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?

This Is Where It Ends

If you’re going to read a book about a school shooting, it’s not a good idea to do so while you’re sitting at school after hours. It’s anxiety-inducing. Of course, I don’t know that any book about such a horrible topic wouldn’t be anxiety-inducing even in the most calming of environments. At any rate, my reading environment–and my choice of profession–definitely colored my feelings of This Is Where It Ends, a disturbing, stunning, and timely debut novel from author Marieke Nijkamp.

It was supposed to be a normal day at Opportunity High School. Students returning from winter break, listening to the principal’s standard new semester speech, and then moving on with their days. But nothing about this day is normal. When the speech is over, and students get up to leave, the auditorium doors won’t budge. Everyone is locked in. What is going on?

It quickly becomes evident that the students and teachers at this school are now at the mercy of Tyler, a kid with–in his mind, at least–nothing to lose. He feels alone, and he’s convinced that everyone in his life has turned their backs on him. They’ll remember him now. He’ll have his say and get his revenge on the school and the town that he thinks abandoned him.

Tyler’s sister, Autumn, and her girlfriend, Sylv, are in the midst of the terrified students and teachers in the crowded auditorium. Autumn can’t believe this is her brother, her protector. Sure, he’s got a dark side, and the past several years haven’t been easy on their family, but she never believed he could possibly do something like this. Sylv, on the other hand, knows firsthand about the darkness within Tyler. She’s seen the evil in his eyes, but she never revealed the truth of his heinousness. Can either of them do anything now to stop Tyler from taking more innocent lives?

Outside the auditorium, Sylv’s brother, Tomás (who was otherwise occupied when the shooting began), is working to find a way to his sister and everyone else in the auditorium. He and his friend, Far, are doing whatever they can to help the survivors escape. Yes, both of them are putting themselves in the line of fire, but they have to do something. Will it be enough?

Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, is also outside of the school. She was at track practice when the first shots were heard, and she’s attempting to get help while reflecting on her relationship with Tyler and the incident that ended it all. Until she’s presented with the evidence of Tyler’s actions, she can scarcely believe that the boy she once loved is capable of such atrocities. If she’d stayed with him, would he have still done this?

Autumn, Sylv, Tomás, and Claire are all wondering if there’s something they could have done or said to prevent the horror that this day has brought. What can they do to get out of it now? Can anyone reason with Tyler, or is he too far-gone to be helped? What led to this nightmare, and who will remain standing when it’s all over? And can an event as terrible as this one ever be truly over for anyone?

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As much as the subject of This Is Where It Ends unnerves me, the book itself is a gripping read that I couldn’t put down. It features a diverse cast of characters, and is a great pick for reluctant readers. Would I put it in a middle school collection? I’m honestly not sure. If your library serves middle grade readers, you may want to read this one for yourself to determine if your patrons can handle it. Many may not be able to. (To be perfectly honest, this book may be too much for some older readers…including educators.)

This Is Where It Ends will be released on January 5th, and I think it will be a popular read in many YA collections. As horrifying as the subject matter is, it does reflect something that, while uncomfortable, could be all-too-real for some. Considering what’s going on in the world right now, it is especially timely, and exploring a topic like this through fiction is a safe way for readers of all ages to examine their own feelings and think about what they might do if faced with a similar situation. (Given that we now go through active shooter training at the beginning of each school year, this is something that we have to think about anyway.)

If you’d like more information on this book and author Marieke Nijkamp, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Finally, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book before its release. It definitely made me think.

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!

 

Carry On

If you’ve read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ve already been introduced to the characters of Simon Snow and Baz Grimm-Pitch. These two characters are the subjects of Cath’s fanfiction in Fangirl. In Carry On, Rowell graciously gives readers the story Cath was working on. Now, it’s not totally necessary for you to read Fangirl to follow what’s happening in Carry On, but I do think it helps.

*I hope the paragraph above makes sense. It does if you’ve read Fangirl. It may not if you haven’t. Of course, it’s pretty easy to remedy that situation.*

Simon Snow is, by all accounts, the Chosen One. It doesn’t seem to matter that his magic is unreliable at best and totally explosive at worst. The leader of all mages–called the Mage, obviously–is sure that Simon will save the World of Mages. Simon isn’t all that convinced. (Neither is his roommate, Baz.)

Simon is starting his final year at the Watford School for Magicks, and he’s fairly certain that he’ll have to battle the Insidious Humdrum, the strange figure who’s creating holes in the magical world, at some point this year. (Simon has no clue how he’s supposed to win against this guy.) He’s also worried that he and Baz are probably going to end up killing each other. That is, if Baz ever shows up.

