May 26, 2015

Book Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Title: Gracefully Grayson
Author: Ami Plonsky
Copy Obtained: From publisher in exchange for honest review

Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Books are written, in my opinion, to help us see the world from perspectives and views we might not see ourselves or understand.  They are written to help us give an understand of what is not in ourselves.  And when done well, they help us grow and become better people. For me, Gracefully Grayson did just that.  

As a middle school teacher, this topic of gender identification is one we are starting to see more and more in our schools.  This book gave me a much stronger understanding of a child going through a struggle like this.  I can't relate to it at all, but hearing Grayson's thoughts and feelings helped me understand so much better.  Through his story, I could see how clearly he feels like a girl, and how it's just such a natural thing for him.  The way it was shown in the book was so natural and straight forward that it made it easier for me to see and understand.

The character of Grayson is so well done.  He's a sweet kid lost in so much confusion.  He hasn't had an easy time since both his parents died, so not only is he dealing with what he's feeling and wanting, he's also dealing with it alone to a degree.  Yes he has his aunt and uncle, but they aren't his parents.  Some wonderful things happen, that help him work through this.

I want to take a moment to talk about the reactions of other characters to Grayson.  Some I thought were very realistic, and some I thought were a tiny bit too easy.  Grayson's aunt has a really hard time with the whole situation.  She basically wants him to not do this, so he doesn't get hurt or teased.  While I understood that (that's the part that would scare me if Grayson was my child!), I also wanted to yell at her to support him and let him be happy! Her reaction I felt was the most realistic although frustrating as well.  The reaction of some of the kids at Grayson's school were both realistic and a tiny bit unbelievable.  As someone who works in a middle school, I think there might have been more bullying etc than was shown in the book - although it's clearly in the book! 

In the end I found it to be a wonderful book that really helped me think and understand.  I hope anyone who reads it, reads with an open mind and at least gains some understanding from Grayson.

Sidenote - This book is for  middle school students.  I realize some people would question that, but as someone who spends 9 hours a day with kids this age - most would have less questions or concerns about the topic than parents would.  

May 20, 2015

"Spooky Girl" or "Person in the Woods" Book Covers

Lately I've noticed a trend in book covers.  It's the "spooky girl" or "person in the woods" cover.
With just a quick look on Amazon I found these, and I know there are more.
I like them a lot because I like spooky books, but I'm wondering if it's not getting a little over done.

What do you think???

May 17, 2015

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Book Review - The Boys in the Boat 

Title: The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown

A beloved story about the Greatest Generation
freshly adapted for the next generation

Berlin, 1936. The Olympic finals of the eight-oared rowing race. Germany, Italy, USA. The American boat touches the finish line first, beating all odds and sending Hitler away in a silent rage. In the midst of the Great Depression, the nine rowers showed the world what true grit really meant. They were western, working-class boys who never expected to beat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did. At the center of the tale is Joe Rantz, whose personal struggle—and ultimate triumph—captures the spirit of his generation, the one that would prove in the coming years that the Nazis could not prevail over American determination and optimism.

This deeply emotional yet easily accessible middle-grade 
adaptation of the New York Times bestselling The Boys in the 
Boat shows readers how we can find hope in the most desperate of times.

Let me begin by saying that I am an avid reader - an avid reader of fiction - so to pick up a nonfiction book is quite difficult for me.  Being that I have asked my students this past school year to broaden their horizons and read genres that they normally wouldn't, I have expected the same for myself and have read a few nonfiction books as well.  At times, I have struggled to reach the end of these nonfiction books, but this was not the case for The Boys in the Boat.  

Brown writes in the prologue, "But it was when [Joe] tried to talk about 'the boat' that the tears welled up in his bright eyes."  I could picture Joe Rantz, the main focus of the book, talking with Daniel Brown and having this immense pride for what he and the rest of the crew accomplished and yet knowing he would never experience that again.  It was clear from the prologue that being on the crew meant the world to Joe, and his story needed to be told.  

I truly enjoyed this book, but I had to put myself in the shoes of a middle school reader, as that is who this version of the book is written for.  Yes, there is the adult version, so grab that if you are looking for a more in-depth read.  For a middle grade reader, though, this book is as in-depth as it needs to be.  The story of Joe, his family, and their struggles is one that is told with honesty.  I was so frustrated and angry at times that I wanted to yell at Joe's dad and step-mother Thula. Joe's ability to survive on his own at such a young age, put himself through college, and win the gold in the Olympics makes him seem super-human, but Brown makes Joe easily accessible and relatable to the reader - especially a middle school reader.  Middle school students can easily relate to the topics of growing up, overcoming adversity, belonging, and "dreaming big." The Boys in the Boat kept me turning the pages, and it will keep any reader, young and old, captivated with the story of the hard-working boys from Washington who did what only the elite from the East Coast could supposedly do. 

From advanced readers to readers who are still developing, kids will want to read this book!  (And so will adults!)

May 15, 2015

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell

Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. 

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the the teacher's the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

I've had this book sitting on my shelf for a little bit.  The other night I was going through my books and saw.  It looked quick, and I knew it had been a Newbery Honor book, so I decided it was time to read it.  3 hours later I had finished it!

It was really good.  I loved how it gave an inside view of how it feels to been seen as different and how much she just wanted to be seen as just like everyone else.  I mean we all know this, but this story gave me a glimpse at the inner dialog of a young girl going growing up feeling that way.  It truly helped me gain a clearer understanding.

As a teacher, I've had students that use the amplifier talked about in the book.  So the whole part of the story where Cece can hear the teacher using it even when she's out of the classroom made me giggle because we were told to make sure to turn it off for certain situations. Using the bathroom was one situation we were told clearly to make sure we turned it off! So when Cece can hear her teacher in the bathroom, it really made me giggle!

This is a book I could see myself recommending to many middle schoolers.  It had a good message, it is semi-autobiographical, it is funny, and it has a good message.  Having a book that combines all that is wonderful because kids will enjoy the story and walk away with better understanding of the people around them. PLUS - they can relate to Cece just wanting to have a good friend.  Aren't all middle schoolers looking for that?  I couldn't ask for anything more.

Final thought:  Quick, fun and teachable but completely relatable.