Friday, September 15, 2017

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka
(Iowa Teen Award 2017-2018 nominee)
Book description from true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin's class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of - so she chose it.
Martin was lucky even to receive a pen-pal letter. There were only 10 letters and 40 kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.
That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.
My 25 cents...I really enjoyed this book.  (Do NOT let the size of it discourage you. It looks long, but is a quick read!)  It is the story of a lifelong, life changing friendship that started with a simple random penpal letter!  The reader learns so much about the life in Africa that is not familiar to everyone.  It wasn't always a smooth road for these two freinds on the opposite sides of the earth either.  An added bonus is the real photos that the author included so we could see these two friends in all their friendship AND differences!  It definitely made me thankful for what we have here in the US and more grateful for what we often take for granted:  proper shoes that fit, clean drinking water at the turn of a knob, safe schools, etc.  
Serefina's Promise by Ann Berg
(Iowa Children's Choice Nominee 2017-2018)

Book description from Booklist...Serafina is an 11-year-old Haitian struggling to keep her dream of becoming a doctor alive. Living in a desolate mountain village, Serafina toils at her daily chores while planning to attend school in the requisite uniform and shoes. Serafina has a warm family, a true friend in Julie Marie, and an encouraging woman doctor, who all come to support her vision. Then a flood washes away the family home, and the roaring stampede of an earthquake devastates the city of Port-au-Prince, where Serafina’s father works and Julie Marie lives.

My 25 cents...This story is told in "prose" format.  Some readers love this format because they find it easy to read (and it goes fast!). This mean the text looks like this: (excerpt from

Serafina made a secret promise
                                          to go to school and learn to read
                                          so she can become a doctor
                                          with her best friend, Julie Marie.

                                           But following her dream isn't easy-
                                           endless chores, little money
                                           and stomach-rumbling hunger

                                           all test her resolve.

While I personally don't necessarily LIKE this kind of writing, I did find myself enjoying this story!  I worried about Serafina and Julie Marie as if they were students of mine. These young girls had such wonderful dreams for their futures and had to struggle to hold onto those dreams through more hardships that most of us can even imagine!  It is also a good wake up call to living conditions that we may take for granted here in the United States.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

Book description from you and your best friend head out West on a cross-country bike trek. Imagine that you get into a fight—the cheap SOB won’t kick in any cash—and you stop riding together. Imagine you reach Seattle, go home alone, and start college. Imagine you think your former best friend does too. Imagine he didn’t, that he was carrying more than $20,000 in cash the whole trip, and that now the FBI is looking for him. Imagine your world shifting....
My 25 cents...This book was given to me as a promotional book at a Scholastic book fair workshop.  I would definitely call this book a thriller, which may seem weird considering it has to do with 2 boys on a bike trip.  Why is Win carrying $20,000 cash on the trip?  Why does he not come back home?  Why does Win leave Chris when he gets a flat tire? Who does that to a real friend?!  The mystery just keeps building as the trip goes along.  The ending, which I didn't predict, leaves the reader wondering about Win's future but explains the behavior of Win and his decisions.    
The Green Bicycle by Haifaa al Mansour

Book description from Spunky 11-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Wadjda earns money for her dream bike by selling homemade bracelets and mixtapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she's caught, she's forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still, Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

My 25 cents...I really enjoyed this book. I laughed in some parts at the trickiness of the main character in her attempt to get that bicycle she so desperately wanted, even though she was a girl!!  What I also enjoyed was what I learned about the Middle Eastern culture and customs that I did not know about. The reader will learn how (and why) they do thing differently that we do here in the United States but not in a textbook style that can be boring.    
Dash by Kirby Larson

Book description from moving story of a Japanese American girl who is separated from her dog upon being sent to an incarceration camp during WWII. Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home - or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties.
With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they've lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?

My 25 cents...Being a dog lover and having read this author's other book DUKE, (award winner! see Sept. 2015 post) I knew that I would probably enjoy this book.  The reader can't help but feel badly for the main character as she gets pulled away from all that she knows, including her dog, Dash.  She had to be way stronger than any young girl should at her age.  It kind of makes the reader realize that our problems are really not all that "big" compared to what she had to go through at such a young age.  (Also--Dash doesn't die in the end so no worries about that!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

Book description from knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind. Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

My 25 cents...This book was hard for me to get into, but I think that is because it is being told by three different students and I was having a hard time getting to know them until about halfway through the book.  Once I felt like I "knew" the different boys, then the story overtook me!  This story looks at their relationship with their teacher through three different sets of eyes.  As a teacher it made me appreciate how we DO make a difference in certain students' lives.