The True Meaning of a Book

I walked into the library to hand in the books for the last time at my middle school. I saw two of my close guy friends sitting on the couch as I looked up to say goodbye, tears from the both of them filled their eyes and I was completely taken aback. I'll never forget when one of my friends looked at me and said, "Cassie, I am so sorry it came to this. Please know that we don't want you to leave. It's stupid, they're stupid. Don't listen to the things that they say. Please. We don't want you to move." I gave him a hug, said my goodbyes and walked towards the front office. 

I had had enough. My family had had enough. My mom was allowing me to withdrawal from the school district I had grown up in to move somewhere where I knew no one, all in part to avoiding the "mean girls", their families, and the constant drama that followed. I wish I had kept a journal of the day-to-day interactions that occurred between myself and the "popular group." It wasn't as though we weren't friends, but when you didn't just follow the ring leader and do as she said or said as she did, well, you were a target. I looked at myself as everyone's friend. I wanted to be the mediator, and I remember trying to insert myself into the popular crowd to help "fix things," but then once my services were done being needed there was also something to make fun of me about. 

Here I am in 6th grade. 

My favorite TV star - Hillary Duff aka Lizzie McGuire. If you remember Lizzie, you remember her as her own self, she fixed her hair crazy, she wore crazy outfits, she was just different. I loved that. That was what I felt like I was. I enjoyed doing what I liked, dressing how I liked. I loved school. I loved reading. I loved writing. I also loved sports. I made sure I was friends with more boys than girls, because they just didn't put up with junk. They made sure that our time hanging out was just hanging out, having a good time, playing games, sports, watching movies, not drama or talking about other people. That's what I enjoyed. Which also made it hard for this "group" of girls because when they had a crush on one of the boys, who did they come to? Me. Then when they were dating, I was all of a sudden trying to "take" their boyfriend. It was all ridiculous. It got to the point of parents of this group coming to my mother's work, confronting her at her job (as a school librarian), all because of who I was "dating" in 8th grade (which, let's be real, what was dating in 8th grade - phone calls and my parents taking me to the movie theatre) was who the ringleader wanted to be dating. There were times I should've kept my mouth shut, I was caught in the middle of drama trying to just make everyone be friends, but in the end, I know that my behavior was not wrong. I know that all I wanted was for everyone to love everyone. 
I was really depressed. 
I was crying all the time. 
I would leave basketball practice which was 3rd period and run to my mom's library at the school next door. 
I didn't want to go to school. 
I didn't want to be in the hallway with these people. 
I drowned myself in writing, and reading. 

It wasn't until I read Stargirl by Jerry Spinneli did I really feel like it was okay. 
It was okay to be who I wanted to be. 
It was okay to dress how I wanted to dress. 
It was okay to not be with the in crowd because I would have that small tight knit group of people who would always have my back. 

When I say I was depressed, y'all, it was to a point that even my parents didn't truly understand. I didn't think I deserved anything or anyone. I cried, a lot. I carried Stargirl's story around in my heart for years after that. I still moved. Which was the best decision my parents could have ever agreed to. 

As a young adult I grew up knowing there were going to be other me's out there. Other Stargirl's who needed to be told or reminded it's okay to be different. 
It's okay to not follow the crowd or;
it's okay if you aren't raised by young parents, but your grandparents, but as long as you are happy and you figure out who you are and love that, you will be okay.

I wanted to help those other Stargirl's of the world and teaching was a calling I had always had. Reading was something I always wanted to share with others and I knew I could do that by becoming an educator, by creating those relationships with students that I remember having with a handful of my teachers, and by continuing and sharing my reading life.
I read because it changed my life. 
I keep a copy of Stargirl on my desk at school to remind me of who I was, who I am, and who I need to be for my students. 

There's a book out there for every single person. As an educator, please find those students who need those mirrors, who need those stories to know that they are okay just the way that they are. Middle grades are tricky. Kids are discovering who they are and who they aren't. Reading takes you places, it helps you to see others, but more importantly it helps you to see yourself, and that yourself is the best you can possibly be. 

Haley's January Reads

I spent January reading books that I'd been wanting to read but just hadn't gotten to yet. And, boy these books didn't disappoint! 

Love, Hate, & Other Filters is an #ownvoices novel that cleverly weaves together two stories. Maya, an Indian girl in a nearly all-white school, and a terrorist plotting an attack in Maya's town. 

In Sight of Stars isn't out until March, but go ahead and pre-order this one now! A little bit Challenger Deep and a little bit All the Bright Places, Polisner's book puts mental health in the forefront as Klee (pronounced Clay), struggles with his emotions after his father dies. 

My 7-year-old read Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties aloud to me. In this book, Dog Man has a new nemesis-Petey the Cat's new partner. My son loved the story, and I loved the Dickenson allusions on nearly every page!

Another yet-to-be-released book I finished this month was Puddin, by Julie Murphy. I adored Dumplin', and this follow-up did not disappoint. Characters from Dumplin', Callie and Millie are back, but this time we learn more about them.   

