will she handle it when she finds more than she was looking for? Will her world be thrown into yet another storm, and how will Rose–a girl who needs routine and consistency–deal with the fallout? How will she handle the many changes to come? Read Rain Reign by the brilliant Ann M. Martin to find out.

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As soon as I return to school next week (I’m on fall break right now), I plan to hand this book over to my guidance counselor. (In addition to working with autistic students, she’s also a dog lover.) Several other teachers may also benefit from reading this book. I think Rain Reign could be unbelievably useful in communicating with and understanding autistic students.

In addition to being enlightening for educators and students, parents of high-functioning autistic children may also find this book to be helpful, especially if the parents don’t really know how to communicate with their children. Rose’s uncle provides an example of a good caregiver. Her father is the opposite. As a matter of fact, I wanted to punch Rose’s father in the face on more than one occasion.

Rain Reign is also a great book for students who have fondness for word and number play. This could even come into play in language arts or math lessons. Class studies of this book could include looking for homonyms that weren’t mentioned by Rose or finding prime numbers out in the “real world.” And don’t even get me started on how this book could be used to illustrate character’s voice. Read one chapter, and you’ll see that for yourself.

I don’t know that I’ve adequately conveyed it in this post, but I love everything about Rain Reign. It definitely tugged at the heartstrings (yes, I cried), but it taught valuable lessons. Rose was a brave girl who worked past her own issues when something was important to her. She tried to understand others even when it seemed like no one understood her. She always wanted to do the right thing and follow the rules…when it would have been much easier–and far less painful–to just “go with the flow.” Rose is a character, much like August Pullman in R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, who we’ll be talking about for a long time to come.

For more information on Rain Reign and other books by Ann M. Martin, go to her official website, Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.

*I receive an advance copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.*

Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

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Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

The Break-Up Artist

Last night, I finished yet another uncorrected proof from NetGalley. This time, the book is The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.  It is published by Harlequin Teen and is scheduled to be released on April 29th.

The Break-Up Artist features a girl, sixteen-year-old Becca Williamson, who’s over the whole love thing. In fact, after dealing with the fallout of her sister being left at the altar and seeing how single girls are treated at her school, Becca opens up her own business. She becomes the Break-Up Artist. For $100, she’ll use whatever means necessary to break up couples. Business is good for Becca, but things are about to get a lot more interesting…

Steve and Huxley are the school’s power couple, and nearly everyone is in awe of their relationship. Everyone except Becca–who has her own history with Huxley–and a mysterious “family friend” who wants to break up the twosome. This “friend” offers Becca $300 to break up Steve and Huxley, and, being the good businesswoman she is, Becca agrees. Not only can she make school bearable again for her fellow singletons, but she can make some serious cash and get a little revenge on her former best friend.

Almost immediately, things get complicated. It seems that this couple isn’t as easy to break up as Becca thought. Becca will have to infiltrate the enemy camp (the popular crowd) to really get things going. And Becca eventually makes progress, but is it really worth it anymore? When Becca witnesses some of the fallout of her machinations, she begins to question her role as the Break-Up Artist. Could there really be such a thing as true love, and do Steve and Huxley have that special something? Nothing is clear for Becca, and her own life isn’t making things any easier…

Becca’s best friend, Val, has recently started dating Ezra. Val went from being by Becca’s side almost constantly to being half of a couple who has zero problems with PDA. Becca feels cast aside, and that’s bringing up some bad memories and connections with her sister’s life. What’s going to happen, though, when Val’s boyfriend sets his sites on Becca? Becca knows Val and Ezra aren’t right for each other, but could Ezra be right for her? Is she willing to jeopardize a friendship for a guy?

Becca is about to learn that love is a complicated business, especially when her role as the Break-Up Artist is becoming harder and harder to handle. Will she be able to break up Steve and Huxley? What will she do about Val and Ezra? And how will she possibly be able to cope when everything starts to unravel? Find out when you read The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.

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Before I get into the issues I had with The Break-Up Artist, let me say that I did find it to be a relatable, entertaining read.  I sympathized a lot with Becca.  I’ve always been the single girl in a crowd full of couples. As a matter of fact, I’m one of only four single people at work. I’ve even been the girl who was pushed to the side so my best friend could spend all her time with the new boyfriend. I was also the woman who lost her best friend (a guy) because his new girlfriend couldn’t deal with her man having a female best friend.  All of it sucks…but I still prefer being single to being part of a couple. I just wish I had more single friends, so I can totally relate to the character of Becca.

Even though I did like this book, I did have a couple of problems with it that have hopefully been sorted out in editing.

  • The formatting was inconsistent. Why are we indenting some paragraphs and not others? Why are quotes not indented at all, and why do we change speakers in the middle of a paragraph?  It was difficult to follow sometimes, and I found myself rereading several passages to figure out just what was going on. Maybe this happened only in the digital galley, but it still made for a very frustrating read.
  • Let’s have some noticeable breaks in between scenes, please! It’s jarring to move from a school scene to Becca plotting in her bedroom with no indication that our location has changed. Just a space between paragraphs would be nice.  (This was done sometimes, but, again, consistency would have helped.)

If you decide to purchase this book for your personal, school, or public library, please let me know if the final product was more readable than the galley I read. Just a few changes would have made my reading of The Break-Up Artist a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’m hoping it will be for you!

The Break-Up Artist is the debut novel for author Philip Siegel. To learn more about this author, visit his website, Facebook, or Twitter.