Vlog Review: Show Me a Sign

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The Best Thing about this Book is the sign language communication.

Premise: An early American living in 1805 on Martha’s Vineyard, Mary lives among many people who, like her, are deaf. Her mom is hearing, but her dad is not. Life has gotten more difficult since her brother’s death, which Mary feels responsible for, earlier in the year. So when a young scientist arrives and looks a lot like her brother, Mary is unsure of how to react to him, especially when he behaves rudely to the deaf people on the island. But he needs a “live specimen” to prove his theories about deafness on the island. Could Mary be just who he’s looking for?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9 grade

Title: Although Mary does not use modern-day ASL, show me a sign most obviously refers to sign-based communication. However, the modern idiom comes into play as well in a number of ways for you, the reader, to interpret.

Main Character(s): Mary, 11 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief, communication, deafness, isolation, community, otherness, native peoples, kidnapping, OWN voices

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a page-turner (but can wait a good chunk to get to the page-turning part) or who love historical fiction.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring different languages and cultures. Some languages and cultures shown in this book include those on Martha’s Vineyard, the mainland (Boston, namely), and the Wampanoag people.

Parental Warning(s): SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!! DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Mary is kidnapped and held against her will, at times as a slave and at times as a medical specimen.

Interact: This book has won so many awards, it’s hard to pick just one thing to ask about, so I’ll leave it to you. What’s your favorite thing about this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Violets Are Blue

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The Best Thing about this Book is either the mystery of the mother or the role of Wicked (the musical, yes). As is often the case with Barbara Dee novels, I love that this book is about normal, run-of-the-mill characters.

Premise: Wren used to be called Renata, but that name just doesn’t feel right anymore. Not since her parents got divorced, her dad got remarried, his new wife is pregnant, and Wren and her mother moved towns after some less-than-successful relationships. But when not much changes in the new town, Mom is acting strange, and Wren spends all her free time watching and practicing online make-up tutorials, something has to change. Will Wren be able to create successful relationships that celebrate her uniqueness? And what in the world is going on with Mom?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Before picking up this book, I assumed Violet was the protagonist’s name. Then, when it wasn’t, someone else important in the book. I was wrong. There is no character called Violet in this book, but names are important in it, so the choice of the title from an otherwise blip of a moment requires the reader to take a closer look at the moment it appears and its meaning. I won’t get into it too much so you can discover it for yourself, but they are talking about flowers when the line appears in the book. At least, on a literal level.

Main Character(s): Wren, 12 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, secrets, starting over, divorce, make-up, weirdness, other, theater, mother daughter relationship, substance abuse, blended family

Great for…* (readers): who feel as though they don’t belong.

Great for…* (teachers): analyzing symbolic actions, especially Wren’s love of make-up and where she stores the make-up her step-mother sends her as well as her mother’s sudden need to lock doors.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: If you could learn how to do the makeup for any character (book, film, comic, theater, etc.), which would you choose and why?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

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The Best Thing about this Book is the format. It’s epistolary.

Premise: Vivy loves baseball, but she’s not allowed to play. Not only because she is a girl but because she is a girl with Autism and her mom thinks it just might be too much for Vivy to handle. But when a local coach sees her pitching at the park with her brother, he offers her a spot and, somehow, Vivy gets her mom to permit her. Only, that’s just the start of her problems.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: “Get a grip” is a play on the main pastime of the book: baseball. Vivy pitches. She identifies herself as a knuckle-baller, a rarity in the sport. However, the title may take on the idiomatic meaning as well.

Main Character(s): Vivy, 11 y.o. with autism (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): autism, other, sports, bullying, professional sports, family, sexuality, independence, choice, control

Great for…* (readers): who love baseball or knuckleballs or pitching.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring structure. The book is written as a series of letters.

Parental Warning(s): None. I mean, it is a Schneider Family Book Award Honor recipient for 2020.

Interact: This is a rare book where I may not be the target audience. I want to hear from those of you who are baseball fans (which I am not). What did YOU think of this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Length of a String

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The Best Thing about this Book is how the two stories weave together.

