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: Biggie

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The Best Thing About this Book is Biggie’s little brother, Maddux. The eleven-year-old displays the best character. He’s helpful and reliable if naive. However, his role is minor so not enough to win me over to the book itself.

Premise: Biggie is fat. It’s why no one calls him by his given name anymore. It’s also what propelled him to want to disappear from everyone else’s radar so they don’t make fun of him. For two years of high school, he got out of PE without his mom knowing it. Not anymore. And in his first PE class, he pitches a perfect game of wiffle ball. The girl of his dreams makes a comment that he should play for the school team, so he sets out to pitch a perfect game for the school. First, of course, he has to make the team in his ploy to win the girl.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 8th-12th grade

Title:  It’s his name and arguably his identity. The book begins with the story of how he got his nickname, so it’s fitting — and it is about him when you break it all down.

Main Character(s): Biggie aka Henry, 17 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): obesity, dating, goals, high school relationships, cliques, bullying, teasing, baseball, perfection, anxiety, identity, athletics, broken families, step fathers, family dynamics, social media

Great for…* (readers): N/A

Great for…* (teachers): N/A

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, crude reference to female body, sexual reference/innuendo

Interact: Does a negative review make you want to read a book more than a positive one?

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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: Impossible Music

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Premise: Simon is a musician. But he can’t hear. So how can he continue to study music, create music, play music? And, most of all, experience music he will never hear again? Everything about music seems impossible to him. If Simon is going to have a happy life, he’s going to have to accept his new sensations and his new modes of communication — but can he?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 9th-12th grade

Title:  The first thought about where the title comes from is the premise. And it seems, for much of the book to be just that, but there’s more to it that has to do with a performance I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Main Character(s): Simon, 18 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, music, communication, Deaf culture, art, Auslan, sign language, family, teen relationships, health, mental health, depression, suicide, dreams, commitment, courage, community

Great for…* (readers): who love music or medicine or Deaf culture (or want to learn about any of those). Simon is a bit detached to begin with, so it takes a while to get into the read.

Great for…* (teachers): This one is a pretty easy read. It’d be best used in small reading groups where you have a variety of elements you’re looking at — no one thing stands out in this one.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, regular physical intimacy (not seen or described)

Interact: Why would (or wouldn’t) you want to perform in front of a crowd?

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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

Vlog Review: American Betiya (scbwi emerging voices winner)

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Premise: Rani’s Indian immigrant parents want her to focus on school and not get distracted by other things, especially not boys. So when Rani meets and falls for Oliver, a senior at her high school who has tattoos, she has to keep her American world with Oliver separate from her Indian world with her family. But how long can Rani keep Oliver a secret before her parents find out she’s sneaking around with him?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 10th-12th grade

Title:  The title of this book sets the conflict on the cover: two cultures that look separate must somehow become one in protagonist Rani (betiya is a Hindi word meaning daughter).

Main Character(s): Rani, 18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): Indian culture, family, romance, first love, friendship, racism, objectification, cultural awareness, cultural appropriation, privilege, expectations of others, art, photography, sexuality, tradition, identity

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a conflict of cultures or are children of immigrants, kids who have high expectations for themselves or whose parents have high expectations for them, anyone trying to figure out what love is and looks like as a teen or young adult

Great for…* (teachers): foreshadow, internal/external conflict, and discussion around racial and cultural respect

Parental Warning(s): Regular cursing, sexual innuendo and descriptions of acts (not graphic)

Interact: Oliver is Rani’s first love. They meet at an art show but already go to school together. How did you meet your first love or what is your dream for meeting your first love?

If you like the culture conflict in this book or learning a little about Indian culture, try 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