Two Roads from Here is an interesting concept-written like those Choose Your Own Adventure books from the early 90s. At the center of this book are 5 seniors, who must each make a life-altering decision. Each character has two potential outcomes, and you get to read about both!

Kara Thomas is a master of disturbing plot lines. Her books are never on my shelves, and for good reason. Five cheerleaders are dead and Monica, the sister of one of the deceased can't accept that their deaths were mere accidents. The Cheerleaders doesn't come out until July, but when it does, carve out a day to finish this in one sitting!

When Nadia's home in Syria is destroyed in a bombing raid, she is left behind. With the help of an egregious old man and a few friends she meets along the way, Nadia does everything she can to Escape from Aleppo even though it has always been her home.

New Non-Fiction Series Alert!

Learning about history is one of my favorite topics when reading so when I was asked to review a new non-fiction series for kids called The Thrifty Guide to I jumped right on board! I usually like learning about history in a narrative with a story that sucks me in, but reading these non-fiction books that were half humor, half history was VERY enjoyable! I think kids will really get a kick out of these!  

Teachers, if you teach a unit on the American Revolution or Ancient Rome, you NEED these books! I cannot wait to see what topics Jonathan Stokes tackles next!

I read both of the books over winter break and then as soon as we got back from break, I handed them to two of my students that I thought would like them! See our thoughts below on the two books in the series that are out. There are A LOT of similarities between the two titles but there were a few things that jumped out at us that we explicitly didn’t notice in both novels.

  • ·        Very funny! I loved all the funny sidebars with interesting information.
  • A great mix of serious information and humor. Loved all the graphics, like Venn diagrams, maps, and pictures. This book is a text features lesson dream!  
  • Finlay said, "I liked all the pictures of the battles and wars because I hadn'tseen anything like that before!" 
    • Mrs. Kuehler can attest to the illustrations in the book - they are pretty awesome! 
  • Finlay also said, "The entire book is very funny!"

  • ·        Lots of information about the war that is not usually taught in a textbook!
  • Hayden liked the "pranking the past" parts best! A favorite was: 
    • If you want to help Paul Revere spread the word that the British are coming, try upgrading his horse to a motorcycle. Something fast and sporty, yet sensibly priced, like a Kawasaki Ninja with digital fuel injections and a 649cc four-stroke engine. Or, if you really want to help Paul Revere spread the word faster, get him a cell phone." 
  • ·        History told in a funny way. I’ve never laughed out loud so much while reading about history!
  • ·        The tiny details throughout the book were INCREDIBLE! I loved how even the copyright date on the book’s publishing information page said it was copyright 2165 and that if you notice a typo to use the time machine to go back to 2163 and fix it! ;) 

Student/Teacher dual review - The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Image result for the last cherry blossom

I admit it... I am a historical fiction junkie. I. Love. Historical. Fiction. I also cannot believe I am going to admit this... but I didn't really realize it was a genre until I was an adult. I just do not remember being introduced to very much historical fiction as a kid - except for maybe Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank (non-fiction).

When Kathleen Burkinshaw contacted me about reviewing The Last Cherry Blossom, I was really excited because I had had my eye on it and knew it would be an interesting read! I was right! As Simon says below, it was nice to read a WWII novel from Japan's perspective! 

Thank you to my former student, Simon who is now in 5th grade that happily worked on this review with me! 

Mrs. Kuehler’s review:

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw is about a 12 year old girl in Japan named Yuriko. The year is 1945 and, as we know, the end of WWII is near. Life for Yuriko in Japan at this time is filled with worry, change, air raid drills, the possibility of bombing and family secrets.  
        The first half of the book we learn a lot about Yurkio’s daily life, her likes and dislikes and what life is like at school. About halfway through the book, Yuriko learns about a devastating family secret that she is the center of. At this point of the book, we are occasionally reminded that this isn’t just a book about family dynamics and secrets, this is a book about a world war. Reminders come in the form of nearby friends being sent to war, friends Yuriko’s age being pulled out of school to help with the war effort and the family sometimes leaving their home in Hiroshima to stay at their country house. Life in Japan is filled with unrest and worry. There are frequent air raids and the Japanese have to take cover and find shelter during these raids. During this time people wonder if this is a bomb that will hit them. Will they lose their home? Their family? Their friends? The thought of going through that is heartbreaking.
        However, it gets worse. As the reader, we know that the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Each chapter is labeled with the date so while reading I felt myself preparing my myself mentally for what was to come. What Yuriko experienced during the bombing was horrifying and hard to believe it was real. But, it was.
        Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres because I believe it is important to read and understand from a personal point of view what life was like during that time period. It’s hard to relate to history from a textbook, but when I read a story like Yuriko's, I am not likely to forget what she went through.
        This book will appeal to readers that enjoy learning about history in a narrative way. Readers that enjoy learning about WW2 will want to pick this book up. This will also appeal to readers that enjoy reading books with true content. Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end because this book was based on the author’s mother’s real-life experiences while living in Japan during the war.  I would recommend this book for ages 11 to adults and caution for some mature content.  

