Vlog Review: Jackpot

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The Best Thing About this Book is how well Nic Stone captures the voice of the modern teenager.

Premise:  High school senior Rico has no plans for college. She can’t afford to dream of a future like that. She needs to keep working at the local gas station in order to help her mom with the bills and her brother. She doesn’t have time for anything else and prefers to live her high school life as invisible. No friends. No connections. Until the events of Christmas Eve lead her on a chase to find the winner of the Mega-Million lotto, a ticket she sold, requires assistance from the most beautiful and richest boy at school.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  The literal rendition of the title refers to the lottery and the premise of the book, a book which delves into economic status on just about every page. I won’t add the figurative meaning other than to say, it may not be about money.

Main Character(s): Rico 17 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): love, friendship, money, belonging, choices, luck, poverty, wealth, responsibility

Great for…* (readers): who want something fun while still opening up discussion of money/wealth/poverty.

Great for…* (teachers): looking to add to classroom libraries, literature circles, and recommended reading lists. I don’t think this is one to teach.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, sexual references

Interact: What would you do if you won the over $200 million in the lottery?

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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: 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: 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: 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

Vlog Review: Pippa Park Raises her Game

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Premise: Pippa Park loves basketball and her friends, but her family wants her to excel in school. When Pippa’s skills earn her a place at an elite, private school, her family jumps at the chance to send her as a scholarship student. The kids at Pippa’s new school are all wealthy, and Pippa’s family is working class. She’s reminded she does not belong even by the food she brings to lunch (Korean delights). So Pippa plans to make a new version of herself, one that will impress the private school kids and hide where she comes from. But how long can she fake a front?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-7

Title:  Of course there’s a basketball assumption here, but Pippa’s basketball skills have very little to do with the plot. They get her into the school, but that’s about it. Raising her game has more to do with her sense of acceptance for who she is — and possibly her math grades.

Main Character(s): Pippa, 7th-grader (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): acceptance, belonging, authenticity, friendship, cliques, passions, family, social status, economic status, sacrifice, bullying, Korean culture

Great for…* (readers): who are drawn into the drama of being popular or just struggling to accept themselves in middle school. (The fact that the cool kids are called the Royals rings very Mean Girls to me.) The basketball could be used to draw a non-reader athlete in as it does start the book, but the sports won’t hold their attention as they fade into the background pretty quickly.

Great for…* (teachers): Lit Circles — I wouldn’t recommend this as a core novel, but as free reading and even guided reading groups absolutely. The publisher specializes in scaffolding such things with resources.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: Food plays a repetitive role in Pippa’s narrative. Pick a question: (a) which food from the book do you want to eat? (b) what’s your favorite thing to eat? (c) Why is the significance of food, and specifically Korean foods, in 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: Other Words for Home, a novel in verse

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Premise: Division erupts in Jude’s hometown in Syria, causing her brother to side and react differently than her father and sending Jude and her mother to live with family in Ohio. Jude needs courage to leave Syria and begin a life in the U.S. but she also needs courage to face a culture that sees her as someone who does not belong, as someone “middle eastern,” and figure out what home really means when everything is different than it was before.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-7

Title:  Jude must improve her English skills while living as a refugee in the United States, so the title can be taken literally, but there’s much more to the concept of home than a word.

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

Motifs (not exhaustive): culture, hope, home, bravery/courage, war, change, terrorism, war, dislocation/refugees, language, middle eastern/syria, anti-refugee behavior, EMPATHY

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate deep thinking OR who are intimidated by the text on a page (as this book is written in verse).

Great for…* (teachers): Symbolism and discussion, discussion, discussion. There is so much in this book that lends itself to deeper meaning than just the words on the page (thereby also playing into the motif of language/communication). The book can be used to challenge preconceived notions and assumptions, so, again: discussion!

Parental Warning(s): Anti-refugee behaviors and words but no cursing

Interact: Who or what means home for you? (Consider sights, scents, textures, etc.)

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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: Right as Rain

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Premise: It’s been 278 days since Rain’s brother Guthrie died, and Rain and her parents are moving 288 miles to have a fresh start (even if her mom is the only one who wants one). What happened that night is a big who knows to everyone except for Rain, but that secret means Guthrie’s death is her fault. With her secret and very few other items packed, Rain moves to NYC to process through the loss of her brother and the degradation of her parents’ marriage while she tries to fit into a new environment where she’s off on the wrong foot. (Check out the motifs section, there’s a ton of issues brought up by this book — and all well done.)

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: The title’s meaning remains open to numerous interpretations — so it’s a great discussion point post-read. I’ll wait for you to tell me your interpretation before I divulge mine.

Main Character(s): Rain Andrews, 11 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/loss, depression, friendship, moving, change, divorce/separation, gardening, teamwork, community, homelessness, gentrification, otherness/belonging, poetry

Great for…* (readers): who have friends experiencing grief. As a mother of kids with nuclear family member loss, I want to give this book to all their friends so that they get an inside perspective of what it’s like. Also good for kids who feel alone, different, isolated, or are experiencing change.

Great for…* (teachers): This book is rife with figurative language and symbolism. It even weaves poetry in (as a school assignment), so it’s kind of asking for work on that front. Many allusions to The One and Only Ivan make for a great pairing if Ivan comes first.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a nuclear family member, this book could stir up difficult emotions.

Interact: Rain runs to wipe her thoughts away and empty her brain. What works for 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