When the new school term begins, Baz is nowhere to be found, and Simon becomes obsessed with figuring out what’s happened. There’s simply no way Baz would voluntarily miss his final year at Watford…or any chance to torture Simon. Does his disappearance have something to do with the Humdrum or the increasing negative feelings about the Mage? Could it be related to Baz being a vampire (which he has never actually admitted to Simon)? Or could something more be going on? Whatever’s happening, Simon needs to know where Baz is…and what he’s up to.

Soon, though, Simon has one less thing to worry about. Baz returns to Watford. Why was he gone? Well, that’s sort of complicated.

“Complicated” is the perfect word to describe nearly everything about Baz’s life. He’s a vampire, he’s returning from being kidnapped, he’s trying to find out who killed his mom, his infuriating roommate has more magic than anyone in the world (but doesn’t really know what to do with it), his family is working against the Mage, and…oh, yeah…he’s in love with Simon. How could he possibly fall for someone he doesn’t like most of the time and may have to destroy in the near future? Well, the heart wants what the heart wants…

Eventually, Simon and Baz realize that they’ll have to form a truce and join forces to discover what’s really going on in the World of Mages…with the Mage, the Humdrum, all of it. Can these two work together without killing each other? Will Baz reveal his feelings for Simon? How does Simon truly feel about Baz? Is there hope for the future when the World of Mages is in so much turmoil?

Only one thing is certain: It’s going to be a very interesting year at Watford.

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I love this book so hard. (This is true for every Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read.) The dialogue is compelling, the mysteries are intriguing, and the characters are wonderfully complex. And I haven’t even mentioned the delightful love story…

Those who’ve read Fangirl (or any of this post) likely already know that Carry On features a developing relationship between Simon and Baz. This is commonly known as slash fic, and is very popular in fanfiction writing. If you ever wanted Harry Potter to end up with Draco Malfoy instead of Ginny Weasley, definitely give Carry On a try. It’s a very sweet love story, but there’s enough danger, magic, drama, and even humor to satisfy all readers (even those who don’t particularly like slash fiction).

As I wrap this post up, I realize that I haven’t begun to express just how wonderful Carry On really is. I don’t know if I can. Read it for yourself. Hopefully, you’ll love it as much as I do.

If you’d like more information on Carry On and other books by the absolutely fabulous Rainbow Rowell, check out the author’s website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. You may also want to check out the video below. It features Rainbow Rowell herself talking about Carry On at Book Expo America.

 

Angels Twice Descending

If you are not totally caught up with all things Shadowhunter, go no further. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that should tell you something. Stop right now, go to your nearest library or bookstore, and read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Start with City of Bones.)

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s proceed, shall we?

Last night, I read Angels Twice Descending, the tenth and final installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, a collection of short stories centered on Simon Lewis, his struggle to restore his memories, and his journey toward becoming a Shadowhunter. This last novella focuses on Simon’s Ascension, and, while I was expecting something big to happen, I wasn’t totally prepared for how hard it would hit me. (After reading so many of these stories, one would think I’d know better. One would be wrong.)

Simon and his fellow Academy students are getting ready to finally enter the world of the Nephilim. For mundanes like Simon, this means going through the Ascension ceremony and drinking from the Mortal Cup. After two years of grueling work, it should be a no-brainer on whether or not to go through with this final step…except for the whole “drinking from the cup could kill you” thing.

After one of the mundane students decides not to Ascend, Simon is forced to reflect on his own feelings. Does he truly want to become a Shadowhunter? Who is he doing all this for? Will he get his memories back once he Ascends? If he does, what could that mean for the person he is now? How will he deal with never seeing his mom or sister again? And what if the worst happens? What if he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Shadowhunter and drinking from the Mortal Cup destroys him?

In the end, Simon follows his heart and decides to become a Shadowhunter. But the Ascension ceremony is not without its heartbreak. One of the Academy students does not survive the process, and Simon is once again faced with the question, “Is it worth it?”

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I can’t go any further here without some major spoilers. (I already feel like I’ve written too much.) It’s enough to say that I cried…a lot.

Now that we have all ten of the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, we also have the full picture formed by the covers. Check it out:

shadowhunter academy

As for when the entire volume of stories will be released in print, I’m not sure. From what I’ve heard, it will be sometime in 2016.

So, where do we go from here?

The next Shadowhunter story is the full-length novel Lady Midnight, due out on March 8th. This begins the Dark Artifices storyline and centers on Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs at the Los Angeles Institute. We also have the new TV series to look forward to, and that starts on Freeform (aka ABC Family) on January 12th.

If you, like me, still want more Shadowhunter goodness, click here for the official TV series website and here for the novels’ website.

Enjoy!

