Catching Up [by me :) ]

My last post was March 8-two MONTHS ago! Yikes! But I have actually been in a good stretch of reading a lot, just not finding the time to write a thoughtful response to each book. But I have faithfully kept track and at least quickly entered the titles in Goodreads and will be going back and writing a bit more about each. It’s a lot of titles because I had a nice flurry of kids’ graphic novels to read. I got consumed by two separate trilogies, reading the titles in each quickly and consecutively. And the biggest change to my reading habits in 45 years is that I got a KINDLE and have been actually reading books on it. The primary reason I got it (honestly, the only reason) is so that I can actually read the books I’m able to get through NetGalley. And there was a book I was able to get that isn’t coming out until the summer and I reaaaaaallly wanted to read it. So I got it and I have to say I do really like it. It fits in my purse, has a nice feeling cover, and I’ve read several advance reading copies that way. I’m still getting used to % finished rather than page numbers and it’s still odd to not be able to feel and see how big the book is, how far into it I am, and what the cover is like (not at a glance while reading.)
There are two more weeks left of school and if I haven’t gotten caught up by then my first day of vacation will be catching up over here!

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

What a charming book! This is absolutely a book I would have read aloud to my kids when they were younger. Skunk and Badger have a little bit of Frog and Toad about them in that they are two animal characters with a lot of personality, and ultimately they are friends. But things don’t start out that way-Badger is a solitary character very engrossed in his routines and Important Rock Work. Enter Skunk, an animal that a lot of people don’t want around and he’s looking for a new home and, it seems, a new chapter in his life. Skunk is noisy, messy, and full of life. Badger can’t help but notice that some things he brings are really nice, such as lavish breakfasts. But there is a terrible falling out with very hurt feelings and then Badger has to do some deep thinking about how he treated lonely Skunk. There’s kind of a weird chicken plot-I had a hard time accepting them as fully thinking talking animals, like badger and skunk (and Stoat!) are. It’s like they are animals but the others are people.

Regardless, a sweet and funny story with a nice vocabulary.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

I looooooved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and the Spies of Schilling Lane, so this has been a highly anticipated book for me–WWII, Jennifer Ryan, and COOOKING?! Sign me up. This was just a wonderful weekend treat of a book.  As with her others there are many well researched details about village life during the war. Despite the black market, this felt overall “lighter” than the other two titles. There are 4 contestants in this cooking contest, each woman is a terrific cook, and each has her own story. Chapters alternate viewpoints. Differences in class are fascinating. Nell is a girl working in the kitchen of a manor house, Gwen is the Lady of the manor and a total snobby gold digging B&*( who has turned her back on her sister, Audrey. Audrey is a widow with three children who married for love and is not struggling to keep it all together and likely to lose her house. The outlier is Zelda, a glamorous Londoner with a scandalous secret. Each of these ladies has her reasons for wanting to win this competition.  I really appreciated just how much cooking was talked about and how central it was to the story, along with the inclusion of many many recipes. And the recipes did not disappoint with their weirdness (whale steak) as the women had to make do with rations and ingenuity. (Sidebar: I follow a British lady on IG who routinely cooks and bakes from WWII recipe pamphlets. It sounds like a really challenging time to live in and I don’t think I would look to recreate those challenges and hardships.)
Was this a bit sentimental and blatantly a heartwarming story of women and friendship? Yes it was and I loved it.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

Well this was a delight. I think I especially enjoyed it because I don’t feel like reading a 500 page adult book about life on Mars, but it sure is fun to think about, so this version for kids was perfect for me.  Of course I had to think about Last Day on Mars while reading this-the other children’s book I’ve read where the main characters are children growing up on Mars. What I liked about this so much were just all the details about life there and how to the children Earth things were fantastic and foreign (customs as well as things like windows and sunsets and animals.) And then to think about the adults having left Earth behind and now living on Mars forever. FOREVER.
I also enjoyed the setup of them being isolated from the other settlements and a crisis causing them to explore Mars as they never have before.
An enjoyable story and one that I think is a great scifi intro for kids. Read this and before they know it they’ll be reading Arabella of Mars, Across the Universe, and The Sparrow.

