Review Scythe by Neal Shusterman



I waited too long to read Scythe and this review might have taken me even longer to write! When I first heard about Scythe, I was apprehensive about the premise and honestly, a little unnerved by it, but I could not be more impressed with Shusterman’s first book in the Arc of a Scythe series!

In this futuristic setting, natural death has become a thing of the past; an almost omnipotent AI, know as the Thunderhead, runs the world and ensures its safety. Nanotechnology has helped humankind regulate their pain, emotional state, and ability to heal quickly. The Thunderhead is there to support humankind at a macro and micro level. It contains all of humanity’s knowledge and can communicate with each individual person to serve as a trustworthy confidant. The Thunderhead has brought an end to war, corruption, sickness, and poverty (save those who choose to live monasteries and try to maintain a connection to the past mortal world ways) The only area the Thunderhead does not involve itself is within the realm of population control. Scythedom was created by humankind as a way to control the population. Those individuals who show themselves to be morally principled, and who often do not want the job, are the ones usually selected for this honor, but not always…

Shusterman uses this world and two young scythe apprentices, Citra & Rowan, who tragically must compete against each other in a life and death contest for a job neither of them wants, to explore our morality in a world without natural mortality. Shusterman masterfully ties together friendship and love, revenge and forgiveness, political intrigue and how what we believe when it comes to right, wrong, and the shades of in-between shapes not only who we are but the world we live in.

Although certainly dark at times and humourous at others, more than anything else, this is one thought-provoking tale. I can’t wait to read book two in 2018!


Quick Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

24974996Dear Martin is a powerful debut story by Nic Stone that I couldn’t stop reading and have continued to think about long after I turned the last page.

Along with the March Trilogy, All American Boys & The Hate U Give, I highly recommend Dear Martin to adults and teens alike.


Our staff book club is also reading this amazing book in May!


Review: The Dam Keeper

My students love graphic novels. Our school library’s circulation is something like 30-35% graphic novels with graphic novels making up about 10% of the total collection.

I would guess my classroom library numbers are similar. It’s with that in mind that I am always on the lookout for new fascinating graphic novels sure to grab my students’ attention!

With a stunning premise, a fun cast of characters, and mystery worth the dare of diving into, The Dam Keeper is a book you are going to want to have in your school, classroom, or home collection (Maybe even all three if you are lucky)!

Anyone who has ever enjoyed series such as Bone, Amulet, The Last Airbender, and The Nameless City will surely appreciate the complex33163372 world Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi have created and will definitely be anxiously awaiting the next installment in this cool series!

No need to hold back on purchasing this one, The Dam Keeper comes out 9.26.17 🐷💨

Review: Writing Radar by Jack Gantos

33155333In the fall of 2015, I briefly met Jack Gantos at the ALAN Workshop during an author signing.

During that brief encounter I asked him to sign a book to “Spud Readers.” He stopped and took out a small sticky notes with a sly grin and began writing as he looked up at me and said something around the lines of, “Wow so are you saying your school’s mascot is a potato? That is pretty funny. Spuds, huh?! I hope they like my book as much as I like their mascot’s name.” In those brief moments I saw a man who delights in the world, is inquisitive, and naturally funny.

Little did I know at the time, his sticky notes were a piece of his writing process for snooping out stories!

Writing Radars mixes great writing advice with classic Jack Gantos’ storytelling to show readers how stories are all around us and how the world can offer us a great number of story ideas if we are listening carefully, and have ways of writing ideas down when they come to us!

Gantos’ uses a tiny wallet journal, pocket notepad, sticky notes and a larger journal to capture his thinking as he begins to craft his stories.

Gantos’ examples of how to utilize the world and your journal for stories is accessible and very easy to follow. At one point he encourages the reader to find where their last name would be in the library and ask them to make a promise to themselves that they will write a book and get it published. From inspiring moments like this to concrete examples of how to craft stories and make them better, Jack has added yet another wonderful book about the power of stories and the need for us (the readers) to write our own!