Fish in a Tree

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I think all of my fellow educators should read…and possibly read aloud to their students. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea are two such books. Well, I now have another to add to the list: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

The title for this book comes from a famous quote (often attributed to Albert Einstein): “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The main character in Fish in a Tree, Ally, believes that she is stupid, and those around her–her fellow classmates and even her teachers–don’t do much to make her believe otherwise.

Ally Nickerson has a lot of trouble reading, and she usually covers up her problem by making jokes and causing distractions (although she doesn’t always intend to be a troublemaker). Her latest blunder, though, gets her moved to a new teacher’s classroom.

Ally is sure that she can hide her reading difficulties from Mr. Daniels, but this guy is sharper than Ally’s previous teachers. He realizes rather quickly that Ally is having problems, but he doesn’t call her slow or stupid. Instead, he praises her for her artistic abilities and lets her know that it’s okay that her brain sees words a little differently. After all, everyone is unique and learns in their own special ways.

With Mr. Daniels’ help and the support of two very special friends, Ally begins to have confidence in herself for the first time. She may not be the best reader in the world, but she’s working on it. In the meantime, she’s learning to stand up for herself and her friends and appreciate all of the great things in her life.

Ally and her friends are realizing that being different isn’t a bad thing. Differences keep things interesting. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

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Fish in a Tree is an amazing book that should be shared with all students (and teachers) in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s wonderful for anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast, especially those students who may struggle with dyslexia (the source of Ally’s frustrations with reading).

This book is also great for anyone who has ever had to deal with a bully. Ally and her friends have daily run-ins with mean girls and others who ridicule them, but they learn that their friendship is stronger than anything. They also realize that kindness goes a long way in changing things for the better…and this is a lesson everyone could stand to learn.

In closing, I cannot say enough good things about Fish in a Tree. I will be recommending it for my next faculty book club selection and encouraging everyone I know to give it a read. It’s excellent.

If you’d like more information on Fish in a Tree, visit author Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and view the awesome book trailer below. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did!

Born to Endless Night

This post revolves around the ninth story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. At this point, if you haven’t read everything Cassandra Clare has written about Shadowhunters, I don’t know what to tell you.

As you’ve likely gathered, I recently finished reading Born to Endless Night, story #9 in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. I don’t know that this is my favorite story in the bunch…but it’s definitely in the running.

What’s so great about it, you ask? In a word: Malec. (For those who aren’t familiar with this series, this is the “couple name” for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood.) Yes, Simon continues to play a big role in this story (as he should), but the focus this time is on Magnus, Alec, and the little newcomer who is going to change everything…

Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, thought this was going to be a fairly uneventful trip…even for him. He’d give a few lectures at the Shadowhunter Academy, spend some time with Alec, and go on his merry way. He couldn’t know that something is about to happen that will throw his entire world into a tailspin…

Shortly after Magnus arrives at the Academy, several young Shadowhunters-in-training, including Simon, discover a small bundle at the Academy entrance. Everyone is shocked to discover that this bundle is a baby with navy blue skin. A warlock child. The baby has been abandoned by his mother, and Simon immediately thinks to go to Magnus about this situation. Surely, he’ll know what to do.

As it turns out, it’s not Magnus that jumps in and takes charge. It’s Alec. Alec cares for this blue-skinned child as if he were born to do so. And the entire Lightwood family jumps in to help. While Alec seems totally sure of what needs to happen with the warlock child, Magnus is the one who is uncertain. In all of his centuries on earth, he’s never encountered a situation like this one. What is he supposed to do, and how will all of this change his relationship with Alec?

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I’m going to stop here before I give away every single thing that happens in this story. I will say, though, that I loved seeing more of Alec. I think he’s often overlooked–especially when either Magnus or Jace are around–so it was wonderful to see him get his chance to truly shine…and he did. And even though I didn’t mention it in my little recap above, I also liked how both Alec and Magnus reassured Simon about his actions–both past and present–and his place in the larger Shadowhunter world.

With that, I guess we move on to story #10 in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection. This final installment, Angels Twice Descending, will focus on Simon’s Ascension ceremony, and it will be out on November 17th. I don’t know what to expect at this point, but I’m fairly certain that it will be a story to remember…and should be a great lead-in to Lady Midnight (out on March 8th).

Speaking of Lady Midnight…have you all seen that absolutely gorgeous cover? If not, check it out below.

Pretty, pretty, pretty. I eagerly await what is sure to be another fantastic book in Cassie Clare’s Shadowhunter saga. (I’m also pretty stoked about the TV series which premieres on ABC Family–soon to be FreeForm–on January 12th at 9/8c. I’m not a huge fan of the time slot–that’s when I watch Agents of SHIELD–but I’ll still be tuning in.)

For more Shadowhunter fun, click here for the official TV series website and here for the novels’ website.