May 29, 2015

New Wendy Mass Book!

How did I miss that Wendy Mass had a new book out????

This is part of her Willow Falls series of stories.

Angelina D'Angelo has left town to see the world. It's now Grace's turn to use her magic to protect the people of Willow Falls, and she is up to the challenge. This is her destiny, after all. But destiny is a funny thing-it doesn't always behave the way you'd expect it to.

Mysterious postcards from Angelina begin showing up in the mail, Grace's parents are freaking out with worry, and something BIG is coming to town that will affect everybody who lives there. But all Grace is powerful enough to do is turn leftover meatloaf into pizza.

Fortunately, she's not alone. She has Team Grace on her side! Amanda, Leo, Rory, Tara, David, and Connor know a thing or two about magic and how it works. But none of them are prepared for what's coming, and none of them know how to stop it. Life in Willow Falls is about to change forever.

So many of my middle grade girl students love Wendy Mass and this series, so I'm happy to see a new one!

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. 

May 13, 2015

I Now Have a Co-Blogger!!! Welcome Allison!

I'm so very very very excited to let you all know that The O.W.L. will now have two authors instead of just me!

This year I met a fantastic teacher new to my building.  And after a year of chatting about books and teaching I invited her to write on The O.W.L. with me.  She quickly said yes!

Allison teachers 5-8th grade English (just like I did), and loves to read middle grade and young adult books.  She also loves to get kids reading - and THINKING about what they read.  

So start watching for her reviews.  They'll be posting very soon.  And be sure to welcome her!

May 12, 2015

Release Day Blitz: The Wrath & The Dawn +GIVEAWAY

I am so excited that THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh releases today and that I get to share the news, along with a special introduction from Renée herself!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Renée Ahdieh, be sure to check out all the details below.
I was completely drawn in when I read the description. 

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a signed copies of the book and some beautiful book inspired scarves, courtesy of Renée, Penguin Teen, and Rockstar Book Tours. 
So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

A letter from Renée Ahdieh.

There are not enough words to express how thrilled I am to share THE WRATH AND THE DAWN with you! From the moment I typed the first word, I felt connected to Shahrzad and her world in a way that carried me through the long process of publication to where we are today. 

Everything about this process has been a dream come true, and hope you love my book half as much as I enjoyed writing it. In celebration of release day, I'll be giving away a signed, first edition hardcover of the book, as well as a gorgeous scarf . . . or two!

Always remember to make it a story worthy of you!


About The Book:

Author: Renée Ahdieh
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 388
A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all. 

About Renée:

Renée lives in North Carolina (Go Heels!) with her husband Victor and their dog Mushu. Her YA fantasy novel, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, will be published on May 12th, 2015. In her spare time, she likes to cook, dance salsa, and wreak havoc on the lives of her characters.
She’s also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, as well as an active member of theScience Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a hardcover of THE WRATH AND THE DAWN and a beautiful book inspired scarf (IMAGES BELOW)! US Only.

Ends on May 22nd at Midnight EST!

May 11, 2015

Snap Shot Reading: Gracefully Grayson

Here's the book I've been reading lately.  
I'm really enjoying it.
Watch for a review soon!

First Line: If you draw a triangle with a circle resting on the top point, nobody will be able to tell that it's a girl in a dress.

May 8, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Copy Obtained: Bought

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

So this one is going to be hard to review for one simple reason - I'm afraid I'll give something away!! 

The short review would be:

Love it! Read it!

But I suppose you want more than that.  

Do you like: Mysteries - unreliable narrators - watching clues appear and unravel - saying "I knew it!"?  Then read this book.  I love mysteries.  I think I love them because I know they are something I could never write.  I can't fathom how someone can line of the story so precisely so that it pulls you in, makes you question and then unravels it bit by bit until it all falls together.  It just amazes me.  And this book does it so well! 

The character: The main character is Rachel.  I liked her but yet I didn't.  I got why she felt the way she did - divorced - depressed.  But at points I was like "girl grow up!".  What I really liked is that she was written in a way that I never knew how much of what she said I could trust.  Did she really see what she thought or was she reading into it?  Did that really happen?  This started right at the start of the story for me and continued all the way.  It helped keep my curious and intrigued.

