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People Are Like Plants: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Bonjour!

Today is my Husband’s birthday! I think he’s pretty awesome so Happy Happy Birthday to him!

HusbandOkay, on to more bookish things! Since my school is an International Baccalaureate World School, I’m always on the lookout for titles that have a global focus. TSerafina's Promise by Ann E Burghis is why I had high hopes when I started reading Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg.

Serafina has
a secret dream.

She wants to go to school
and become a doctor
with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But in their rural village
outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
many obstacles
stand in Serafina’s way–
little money,
never-ending chores,
and Manman’s worries.

More powerful even
than all of these
are the heavy rains
and the shaking earth
that test Serafina’s resolve
in ways she never dreamed.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful,
this exquisitely crafted story
will leave a lasting impression
on your heart.

Serafina’s Promise gets points for being a beautifully written novel. But it also get’s points for having an international (non USA) setting, and extra points for being a novel in verse! This book has it all…a librarian’s dream!

This book is set up into three clearly cut parts. To start out, we meet Serfina a preteen Haitian girl living in extreme poverty. Serafina is responsible for hiking to gather the family’s daily water provision but we quickly learn that she deeply desires to go to school and one day become a doctor. I’m impressed with the way Serafina is written because it’s impeccably realistic. Serafina is very innocent, yet she struggles with jealousy toward her friend who can afford to go to school. She deeply loves her family and sick baby brother yet is resentful towards her worried mother’s strictness. Despite living in a different setting Serafina’s realistic character allows teens from more privileged circumstances to connect with her.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the setting. The descriptions of Serafina’s home, the flood scenes, and the city details after the earthquake, it is clear that this story takes place in Haiti, not just any random developing nation. The Haitian Creole words sprinkled in throughout the verse only add to that already strong sense of place. Sometimes non English words in a story can distract the reader, but these fit in well and are usually easily understood based on context, however there is a Haitian Creole glossary in the back of the book to help with this further (*the educator in me cheers in delight!*).

And to make this book that much better, while reading I stumbled upon a few short lines that immediately became one of my favorite quotes ever. To set the scene Serafina is working on a garden with the help of Gogo, her grandmother who praises Serafina’s hard work with the plants.

“Gogo’s word make me feel taller.

People really are like plants -

kind words make them grow.”

Serafina’s Promise is one that is strongly recommend to middle grade readers because it is such a sincere and well written story. I also think it could be a very powerful book in a classroom or book group setting, so teachers and librarians…have at it!

Author: Ann E. Burg

Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 24, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 304 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

 

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Break-Up Artist

Hi everyone!

For today’s Waiting on Wednesday I wanted to showcase The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 

After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegeldreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she’ll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity. No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

Doesn’t this sound like an really interesting contemporary read? I’m so intrigued by the idea of being paid to break people up…I mean I wouldn’t want the job, but it does sound like it could pay pretty well! haha Also, that is a pretty cool cover…its so different from what we normally see in YA today that it will really stand out on the shelf!

The Break-Up Artist is scheduled for release on April 29.

What do you think? Are you excited about this one too?

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It’s Real Life: The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante

Howdy!

The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette VigilanteI’ve been working my way through the fifteen Florida Sunshine State books this summer like I usually do.  I was recently able to finish my fourth book out of the fifteen, The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante.

Ever since her brother’s death, Dellie’s life has been quiet and sad. Her mother cries all the time and Dellie lives with the horrible guilt that the accident that killed her brother may have been all her fault.
But Dellie’s world begins to change when new neighbors move into her housing project building. Suddenly men are fighting on the stoop and gunfire is sounding off in the night. In the middle of all that trouble is Corey, an abused five-year-old boy, who’s often left home alone and hungry. Dellie strikes up a dangerous friendship with this little boy who reminds her so much of her brother. She wonders if she can do for Corey what she couldn’t do for her brother-save him.