Premise: Imani will soon turn thirteen, and her plan to ask her parents to help her find her birth parents isn’t going as planned. Her mother is so sweet and fragile, Imani never wants to hurt her or make her cry, so she can’t seem to bring it up. But she can’t live not knowing where she’s from, especially when it’s so clear to everyone from her black skin that she did not come from her white parents. When Imani finds her great-grandmother’s diary from 1941, when she was twelve also, she begins to read it and discover she might not be as alone as she thought.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: “The length of a string” is a phrase from Anna’s journal that she uses in connection with her identical twin sister to describe the way they connect without speaking. The title and the book deal with a number of relationships that get broken by circumstance — whether the Nazi campaign in the 1940s or being adopted in the 21st century or even the strain of parent/child relationships that happens through the teen years for so many. How long is that string that connects? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Main Character(s): Imani, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, family, friendship, siblings, history, World War II, Judaism, bat mitzvah, adoption

Great for…* (readers): who like mystery or realistic fiction or historical fiction. Also great for 8th-graders, who often read literature related to the Holocaust.

Great for…* (teachers): Setting is pivotal in each of the narratives and creates the conflict for much of the book. Studying how setting impacts other literary components/features seems as good a plan as any when reading this book.

Parental Warning(s): None that aren’t implied by the subject of the book.

Interact: This book made want to re-start my journal, which I’ve gotten very inconsistent with. Do you keep a journal? If so why and how often do you write in it? And if not, why not and have you ever considered it?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

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The Best Thing about this Book is the authenticity of doubt in Mila’s voice.

Premise: Time to celebrate a birthday with a circle of friends in a group hug. But when a group of basketball boys insert themselves in the hug and continue to hug or touch Mila in the coming days, is it all in her head or does their snickering mean more?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: When harassment occurs, everyone has a different take on it. It was just a joke. It’s flirting. Maybe he’s just likes you. The title of this book tackles the questioning and doubt around harassment head-on — and asks the reader to consider what approach he/she/they want to take as a bystander.

Main Character(s): Mila, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, doubt, strength, bullying, harassment, trust, courage, truth, listening, support, music, self defense

Great for…* (readers): period. As a mother of two sons, I’m making sure they read this book. Barbara Dee herself (the author) dedicates the book to her son. Unfortunately, each kid is likely to experience or witness something similar to what Mila experiences. This book will help prepare a kid or help a kid who is trying to sort through it (though the latter should be done with additional assistance).

Great for…* (teachers): This would be a great book club book. Or a book to track the changes in perspective Mila has about a variety of things. What’s her tipping point?

Parental Warning(s): None that aren’t implied by the subject of the book.

Interact: This book made me so angry. That emotion stems for sorrow and hurt. What is the primary emotion you feel when you read a book like this or hear a true story about harassment?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Taking Up Space

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The Best Thing about this Book is that the perspective gives you a window into what it’s like to devolve into unhealthy body image beliefs, eating habits, etc.. BUT IT MIGHT ALSO BE the coach.

Premise: Sarah’s love of basketball drives everything in her life: from friendships to food. But when her body is performing the way she wants it to, and her friendships are knocking into problems, how will she respond? Especially when she’s feeling like she doesn’t always matter to her mom, who sometimes forgets meals, and her dad, who travels a lot.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 6-9

Title: The title references a history of women literally taking up less space than men, even making themselves smaller. It deals with body image and body size as well as positioning on a basketball court.

Main Character(s): Sarah, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): food, body image, basketball, friendships, crushes, cooking, therapy, family, mother-daughter relationship, reading, health

Great for…* (readers): who have a friend or family member who suffers an eating disorder or disordered eating and for female athletes.

Great for…* (teachers): discussion around societal norms/expectations and pressures teens feel.

Parental Warning(s): I’m not sure I would send a kid, especially a target-age-range girl off to read this alone. Get into the weeds with this one.

Interact: Sarah develops a passion for cooking. What’s your favorite thing to eat and/or recipe to cook it?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Roller Girl (a graphic novel)

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***********GRAPHIC NOVEL AND NEWBERY HONOR BOOK***********

The Best Thing about this Book is the world of roller derby, of course. So fun.

Premise: Astrid has always been best friends with Nicole, but as they age, their interests are parting ways. While Astrid wants to learn to roller skate and participate in roller derby, Nicole wants to spend her summer at dance camp. Astrid must figure out her way on skates, in derby, in friendships, and family over the course of the summer.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 2-8

Title: This one’s more-or-less what you see is what you get: Astrid wants to be a roller girl.