Simon’s Review:

        The Last Cherry Blossom is a book about a girl named Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II.  This historical fiction piece is a story about love, friendship, and family. Along with worry, sadness, and despair, I would recommend this book for ages 12 and up because of some mature content. The Last Cherry Blossom includes some interesting facts about WWII.  It was interesting because I have read a lot of books about WWII, but not from Japan’s point of view.  Yuriko faces some surprises from family to war. The culture in this book is fun to learn about. From clothing to food.  The Last Cherry Blossom is a really good book if you want to read something filled with action and suspense.  

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart Review

Dan Gemeinhart has easily turned into one of the most sought after authors in our 5th grade classroom. My students have told me, "Mrs. Thomas, you can't read just one of Dan's books." And they are absolutely right. The first story of Dan's that I read was The Honest Truth. Which I listened to on audio. One thing I remember the most about this story is that I was listening every single spare second that I had the opportunity. I was hooked. The story was emotional, raw, and utterly amazing. I then moved on to Some Kind of Courage. Totally different style of story, but even still raw, emotional, honest, and amazing. Then Scar Island was released. Only knowing based off friends reviews and the Goodreads summary, I went in only knowing it was COMPLETELY different than the other two in terms of plot. I was literally BLOWN away. I had always been a huge Lord of the Flies fan, and this was definitely modern day Lord of the Flies, but with a connection that students could actually grasp and hold on to. Knowing all of this about his phenomenal writing. I knew I had to get my hands on Good Dog as soon as I could. Like I said, his writing is highly anticipated in our school by majority of students. Almost all 73 of my students have read Scar Island - which is amazing. Dan also so generously donated his time the last two years to my students to Skype and that is one that they still continuously talk about to this day. 

This year I have a ton of avid readers, not only are my students but I also have a lot of parents (dream, right?) - because of that, I wanted to give a mom/son duo the opportunity to review Good Dog from their perspective.  

Good Dog Review
By Ezekiel and Jeanette Tapley

Ezekiel (Zeke) and I are so honored that Ms Thomas asked us to read and review Good Dog together.
It was a lot of fun to read it and discuss. As a mother to three kids, Zeke being my oldest,
it gave us some quality time to talk and sit together with a purpose. So, I listed
some questions for us each to answer as an easy way to share our thoughts!

Describe the main character(s) in this story
MOM: The main character is a dog named Brodie. He is a kind and passionate dog that
loves his boy more than anything. He is serious about his mission and what he feels like
he needs to do to help his boy. He above all else is brave.

ZEKE: He has friends that join him in his mission: Tuck and Patsy. His boy’s name is Aiden. He
meets some other dogs along the way; Darkly and his gang of Hellhounds.

Who was your favorite.
ZEKE: My favorite character was probably Tuck because Tuck was funny from time to time.
But he’s also very brave and loyal. Some of his actions were unnecessary and some
were death-defying and that is why Tuck is my favorite.

MOM: Brodie was my favorite. He is just so likeable, fun and adventurous.

What was your favorite part of the story
ZEKE: My favorite part of the story is when Brody, Patsy, and Tuck are in the school
and Tuck stops when he sees a…. FRENCH FRY!!!!!! And he asks Patsy and she
explains how to eat as a ghost.

MOM: I think my favorite part is anytime Brodie finds courage. He starts out in the
book a little shy and unsure of himself, but he gains courage and confidence at every turn.

Was this book easy to read? Did you feel yourself getting lost in it?
MOM: I absolutely think this was an easy book to read. I read it just about everywhere
including the dentist office, and I can’t lie, I even started tearing up there while reading!

ZEKE: I kinda got a teensie lost in the beginning ‘cause not a lot was happening, but
other than that it was a blow through.

What has stuck with you from this book?
MOM: So we have a dog, her name is Bristol, and I really don’t know that I’ll ever
look at her the same way. She is so sweet and loyal to our family and I see so
much of Brodie in her. She is a good dog too! I also loved how Brodie called
“fetch” Away and Back. It makes so much sense and makes me giggle
when I think about it.

ZEKE: l think the part where Tuck distracted Darkly and the bloodhounds stuck with me.

What age is this book good for?
MOM: Well Zeke is 11 and I am 31. I really think it covered so much in different
ways for each of us. It had a few scary parts but nothing terrifying. I would
definitely let Zeke’s 9 yr old brother read it.
As a mom I would say 9 and up. There are some serious things, like abuse,
foster care, hellhounds, and big decisions that are being made, but
I think it made for good and open conversations.

Would you recommend this book to your friends?
MOM: I would. I think it’s a great book! I loved the focus on bravery, loyalty and friendship.

ZEKE: definitely (when it comes out of course).

Overall I think this book is phenomenal. Like I said before, parts of it have stuck with
me and I think of Brodie when I tell my dog that she’s a good dog. This book is
about friendship, loyalty, love and protection. These are things I try to teach
my kids daily. When these things are brought forth in story, and in ways
they can understand it...that’s what makes books magical!

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