Book Review: Thornwood (Book 1 of Sisters Ever After)

The Best Thing about this Book is the story it comes from, that of Sleeping Beauty.

Premise: You know the story: on her sixteenth birthday she’d fall under a curse by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. But did you know there was a sister? Briony is always in the shadows of her older sister, Rosalin, but now she’s telling the story and this one starts when the castle wakes after the curse set. What happened and why isn’t the curse fully broken? It’s up to Briony to put the pieces together and gain freedom from the murdering thornwood that is creeping ever-closer into the castle.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 3-7 grade

On the Rating: I am out of sync with many readers on this one, the reason for which I am unsure, but I can say I had to remind myself to read on in this book and keep the carrot of my to-read stack nearby. The voice bothered me as being particularly anachronistic (though it improved with more dialogue and less narration), which is to be expected, but was here annoying. Perhaps that’s it: I found Briony annoying, and she tells the story.

Main Character(s): Briony (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): danger, heroism, courage, myths

Great for…* (readers): who are young and enjoy Sleeping Beauty without holding tightly to the following of the original narrative.

Great for…* (teachers): who need to add to the classroom library.

Parental Warning(s): None

Interact: Which version do you prefer and why: the Disney film or this book by Leah Cypress?

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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: All You Knead is Love

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The Best Thing about this Book is the cast of characters, many of whom could be considered outcasts but are comfortable in their own skin.

Premise: Alba is sent to Barcelona to live with her abuela, a woman she hardly remembers because Mom has finally had it. She’s threatened many times before, but now, she’s following through on the promise to ship Alba to a place she says will be better.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Alba finds herself helping at a nearby bakery. As she discovers a passion for breads, she also finds several friends and sense of, well, love.

Main Character(s): Abla (she/her) — she often gets mistaken for a boy and there is some gender play here

Motifs (not exhaustive): new beginnings, baking, physical abuse, trauma, family, community, business

Great for…* (readers): who enjoy baking or Spain or feel like an outsider or just want to be loved……so, everyone.

Great for…* (teachers): who want a Lit Circle book.

Parental Warning(s): It’s clear Alba’s father is physically abusive to her mother and emotionally/verbally abusive to Alba and her mother. The fact of it is mostly referenced through her mother’s bruises and Alba’s statements about how her dad doesn’t like her.

Interact: What bread would go well with 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 Canyon’s Edge

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The Best Thing about this Book is the combination of the adventure genre with verse.

Premise: Nora blames herself for her mom’s death. If it hadn’t been her birthday or if she’d chosen a different restaurant, her mom would still be alive. Instead, one year later, she and her anxiety-ridden dad who no longer trusts people (except Nora) brings her to a canyon to hike and climb. When an unexpected natural event separates Nora and her father, Nora must survive in the desert and find her father before she loses two parents.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 5-8 grade

Title: Interspersed in the events of the narrative, Dusti Bowling inserts flashbacks as well as therapeutic moments and reflections. The symbolic meaning of both a canyon and an edge are played with here in terms of the wariness we have of falling and the necessity to climb up when we’ve been pushed in (see cover art), among other things.

Main Character(s): Nora (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief, PTSD, trauma, anxiety, survival, guilt, reflection, desert, solitude vs. loneliness

Great for…* (readers): who like Hatchet. Dare I say this is a newer, better adventure book rippling with figurative language?

Great for…* (teachers): who want to teach annotation and layers of reading. Good for incorporating poetry and different poetic forms. (Nora writes haikus regularly.)

Parental Warning(s): I mean, it’s there in the premise, isn’t it? Nora is dealing with the loss of her mother in an active shooter situation.

Interact: Which genre of nature’s beauty do you prefer and why: desert? coast? mountain?

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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: 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: 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: 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: Turtle Boy

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Premise: 12 y/o Will Levine just wants to be left alone with his four turtles. He doesn’t want to be called Turtle Boy by the kids at school. He doesn’t want to have surgery on his jaw. He doesn’t want new friends and he doesn’t want his one friendship to change. When Will must complete community service hours in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, though, his world begins to shift. Will hates hospitals but is assigned to visit a terminally ill teenager with a bucket list he needs help completing. Can a boy who prefers a habitat inside his shell venture beyond it without destroying himself in the process?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9

Title: The title has multiple meanings. The kids at school taunt Will with the name “Turtle Boy” because of the way he looks, but he is also interested in turtles. However, the significance of the title really rests in Will’s propensity to shelter himself from discomfort — like a turtle in a shell.

Main Character(s): Will Levine, 12 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/death, friendship, terminal disease, bar/bat mitzvah, change, music/drum therapy, turtles/pets, nature, single mom

Great for…* (readers): who are shy, bullied, anxious, or frightened. Many male characters make this a good read for boys while still being appealing to girls, too.

Great for…* (teachers): There’s a bucket list project, a community service project, and a cross-curriculum science/nature project waiting to happen with this book. Plenty to explore there, but the literary merit is mainly in character development, round/flat, dynamic/static, etc.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a parent/friend, this book could bring up memories.

Interact: Will’s favorite animal is, of course, the turtle. He does have a room full of terrariums and turtles, after all. Will says they are not pets, but, for the sake of this activity, let’s talk pets. What kind of pet did/do you want as a kid? Why? And did you ever get 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