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

I really enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi so was eager to pick up another book by the author, set in the same circles as Dimple–this one is about Rishi’s younger brother Ashish and Sweetie. The story is told from both of their points of view and is somewhat of a classic YA romance-an ex to provide angst, jumping to conclusions, swoon worthy dates, and some extravagant head over heels falling in love. Are there 17 year old who really express themselves so eloquently and deeply and reflectively to other 17 year olds??  Like Dimple and Rishi though, this story is steeped in Indian culture and traditions. I really enjoyed all those details. And I thought both Sweetie and Ashish were nice characters-I’d want to be friends with them. Of course, like every teen I read about, they are both star talents, she a runner and he a basketball player. What’s different about all this, and what I really liked, was that Sweetie is fat. Unapologetically fat, and yes she uses that word, making it clear that it’s other people who make it a bad word. Unfortunately, Sweetie’s mom doesn’t have the same confidence that Sweetie does and constantly makes comments about her weight and flat out says she isn’t thin enough to date Ashish-that she’s not of the same level as he is. Honestly I don’t know where Sweetie finds the confidence in the face of that to live her life so confidently (probably from her super talent and beauty.) 
This was a charming romance, and I really loved Sweetie straight up talking about why shouldn’t she be desirable and part of a romance? In real life, and also in a book. Everyone should read all of these!

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

I love Shusterman’s books and was pretty excited by the premise of this one-alternate timelines! In this case a concussive wack on the head keeps altering his world slightly (or dramatically).  I didn’t love this as much as I thought I would (it’s no Scythe.) It seemed strange to me that many of the changes were really focused on racial inequality–but not all. It felt uneven. That said, how the world was different was fascinating and horrifying. I honestly did find it a little boring as he kept reflecting on his racial insensitivity. As for the “why is this happening” I thought it fell prey to the “I’m just describing something totally made up and weird so it can be whatever” syndrome, which I find unsatisfying and vague. (I guess I feel like nothing should be hard to describe in a completely made up scenario because you are literally describing it and making it up. If you can’t describe or explain your made up scenario then it seems like you just didn’t finishing making it up.)

But other than, I loved seeing the details of the world changing, especially his relationships with others, as well as the type of life he was leading.  It’s an interesting concept and he lets us know it’s already in the works for adaptation with Netflix (which seems like it will be Quantum Leap like.) I think I might just go reread the entire Scythe trilogy straight through for a really satisfying Shusterman fix.

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

I was so excited to get a new Mike Chen book, but this had a very different feeling than his other stories-a more lighthearted superhero type adventure. One character can erase people’s memories, the other has inexplicable superhuman strength and speed. The crazy thing is-neither of these people know how they got these abilities. One day they woke up, with no memory of their lives, and they had these abilities. They partner up to try and start figuring things out and uncover a bigger mystery.
This was a fun fast read, though I didn’t care for it as much as I do his more thoughtful stories. Also I found the ending puzzling and cryptic..

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

I am hot and cold on Lucy Knisley’s stuff, to be honest. However, I was pretty excited about this middle grade realistic fiction graphic novel, which I knew would be a hit with my students. I really liked this, though I felt upset knowing (from reading ahead of time and then from her afterward) that it was very much a true memoir. Her mom’s boyfriend is a dick who puts her down and her mom doesn’t stand up for her. Her mom and mom’s boyfriend seem pretty demanding (we’ve moved to the country but you have all the chores and are soley responsible for caring for chickens you didn’t even want.) as well as uncaring of her feelings (taking the boyfriend’s children’s side without seeing what’s really happening.) I felt so so outraged on her behalf and upset that none of the adults really acknowledged how wrong that all was.  I do think a lot of kids will relate to the “adults in my life make decisions that affect me but I just have to go along with it because I’m a kid” aspect.  I’m curious how kids will react to this.

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

This is a good realistic fiction graphic novel that I will definitely be recommending to all my avid realistic fiction gn readers (of which there are many.) The premise is that twins are starting a new school for 6th grade and there are big changes which one twin is super anxious about and the other is more excited about. The big difference is that they are in different classes. Different classes! New friends! New experiences! Pretty standard. But what was really interesting to me and actually super fascinating was that this middle school had an ROTC like program that the shyer twin is enrolled in. In 6th grade! And not only that but in 5th grade they all had academic rankings that they were all aware of. I literally cannot imagine this for 5th graders (the grade I teach.) I was very interested in the family dynamics (pretty strict but loving parents). They all felt much older than 6th grade to me.

Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

The title and picture on the cover 100% is why I picked up this book. And what a charming graphic novel it was! It focused on that age old theme of friends in your group seeming to move on or grow up faster than you and feeling left behind. What I especially liked about this was the idea that as that’s happening to Lora she’s portrayed as not babyish-just someone who still has a great imagination and loves to play and delight in the world. I could relate. Lora is thrilled when she meets a lovely ghost who is happy to play with her (and totally accepting of Alexa’s ghostliness.)
As the year progresses things do inevitably change for the Lora and Alexa and the story is very neatly woven together and wrapped up-explaining Alexa’s story and why she is there to play with Lora.
A very sweet story with a bittersweet tinge that is satisfying.