I’m predicting now that this will be a popular one at school based on two things. First, the cover and second the story itself.  A lot of my students pick fiction covers based on if the characters look like them or not. It happens. It is what it is and I sometimes do the same thing. I know my students, and what they check out and talk to their friends about and they’ll like this book for the story too. I’ve mentioned before that a very popular book in my Media Center is A Boy Called It, which tells the  story of a young boy who is abused by his mother. Because The Trouble with Half a Moon deals with a similar narrative, I’m pretty sure my students will be interested. What can I say, they’re intrigued by other people’s pain. I think its part of trying to understand the world we live in.

The Trouble with Half a Moon is the deeply moving and also troubling story of a girl named Dellie who is struggling with intense guilt over her little brother’s recent death, and simultaneously trying to save an abused little boy, Corey, in her apartment building. Dellie is a realistic character dealing with two very real situations. She is compassionate and knows when to stand up against wrong doing, but she is also struggling to break free from the sadness that has overtaken her family, especially her mother. )

The most troubling thing about this book is Corey’s story.  Troubling because it is real life.  Corey’s story happens all the time, I know because I work in the public school system and come in contact with kids who have stories like Corey’s.  His mother, in all her badness and sadness is real too.

What I really appreciate about The Trouble with Half a Moon is that solutions don’t come easy for these characters and the ending is not wrapped up in a tight and pretty bow. The reader is left wondering at the possibilities but is allowed a snapshot into the beginning of Dellie’s family’s road to recovery.  There is hope, which is what is most important, I think.

This book was at times, difficult to read, but I’m so glad I did.  I’d recommend The Trouble with Half a Moon to middle school aged readers and up, but because there is some tough stuff in this book parents you should really read it too and talk about the subject matter with your kids.

Author: Danette Vigilante

Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile (January 6, 2011)

Format: Paperback

Length: 181 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: The Trouble with Half a Moon

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Rumors and Consequences: In Too Deep by Amanda Grace

Looks like a good day for a book review! But before we get to that, don’t forget you can still enter the Tempest Audiobook Giveaway until February 19!

In Too Deep by Amanda GraceI never meant for anyone to get hurt. All I wanted to do that night was make a play for Carter Wellesley. His heartless rejection was mortifying, but people got the wrong idea when they saw me leaving his bedroom, crying. That’s how rumors of rape started.

Now girls at school are pouring out their sympathy to me. Guys too. But not everyone’s on my side. The school has become a war zone and the threats are getting scary. What began as poetic justice has morphed into something bigger–forcing me to make a terrible choice.

I received In Too Deep by Amanda Grace from the publisher (Thank you Flux Books!) and was interested from the moment I read the jacket summary.

Although the plot of In Too Deep deals with sexual assault and rape, the story’s main plot line focuses on lies and how you can’t erase them.

One of the first things I noticed about this book is the honesty of the supporting characters. Take Nick for example. He is Sam’s best friend and has been for years. Although he does cherish their friendship and Nick is loyal, he is not afraid to call out Sam when she is wrong. Nick is not scared to say the things that may be difficult for Sam to hear, he knows its better for her to heat them. I appreciate this kind of loyalty and friendship portrayed in YA fiction, because often friends can be portrayed at loyal to a fault. This is reality. Real friendship is like that; real friends love you and aren’t hesitant to bring up the hard stuff.

Grace has written Sam’s character well. Sam is nowhere close to being perfect. The story starts with Sam making a dumb decision in an attempt to get a boy to notice her and then it’s like a dumb decision snowball that keeps getting bigger and bigger (I kept yelling at Sam in my mind!). Although Sam didn’t intend for the false rumors of rape to circulate around school, she also does nothing to stop them. Sam knows she’s in the wrong and has good intentions to put the stories to rest, but she just never gets up the courage to actually end it. Sam is a good person, but she makes bad mistakes. Sounds like me at that age and almost every other teenager I’ve ever known, which is why I think Sam’s character is well written. I think readers can relate to Sam.

Now, to the ending (without spoilers), I absolutely loved the ending especially the last few sentences (which I want to post but can’t because that would be wrong!). In the midst of tons of hardship and difficulty (brought on by the main character by herself) there is hope on the horizon, which is what made me really like this book.