I can’t wait to share Jack’s book this fall as my students and I work on crafting our own stories!

The Real Us Blog Tour: An Interview With Tommy Greenwald

The Real Us Interview Image

I know your series Charlie Joe Jackson was inspired by your three sons, and at the time, their lack of interest in reading. I am curious where your inspiration came to write The Real Us?


That’s a good question! I remember the first thing that popped into my head (no pun intended) was the image of the most beautiful girl in school trying to deal with a giant pimple in the middle of her nose. I was assuming it would be a comical novel at first, as most of my books had been humorous up to that point (at least that was the goal), but the more I thought about it and developed the idea, I realized this could be my first story that goes a little deeper into the issues and emotions that middle-schoolers face. 


The Real Us deals with middle school students trying to sort out who they are, beyond the labels others give them, and what they truly care about. It’s definitely a challenge for many kids who are influenced by any number of factors that can shape how they view themselves. Do you have any advice for young people trying to navigate the waters of middle school as they also work to better understand their real self?


Well, I always urged my own kids to try to reach beyond labels, and beyond their own interests and intimate social groups, to see what else, and who else, was out there. Buried deep within the silliness of my very first book, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING, is a bit of a message about the dangers of being too clique-y, so I guess it’s something that I’ve been interested in for a long time.


What helps you most in regards to writing teen dialogue like in The Real Us?


I’m honestly not sure. I think having three kids may have helped via osmosis. Also I try to make sure never to write down to kids. Although the vocabulary and rhythm of language has to be realistic and age-appropriate, there’s no reason that teen dialogue can’t be as interesting, witty and thought-provoking as adult dialogue. Perhaps even more so. 


Damian’s condition, hyperhidrosis was one I hadn’t heard of before, but I was thrilled to see this human experience represented in your story. What inspired you to include it? 


Ha! Good question. I do have a few friends (adults) who deal with this issue, so I think that might be where it comes from.


By my count, you’ve published 12 books for young people in the last seven years (13 by the end of this year if I am counting correctly). That’s incredible! What kind of routines do you have to help you along in the writing process from your initial idea to the final publication?


I live in Connecticut and work in New York City, so I write on the train going back and forth. I also write on the weekends at the bookstore or library. The one place I never write is home! I consider home sacred ground for TV, naps and playing with the dogs. I also need noise and chaos to write. As Charlie Joe Jackson said, “I can’t concentrate unless I have a lot of distractions.”


For the first time this year, my students are going to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What advice would you give to young writers interested in writing their own stories? What would you encourage them to do when they get stuck?


I’m a slave to synopsis. I can’t start the actual writing of a book unless I map out the story in three acts, ahead of time. I learned that the hard way back in the old days, when I’d dive into an idea, get stuck in the middle and abandon the whole thing in frustration. So now I create the story first. It can, and will, change a great deal during the actual writing, but as long as the major beats are there, like guideposts ahead, I feel like I can eventually get to where I’m going. Anyone can have an idea — but not everyone can finish a story! 


Finally, my students and I are always on the lookout for great books. Beyond your awesome books, what are some books written for young people you would recommend to middle school students?

For comedy fans, I recommend the Tapper Twins stories by Geoff Rodkey and Creature From My Closet By Obert Skye. Everyone knows the I Survived stories by Lauren Tarshis, but before those she wrote two Emma-Jean Lazarus stories that are terrific. And if you can find it somewhere, check out The Bully From Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. It was my favorite book as a kid!


7 August Ms. Yingling Reads, review

8 August Maria’s Melange —Why I Wrote The Real Us

9 August Log Cabin Library Review, publisher’s description

10 AugustDiary of a Happy Librarian Review

11 August Always in the Middle  Make ‘Em Laugh

14 AugustRandomly Reading Review

15 August One Great Book Review

16  AugustUnleashing Readers  Giveaway

17  August Mr. D. Reads Interview

18  August Tommy Greenwald Giveaway

Apollo By George O’Connor


He was stunning.

He was an inspiration.

He was ruthless & vengeful.