I won't say much more other than over and over I thought I had it figured out only to be wrong.  I had to  keep reading because I had to know! Even my husband noticed saying "This book really has you doesn't it.  You aren't putting it down."  Actually that should've been my whole review, because if he noticed that says something!

Last thought:  For my first "adult" novel in a long time it was a winner.  

May 6, 2015

Undertow by Michael Buckley Blog Tour - Book Review +Giveaway!

Very excited today to be part of the blog tour hosted by Rock Star Book Tours for Michael Buckley's new book Undertow.  
I have enjoyed his middle grade books, so I was super excited to see this YA book.

About the Book
Author: Michael Buckley
Pub. Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 384
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga, a blend of District 9 and The Outsiders. 

About Michael:
New York Times bestselling author Michael Buckley was born in Akron, Ohio. He tried his hand as a stand-up comic and lead singer for a punk rock back before attending Ohio University. After graduating with honors he moved to New York City to be an intern on the Late Show with David Letterman which led to stints developing programming for Discovery Networks, MTV, MTV Animation and Klasky Csupo (producers of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats). Today he lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, Alison, and their son Finn. 

Twitter  | Goodreads

Ok I was excited to read this book because I have loved Michael Buckley's middle grade books.  My kids and I listened to the first N.E.R.D.S. book while go to and from school.  So when I had the opportunity to read this book for this blog tour I was super excited.  

That said I went into the story very optimistic.  And to be honest - at first I wasn't overly thrilled.  But as I kept reading something happened.  I got more and more and more involved in the story and in the characters.  I became curious about how Lyric would come through this, and more curious about who the Alpha were and what the full story behind them were.  I wanted to know the answers - Could they be trusted? Why were they here? How does Lyric fit with them? The summary hints at a bigger threat - what is that threat? I found that every time I put the book down, I had to pick it up again because I wanted to know.

I wish I could pinpoint exactly what I liked, but it's hard to do. So I'll list some things I liked instead:

  • I liked Lyric.  She wasn't a quitter or reserved or one to sit back.  She came out swinging whenever she needed to!
  • I liked Lyric's friend Bex.  She had a rough life, and her story really grew on me.  I felt for her.
  • I liked Doyle even tho I still don't know if he can be trusted.  You'll learn about him when you read the book!
  • I liked the description of all the different Alpha.  It was fun to try and picture them!
  • I liked that Lyric had migraines because I get them, so I could relate.
  • I liked the ending even though I need the second book now!
  • I liked Fathom.  He became much more filled out as the story went along and that was part of what hooked me in.

Over all - Fun, quick, fast-paced read that pulled me in and long like the tide (see what I did there!)

Giveaway Details:
5 winners will receive a prize pack that contains an Undertow beach towel, beach bag, bookmark, a finished book. 
US Only.


Tour Schedule

Week One:
4/27/2015- Melissa's Eclectic BookshelfInterview
4/28/2015- Library of a Book WitchReview
4/29/2015- Moonlight Gleam ReviewsBook Trailer Post
4/30/2015- Word SpelunkingReview
5/1/2015- Bewitched BookwormsBook Excerpt

Week Two:
5/4/2015- For the Love of WordsReview
5/5/2015- Novel Novice - Guest Post
5/6/2015- The O.W.L.Review
5/7/2015- Mom With A KindleInterview
5/8/2015- Literary Meanderings  - Sneak Peek of Book 2 Post

May 2, 2015

I Met Sarah Dessen!!!!!!

A few weeks back I received an email inviting me to a pizza dinner with Sarah Dessen in celebration of her new book Saint Anything

I couldn't believe it! Sara Dessen!
The media specialist I work with came along, and we got to sit around a table and chat with her.  It was amazing. 

She did talk a bit to the whole group about where the book came from and how it was a story she had wanted to write for a long time, but she could just never get it down right.  Finally the way to tell the story came to her and Saint Anything was written!

Here are pictures.
We had pizza because of the role it has in the book.  
Plus on the table were suckers - also part of the book :)

She signed our books

With her

My good friend with her

It was an amazing evening!!