Monday, September 30, 2013

Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak

Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things
By Kathryn Burak
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2012
240 pages (hardcover)

When Claire’s best friend Richy went missing, he disappeared without a trace. But when Emily Dickinson’s dress goes missing from the Amherst museum, she knows exactly where it is: in her closet.
As Claire and her student teacher, Tate, attempt to figure out what do to about the dress, they begin to uncover the truth behind Richy's disappearing act. Following a trail of clues across state lines, Claire and Tate attempt to find the person that Claire knows in her gut is responsible for his disappearance. (from

I had high hopes for this book and, honestly, it has an interesting premise and beautiful writing. However, I felt like I needed too much knowledge of Emily Dickinson’s poetry (and poetry in general) to really understand and appreciate this book. I am sure poetry lovers will soak up this book, but I just started feeling confused and wished the book moved at a faster pace.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

STUDENT REVIEW - I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

I, Emma Freke
By Elizabeth Atkinson
Published by Lerner Publishing Group, 2012
234 pages (paperback)

Life wasn't always like this. In fact, when I was younger and shorter and dumber I usually had one or two friends to play with at recess. My grades were good, but nothing special. Then my height and brains took off one summer as if someone watered me with too much fertilizer. Even my dull hair turned redder. To make matters impossibly worse? My name is Emma Freke. Like, if you say it slowly, I Am A Freak. (from

It’s a funny story and she gets to find out about family which makes it a great book. I thought that it was a good book and it really didn’t need to be improved. Yes, [I would recommend it to middle schoolers]. It’s age appropriate and funny.
--by Isabelle C.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

By Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House Children’s Books, 2012
480 pages (hardcover)

In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages. Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, "Some of the most interesting dragons I've read in fantasy."
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. (from

This is a fun and creative fantasy novel (even for those who aren’t into dragons and such). Hartman’s writing is descriptive, warm, and somewhat sarcastic (hooray!). Additionally, at the end of the book she has lists of characters and phrases to help out the more human readers.

I am not sure if the author intended this, but I appreciated the over-arching narrative on diversity and accepting people (and dragons) for who they are and not just their background. UMS is ridiculously diverse and Hartman’s frank discussion of not being judgmental and prejudice throughout her entertaining novel gave it substance that some fantasy and science fiction books simply do not have.

Deservingly so, Seraphina won some awards because it is such an engaging and interesting book. Don’t be fooled by its length… it is a heart-felt and amusing story that will have you quickly flipping the pages to find out what happens next.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

STUDENT REVIEW - Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web
By E.B. White
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 1974
192 pages (paperback)

Charlotte's Web is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur—and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn.
With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte saved the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to quite a pig.
How all this comes about is Mr. White's story. It is a story of the magic of childhood on the farm. The thousands of children who loved Stuart Little, the heroic little city mouse, will be entranced with Charlotte the spider, Wilbur the pig, and Fern, the little girl who understood their language. (from

This book was good because how Wilber was a runt and then achieved. This book says no matter what size you are you can still be good. Nothing really [could be improved] but this book did get boring throughout parts. No, [I wouldn’t recommend this book to middle schoolers] because this book wouldn’t help people my age unless you have a pig.
--Alejandro C.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TOP TEN TUESDAY: My Top Ten Fall 2013 To-Be-Read Books

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is My Top Ten Fall To-Be-Read Books.

 Monsters by Ilsa Bick

Allegiant by Veronica Roth   (I need to read Divergent and Insurgent again first!!!)

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Sweet Legacy by Tera Lynn Childs

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Who Done It?: Investigation of Murder Most Foul by Jon Scieszka

The Apothecary by Malie Meloy

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green   (I haven’t read it yet because it is sad… but I need to read it ASAP!)

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

Monday, September 16, 2013

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Close to Famous
By Joan Bauer
Published by Penguin Group, 2012
272 pages (paperback)

A novel full of heart, humor, and charm from Newbery Honor winner Joan Bauer!
When twelve-year-old Foster and her mother land in the tiny town of Culpepper, they don't know what to expect. But folks quickly warm to the woman with the great voice and the girl who can bake like nobody's business. Soon Foster - who dreams of having her own cooking show one day - lands herself a gig baking for the local coffee shop, and gets herself some much-needed help in overcoming her biggest challenge - learning to read . . . just as Foster and Mama start to feel at ease, their past catches up to them. Thanks to the folks in Culpepper, though Foster and her mama find the strength to put their troubles behind them for good.

This is a cute and sweet story (literally… Foster’s baked goods sound yummy) that has good insight into how friends and a community can work together to help one another. Ideally, I would have liked the author to extend the story a bit further and get into the “what happens after everything is fixed for now”, but it is also nice that she left it up to the readers’ imaginations.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top Ten Books I Would Love To See As A Movie/TV Show

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the Top Ten Books I'd Love to See as a Movie/TV Show.

Books turned into movies/TV shows is quite a trend right now. While the directors often change events/characters and butcher the fabulous book, there are some books to movies that do a good job. Below are some books I would LOVE to see as movies/TV shows... as long as the story & characters weren't changed!

 Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg (This would be the perfect History Channel series!)

Iron King (Iron Fey Series) by Julie Kagawa

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Smile and/or Drama by Reina Telgemeier

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire
By Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney-Hyperion, September 10, 2013
368 pages (hardcover)
Source: NetGalley

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbr ck, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival. (from

I was thrilled when I found out that Elizabeth Wein wrote a companion novel to Code Name Verity. Her last novel quickly became a favorite of mine that I recommended to students and adults alike so I was excited to find out a bit more about the Code Name Verity characters and see what other awesome things Wein had in store for readers. While Rose Under Fire isn’t as shocking as Code Name Verity, it is a heart-wrenching page-turner that was appalling, informative, hopeful, and sad all at the same time.  

Not to give too much away about either book, Rose Under Fire does tie up some Code Name Verity ends (to my delight!) and then takes us into the evils of Nazi concentration camps with a different and rarely discussed perspective. I have spent a good chunk of my life reading books about and studying WWII/the Holocaust and some of the things Elizabeth Wein writes about were events/situations I had never heard of. There were times I had to put the book down for a few days just so I could process what I had just read. But then I would pick it back up because I just had to find out how it all ended.

Once again Elizabeth Wein gives readers some female heroes for WWII as well as an intriguing story that can’t be missed. And, yes, I will be getting a copy for the UMS library as well as a copy for my own personal library because it is just that good/important.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

STUDENT REVIEW - Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

Ruby Holler
By Sharon Creech
Published by HarperCollins Childrens Books, 2004
320 pages (hardcover)

Thirteen-year-old fraternal twins Dallas and Florida have grown up in a terrible orphanage, but their lives change forever when an eccentric but sweet older couple invites them each on an adventure, beginning in an almost magical place called Ruby Holler. (from

It is a good book I guess. But it was too long! Maybe if they cut some stuff out [it would be better]. Yes, I would [recommend this book to others]. It gives you a good look at nature.
--Sequoia R.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top 10 Books That Would Be Great Paired With A Required Reading Book

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the Top Ten Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Paired with a Required Reading Book.

I work in a middle school and I am well aware of what books are required reading (I have helped create units, lessons, and stations for some of the required reading books. The first 8 books listed are books that my school has (or used to) students read during the year. The last 2 are books commonly read in schools that I wanted to add to this list.  

Required Reading
Companion Book(s)
Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo 
Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton 
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Journey to Jo’burg is a great book for the 6th graders to read, though the setting and events can be confusing without background knowledge. Chanda’s Secrets could provide some additional knowledge about South Africa while The Breadwinner is another tale of a family’s will to survive, only it is set in Afghanistan.
We Beat the Street by Sampson Davis 
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery 
Monster by Walter Dean Myers 
Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri 
Students LOVE We Beat the Street and often want similar books. Monster would be a good book to learn what-could-have-been and the challenges urban kids face and Ghetto Cowboy would remind kids to find something they love to stay out of trouble. On the other hand, Temple Grandin is more about overcoming obstacles to happiness just like the guys in We Beat the Street did.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson 
Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi 
Sold by Patricia McCormick
I Love Chains. It is a thought-provoking and heart-felt book that captures the attention of many students. Luckily there are other interesting and well written books about slavery (in the past and modern) that would appeal to students.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse 
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Great Depression is so…. depressing. There are plenty of books out there set during that time period. Although Of Mice and Men is a great book, Out of the Dust and Bud, Not Buddy have characters more around the age of middle schoolers.
Animal Farm by George Orwell 
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Animal Farm is a great book to read, especially if students are currently learning about the Cold War. But if animals aren’t for you, Breaking Stalin’s Nose is another Cold War book with plenty of depth.
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck 
Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri 
The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins
I appreciate that A Day No Pigs Would Die takes students back to the time when growing up on a farm was common, but there are some more recent books with some of the same themes (family, death, loyalty, survival) that would probably be better for students to read now.
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank 
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
After reading The Diary of Anne Frank lots of students come to me seeking similar books. The Boy Who Dared and Code Name Verity (plus its companion novel Rose Under Fire) are books that students could read next.
The Cay by Theodore Taylor 
Wild Man Island by Will Hobbs 
The Hatchet by Gary Paulson
Some students LOVE adventure books. The Cay is good, but students looking for more could check out the other two… or any books by Will Hobbs and Gary Paulson.
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane 
Gatekeepers by Robert Liparulo
Iron Thunder by Avi
I read the Red Badge of Courage in high school and hated it. Seriously. The main guy was whiny, there were no female characters, and there were lots of seemingly endless battles. I was bored out of my mind. Gatekeepers seems to put some social history into the Civil War with paranormal elements to spice it up.
While Iron Thunder has a lot of the same elements as Red Badge of Courage it is MUCH better written.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Graham-Smith
So I hear that there are lots of guys who have to read this in high school and hate it. Personally, P&P is a favorite of mine and more guys could learn how to treat women by reading these books. To cut down on some of the girly aspects, P&P&Z is a good alternative (less descriptions of dresses and more zombie killing).