Apollo was pure bliss and pure sorrow but nothing in between.

As always, O’Connor delivers a great narrative based on his research and artistic style. But in this collection, I especially enjoyed the creative use of episodic stories from the point of view of seven of the muses themselves. In doing so, O’Connor creates much needed distance between the reader & the nearly unknowable & tragic Greek God, Apollo.

The unique narrative style makes this addition both enjoyable and solid stand alone book. When viewed from a lens within the series, I will be interested in seeing how these tales contribute to the overall flow of the series after it’s all said and done!

May Apollo’s stories shine brightly for readers everywhere!

Thank you to :01 First Second for providing me with this copy in exchange for an honest review. This post marks one of ten in I plan to write in celebration.


Quick Review: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin


Steve Sheinkin has written an unputdownable book about the Presidents during the Vietnam War, and a man who went from being a United States military analyst to eventually being called the most dangerous man in America by Henry Kissinger after leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post. Timely and utterly fascinating, Most Dangerous, a National Book Award Longlist selection, is one you won’t want to miss.

Most Dangerous comes out on Tuesday, September 22, 2015.

The ABC Book of Books

ABC BookMy family has a tradition of making gifts for each other during the Christmas holidays. Over the years I’ve stitched scarfs, made sock monkeys, written stories, and created more gifts that have failed to be as great as I had hoped for than I would like to admit. In those cases, I always tried to include chocolate or movie tickets as a way of saying I was sorry.

Last year’s gift was a struggle. I didn’t know what I wanted to make my aunt. You see, she is one of the most creative people I know, so I spent nearly the entire year doubting any and all ideas I came up with. This was especially true since I’d given her the scarf stitched from bright Japanese fabrics six years prior, and I didn’t have any idea how to top it.

After failing to come up with anything over most of the Thanksgiving holiday, my mind wandered back to a book I’d recently read, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Four of the final poems have stuck with me since I first read Woodson’s wonderful story. In that moment, I realized my aunt would love Jacqueline’s memoir in verse, which made me wonder what else I might recommend to her. I recognized, thanks to The Nerdy Book Club and colleagues from my school, I had been inspired to read more over the last five years, and now I had a unique opportunity to pay some of that Kid Lit knowledge forward to someone I care about and knew would appreciate some stellar stories and share them with others. To put it another way, I had as Kate DiCamillo might say, a capacious collection of book recommendations in my heart from over the years

Far too many to give at one time, in fact. I needed some parameters.

And with that, my ABC Book of Books was born.  For my aunt, I limited my choices to mostly middle grade and picture books. I didn’t count the word “The” or “A” if it was the first word in the title of the book. For instance, Kwame Alexander’s brilliant book, The Crossover finds its spot at the letter C, while Linda Sue Park’s  A Long Walk to Water is located in the L spot.

Creating this project was a fun exercise in looking back on aspects of one’s reading life. Some letters were certainly easy to select a title while others letters caused me more stress than I would like to admit. The letter W for instance was agonizingly difficult to pick just one book while the letters X and U were relatively easy.

My favorite part of this project however was that throughout the creation of this homemade book of curated recommendation, my aunt was front and center in my mind. Would she appreciate Conor’s story and his encounters with the monster? What were some books that might make her laugh? Which stories might make her cry? What stories would make her heart evermore capacious and joyful? Even after I curated this book, I feared it might not be what I had hoped it was, and in a moment of self doubt, I added a gift card to a book store just in case I needed to say sorry. Thankfully to date, my aunt has enjoyed the books she’s read from this collection, and I’m looking forward to the next time we meet, so I can talk with her more about the titles below.

Over the next few weeks I’m planning on finishing a few other specific ABC Book of Books collections, and I would be interested in seeing what others come up with as well.

Creating ways to share our passions for reading and books helps them spread.  Which books would make ABC of Books?




Brown Girl Dreaming


The Crossover















































What books would make your ABC Book of Books?