Main Character(s): Astrid, 6th grade (she/her), 12 yo

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, identity, truth, change, sport, strength, female strength

Great for…* (readers): who are reluctant readers. It’s a graphic novel after all and the artwork is great. Good for goofy girls or edgy ones as well as athletes and roller derby enthusiasts. There is a girl power sub-element to roller derby that comes through in this book with few male characters.

Great for…* (teachers): This is not a book I’d use in class or as an assignment unless it were specific to the study of the structure of a graphic novels (perhaps in comparison to a traditional one).

Parental Warning(s): N/A

Interact: Have you ever been to a roller derby bout? Or would you?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Bea is for Blended

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The Best Thing about this Book is the daily practice of sharing three things you’re grateful for in the morning (“three things”). Close second: M&Ms for breakfast

Premise: Until her mother’s marriage changed Bea’s life, it was just her mom and her, the Embers girls (with fist bump). Marrying Wendell means a step-dad, step-brothers, step-pets, and, the reason for it all, a half-sibling. Now Bea is part of a blended family and all the chaos that comes with it.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 3-7

Title:  I’ll say it. As a Lindsey Stoddard fan, I’ve been less than impressed with the titles of her books. “B” is for blended. It sounds lower grades elementary though the book is not (and, yes, it does relate to a moment in school referenced below in the interact section). Bea is her name. And the primary conflict is the adjustment into a blended family, so there you have it. I’ll see if I can wiggle my way into the Stoddard camp to amplify these titles.

Main Character(s): Bea, 6th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): family, teamwork, girl power, unity, change, friendship, communication, reading, bullying, strength/confidence, doing what’s right, gratitude, soccer, sports, blended families, broken families, equity

Great for…* (readers): who are part of blended families or moving to a new location, girls in general (though it’s not a girls-only book), athletes.

Great for…* (teachers): I’d love to do a character study on this one — where you work with shadow traits (the negative side of a positive trait) and then analyze shadow traits for yourself. OF COURSE, there is the concept of equity in sports and double standards of gender which could branch into many levels of inconsistencies in culture.

Parental Warning(s): Bea and her mom have their own versions of swear words.

Interact: At one point in Bea’s class, the students introduce themselves with the name game we’ve all played at one point: the first letter of your name turns into a trait you possess. EX: K is for keen or B is for blended. What’s yours?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: You Go First

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Premise: One school week in the lives of online Scrabble friends Charlotte and Ben are eventful. Charlotte’s begins with being called out of class with the news that her dad is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Meanwhile, Ben’s parents announce their divorce. Though the two kids do not attend the same school (they don’t even live in the same state), they both have to learn what friendship means in the midst of the most difficult challenges of their lives.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 3-7 grade

Title:  The statement, “You go first” is repeated several times throughout the novel and has to do with taking risks and being vulnerable in relationships and other settings.

Main Character(s): 6th graders Charlotte (she/her) and Ben (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, isolation, change, trauma, bullying, scrabble, board games, nerds, social group, empathy, public speaking, student council, regret

Great for…* (readers): who are experiencing the shifting sands of friendships during tweenagerdom or isolated socially.

Great for…* (teachers): structure! This is essentially two novels that parallel one another than then intersect. There’s not much in here that requires guidance for young readers, so it could be a great Lit Circle or independent reading book.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: What’s your favorite board game (or online game played by more than one person)?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Night Gardener

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Premise: Molly and her brother Kip must find a way to support themselves without their parents, so they book posts at an isolated home in an avoided wood in England. When they arrive, they discover something peculiar happens there that causes the house’s inhabitants to become sickly — and there seems to be a man who roams the house each night. Who is he? Why is he there? And what is happening to this family? Find out in this paranormal fantasy thriller.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-9

Title:  You guessed it. The man in the premise (above) is the night gardener. I won’t tell you why he’s called that, though, but he drives the plot in more ways than one, so it makes sense that he’d have the title of the book.

Main Character(s): Molly, 14 y.o. (she/her) & Kip, 11 y.o.. (he/him) — siblings

Motifs (not exhaustive): home, story, truth, desire, life/death, independence/dependence, strength/weakness, perception/reality, specters, gardening, gifts, sacrifice

Great for…* (readers): who want action, suspense, or a little fright — this one’s plot driven, which tends to be a good match for reluctant readers.

Great for…* (teachers): Oh, goodness, the symbolism is pretty heavy-handed in this book, so that could go over well as a study, but so could character development

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: What kind of nightmares did/do you have as a kid?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend