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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************
The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.
Premise: Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.
Rating: 5/5 Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)
Title: Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”
Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o
Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.
Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.
Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured
Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)
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)?
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.
a pinkyandthebrainhomage by KZ Rochelle (of course)
Before diving into this episode, see what K & Z were up to in the previous episode of The Days of Our Pandemic or follow K & Z from the beginning.…
K stepped solemnly into the bathroom. In her hands she held a small cardboard box no larger than a shoebox. “Here it is, Z.”
“Here it is, K! This is it! Our hope! Our dreams of getting out of these four walls are finally coming to fruition! Here! In this moment! And you cannot unhinge us with your reckless ineptitude.”
“You think I’m unhinged, Z?”
Z glanced into K’s eyes without adjusting the position of her head from its centered view of the shipment. “Yes, K.”
“You do?” K asked, sorrow creeping into her voice for the first time in a long time.
“Yes, K,” Z said.
Z fixated on the box.
“What does unhinged mean?”
At this, Reader, Z saw an opportunity. And, Reader, she took that opportunity.
“Unhinged? Unhinged describes someone with an unusually strong sense of commitment to do what’s right, to endure through momentary pain, to inflict a bit of a poke, for the good of one’s self and others.”
K’s chin rose higher with each word. Higher and higher until she stared at the ceiling.
“And you think I’m unhinged, Z?”
“Most definitely, K.”
K stood as erect as Z. Her face determined. “Let’s open this shipment, Z.”
“Let’s,” said Z.
K grabbed at the packaging tape with her bare hands. She ripped it off like a bandaid. She opened the cardboard flaps and unveiled a white, foam box like an ice block.
“It’s inside there,” directed Z.
K gave her a nod and proceeded to open the remaining packaging and all its sealants until all that was left was a single vial.
“Now,” said Z, “the magnetized syringe.”
“That’s the moving thing, Z?” said K as she watched two components wiggle and slide across the counter toward the vial she held.
“Yes,” said Z.
“Yes!” said Z. “This is the moment, K. This is the time. Take it in your hand like this.” Z held a lip gloss tube to demonstrate for K.
Entranced, K followed Z’s instruction.
“That’s it. That’s it.”
K held the syringe. The syringe held the vial.
“Hold it up to the bruise on your arm.”
K’s trance broke. “Which bruise, Z? Look how many I have.” K pointed with the needled and began counting with pride. “One, two, three, four, five, six…”
“Number five! Number five!”
“Number five. Number five.”
“Num-ber five. Num-ber five.”
“…seventy-seven! Seventy-seven bruises, Z. Which one.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so way back at the beginning of counting?” said K.
Z opened her heavy eyelids and stared at K until her eyes glossed over. No words made their way out of her mouth.
K lifted the vial of mRNA and its needle of delivery up to her shoulder.
The movement of the needle roused Z.
Z said, “Now all you must do is jab it in on the count of three, and the mRNA will do the rest.”
“The messenger will do the rest?” asked K.
“Pardon?” Z forgot for a moment that she’d informed K of the true name of mRNA, the full name, the extended form name which, of course, began with messenger. “Oh, yes.”
“On the count of three.”
“Can we do five?” asked K.
“You want to count to five?” asked Z.
“Right-o, Z,” said K. “It is bruise number five.”
“Go ahead, K,” said Z.
K, misunderstanding Z as usual, thought Z wanted her to go ahead with it. She said, “No numbers or counting then, Z. Right-o.” And she thrust the needle into her arm.
Z watched and a grin spread like a virus across her face. “You’ve done it! I’ve done it! We’ve done it!”
“We did it! We did it!” K skipped one, two, three, four, five times before the desire to skip drained a bit. Her skips became slower, heavier. She walked, step by step, in her own bathroom, and she noticed she held a vial in her hand. It looked unfamiliar to her. A vial with a needle attached. How did it get there?
“Well, that’s dangerous,” she said and set the materials down on the counter.
As she did, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She turned her head to the left and examined her right side.
“Looks good,” she said.
She turned her head to the right and examined her left side.
“Looks good,” she said.
She tipped her lips up to one side, gave herself a nod, and said, “You, KZ Rochelle, are about to have a very good day.”
And with that, she turned, she exited the bathroom, and she called to her sons, “Xander, Xaivier, grab your things. We’re leaving. Let’s go visit your cousins.”