Some people may be uncomfortable about middle schoolers reading In Too Deep based on the intense subject matter, but I think the lesson learned by the main character in the end is an important one for middle grade readers. That is why I would recommend this book to older middle schoolers and up who are looking for a realistic contemporary read.

Author: Amanda Grace

Publisher: Flux Books (February 8, 2012)

Format: Print ARC

Length: 228 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: In Too Deep

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Tough Girl Loves Nerd? Accidental Love by Gary Soto

Marisa is a Latina teenage girl with a volatile tempter. She goes to a rough school, can’t keep her mouth shut, and usually solves problems with her fists. While visiting her friend, Alicia, in the hospital, Marissa picks a fight with Alicia’s no-good, cheating boyfriend, Roberto and another guy who is with him. Somewhere in the brawl the other guy and Marissa accidentally take home each others cell phones. In order to get her phone back, Marisa has to call the guy who was hanging out with Roberto, only to discover he’s not Roberto’s friend, but is instead his math tutor. Marisa is intrigued by this nerdy guy, Rene, and agrees to meet him to exchange phones.

Once Marisa and Rene meet, however its obvious they’re drawn to each other and they become fast friends. Soon that friendship turns into romance as Marissa and Rene become inseparable. In order to bring up her grades, and improve herself overall (in addition to seeing Rene more), Marisa convinces her parents to let her transfer to Rene’s academically focused school by using her aunt’s address to register. Both Rene and Marisa have big plans to improve themselves culturally, they both try out for the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet; physically, Marisa strives to lose weight and Rene starts strength training; and emotionally, Marisa wants to work on her anger issues while Rene just wants to be cooler.

Although Rene and Marisa seem like such polar opposites they are good for one another and seem to balance each other out. But these differences (in addition to some outside forces) also cause some conflicts and issues in their budding relationship.

All in all this was a cute and meaningful read. Marisa and Rene are pretty realistic teenagers dealing with their own struggles and desires. The story is told through Marisa’s point of view, so you tend to see how multifaceted a character she is; feminine yet tough, vulnerable yet cynical, funny yet serious. Rene is also likeable, but you don’t see as many sides of him as you do with Marisa. The setting in which these two young lovers are placed in is also realistic; the starkness of Marisa’s high school versus the abundance in Rene’s.

I also loved the Spanish terms used throughout the novel. It helps you see how true to form the dialogue is. It’s common to hear Hispanic teens at my school using a mix of English and Spanish terminology, which is why I loved Soto’s use of it in Accidental Love. I haven’t read a lot of teen fiction that focuses on young Hispanic characters, other than books by Gary Soto. I know there are some more out there, I just haven’t encountered them yet. (If you can recommend others let me know please!)

The only thing I thought was slightly unrealistic was how easy it seems to be for these characters to transfer schools. In real life, would these characters get what they wanted most (to be with each other?). I don’t know, but I must sometimes remind myself that realistic fiction is still fiction. And that’s my only complaint!

Recommended for middle school aged readers and up.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Urban Fiction Titles

I work with awesome kids.  They’re creative, smart, hilarious (sometimes unintentionally so), and just generally good kids.  And just like me, they want to read books with characters they can relate to.  Because our school has really been promoting reading (more so than in the past) over the past two years, I’m having to work hard at keeping current with their reading desires.  What do a lot of my kids want?  Realistic books with characters who look and sound like they do.  What are some of the books they’re devouring and begging me to buy?

The Drama High series by L. Divine

The Bluford High series by various authors

The Good Girlz series by Reshonda Tate Billingsley

Adios to All the Drama by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

The So For Real series by Nikki Carter

At the Crossroads  by Travis Hunter

The Kimani Tru series by various authors

The Perry Sky series by Stephanie Perry Moore

The Hazelwood Trilogy by Sharon Draper

The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon Draper

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Book Trailer of the Week: Sunrise Over Fallujah

In honor of Veteran’s Day the Book Trailer of the Week is Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.  Some of my 8th grade boys have read this one and really liked it a lot.  I showed the book trailer last year on the morning announcements and had ten boys (who rarely read) come to the Media Center to request it (luckily we have 2 copies!).

So, thanks for all who give of themselves to serve our country!