Inside the lavender home with blue violet trim on Wonky Way Lane, a family fluttered with unusual activity. Previously, these people had been confined to their home for over a year of their lives. They shared experiences they’d never hoped to, like running out of paperclips and baking loaf after loaf of banana bread and learning morse code and turning the bathroom into a water park and then…
They went outside the walls of the lavender home with blue violet trim. Xander picked a goldenrod wildflower. He smelled it. He wiped the pollen and stem residue on Xaiver.
And they went on, Reader, to interact with their cousins and others. They hugged. They played soccer, shot basketballs, attended school and church. They noticed the green of the leaves. They smelled the jasmine. They engaged their senses in the world outside.
Thus it was that sanity returned.
this story has been brought to you by the insane mind of author, KZ Rochelle
Outside the lavender home with blue violet trim on Wonky Way Lane, a pair of peregrine falcons soared on the breeze over a rabbit den, flapping their wings and paying no particular attention to the bunnies below. Prior peoples have seen a harbinger herein, but such as those had long since considered the signs in the skies. They’d traded them (in an unsought barter) for the signs of insides.
In front of the bathroom mirror in said Wonky Way Lane home, the following scene took place. Observe, dear Reader, from your safe distance on the far side of the screen lest you spiral into what you discover. Or perhaps, you have already….
“Today is the day, K,” Z said from inside the mirror.
“What day is it, Z?” K asked.
“Today is THE day, K. THE day. The day we’ve been waiting for.” Z looked at K expectantly.
“TH, TH, THE day.” K pondered. “Is today Thursday, Z?”
“The day of the week is irrelevant!” said Z. “Today is the day we escape the world enclosed by these four walls.”
“Of course it is, Z. That’s the same thing we do every day.” Z rolled her hazel eyes.
K misunderstood and tried to roll her eyes as well, but she ended up tossing her head back and hitting the crown of her head on the wall behind her.
A perturbed groan emanated from the wall itself.
K and Z both ignored it.
“I’m glad you finally understand that, K, but today is not like every other day.”
K rubbed the back of her head. “I understand lots of things, Z. Like the chemical potential –”
“Yes!” Z interrupted K. “The chemical potential.” She raised a single finger. “That’s precisely what I mean.”
“Huh?” K still rubbed her head. She needed to make sure her thought-maker hadn’t been dented. Afterall, she had some very interesting thoughts stored there.
Z pushed her hair from her eyes, styling it without the means of a mirror — as she was in the mirror. “I have been working…”
“Right-o, Z. You’ve been working.”
“…on a project destined for success.”
“Yes, yes, success,” said K.
“And the shipment I ordered arrives today.”
“Oooooooh.” K’s eyes widened. “Is it a present?”
“Yes and no, K,” said Z.
“Yes and no?” K cocked her head and squinted one eye as though she’d been squirted with lime juice — which, Reader, she had not been, even though Z often wished for a lime with which to squirt K. “How can it be both yes and no, Z?”
“Because not everything is black and white, K.”
“Of course not everything is black and white, Z. Look around you. There’s red and green and blue and orange and purple and —”
“Quiet is not a color, Z.”
“I know that, K,” Z said while trying to collect her calm.
“But if quiet were a color, I suppose it would be —-”
“No, K. Irrelevant is not a color either. Should we call my kindergarten teacher?”
“Oh, good gracious.” Z’s head flopped onto her upturned palms.
“I don’t know if I have her email. Or phone number. Or Meet. Or WhatsApp. Or Marco Polo. Or –”
“Anyway!” Z interrupted K’s spiral.
“Yes, Z. Anyway, quiet would be off-white,” stated K.
Z’s eyes peeked out from between her fingers. “Did you say off-white?”
“Off-white,” K said with one definitive head nod like a period.
“She must be off, right?” Z whispered to herself.
“Right-o,” said K, still punctuating her previous comment and unaware that Z had said anything since.
“Can we get on with this?” asked Z.
“Certainly,” said K.
Z arose. She presented her best posture. “I have arranged for an important shipment of very specific messenger ribonucleic acid which you will use with this lancet to inject yourself.”
K shrieked. “A messenger is coming to lance me with acid?! Z, I do not want to leave here in a body bag. I would rather stay inside these four walls.”
“You will not stay inside these four walls and you will leave on your own two feet!” Z said.
“I don’t care if they hold me up on my two feet if I’m inside a body bag,” K informed Z.