Thankful: A #Classroombookaday Reflection

Thank You(1)

In the fall of 2014 I read this great post written by Jillian Heise (@heisereads) about her plans to read a picture book a day to her students. I was intrigued by this because like her students, mine have often referenced read alouds as something they’ve wished I would do more frequently. Books like I Want My Hat Back, We Are In A Book!, and many others have always created such buzz and have contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere. I couldn’t help but wonder what a #bookaday read aloud might look like in my own classroom.

Our class schedule had recently changed to provide more time in the classroom, and so I knew time wise, I could make this happen. In January of 2015, I decided to take the dive. My plan was to try daily read alouds for a month and go from there. Students’ feedback at the end of the month was essentially unanimous: “Mr. D., we love this! Please keep it going!”

And so we did, save the month of April, when my awesome student teacher was full-time teaching and working to meet her program’s requirements on an already tightened schedule due to state testing. To my surprise, at the end of the year, daily read alouds were voted the most popular common reading experience, beating out other class favorites such as The Outsiders and The Giver.  In an attempt reflect and to share some of what I learned during this half year experiment, below I’d like to share some observations and a few of my students’ reflections about daily read alouds.

My Observations

  • Daily read alouds helped bring more laughter and built stronger relationships within our learning community
  • It created even more acceptance for each student’s individual reading identity
  • Daily read alouds inspired a few of my students to ask me if they could read aloud passages to their classmates, and the popularization of what I’m calling, “grassroots choral reading” of certain read alouds like Micheal Hall’s Cat Tales and Anna Kang’s You Are (Not) Small. Grassroots as in students were the ones who suggested the class all participate in the reading these texts.
  • It inspired unexpected projects, like drafting a letter to Mac Barnett & Adam Rex to request a Blue Whale for our school pet, and a student created wake for a wood tick which included an obituary, eulogy and over twenty students in attendance one early morning (Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, which in reality could be a blog post in and of itself), and a hilarious discussion on where Sam and Dave really end up. Please excuse these pun-filled theories:
“They fell into a… Pear-adox!”
“No, a Pear-allel dimension!”
“Are you sure it wasn’t Pear-adise?!”
“Well whatever THAT was, I bet they wish they had brought two Pear-achutes and more animal crackers!”
  • Daily read alouds also gave me lots of opportunities to connect back to our reading and writing lessons, something I hope do more of in the 2015-2016 school year.

Student feedback on their favorite common reading experience:

  • Daily read alouds because it helped me get ready and excited for class.
  • Daily read alouds because it let me and everyone embrace their inner childhood. (Different variations of this were mentioned 15 plus times)
  • Picture book read alouds! I have never laughed in a class so much.
  • Picture book a day! I loved the books. I even bought three books you read for my little brother.
  • Picture books at the start of each class. It just seemed to lighten the mood. It was also funny and made me happy.
  • Picture books because you never knew what might happen at the start of class.
  • I liked the read alouds, especially the one where we had to read using the big and little voices together. [You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang]

Jillian, thank you for your generosity in sharing this idea with us all! It has already brought so much joy, surprise, and positivity into my classroom. I’m so excited to see this project through an entire school year and to watch as this #ClassroomBookADay Community grows!

Review Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead


When I read a tweet by Anne Ursu about Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, calling it both “brilliant and a structural marvel,” I knew this was a book I wanted to get a hold of as soon as possible. I mean this tweet was coming from the author who fit Joe Mauer and the Snow Queen into the same book! That and structural marvels are about as rare as a windless day on the frozen prairies of western Minnesota.

So when Goodbye Stranger hit Netgalley, I put in a request for it right away.

I’m so glad I did.

This is a tale about so many important topics like friendship, survival, family, divorce, love, existence, honesty, bravery, digital citizenship, change, regret, individuality, shame, relationships, revenge, and courage, but to try to call it any one of these items fails to express that more than anything else, Goodbye Stranger is one heck of a story.

Stead creates believable middle school, high school, and adult characters here who both stumble and soar. Humanity and our relationships are so beautiful and yet so messy, and I think Stead captures this truth with such clarity. The moments of vulnerability she’s able to share through her characters makes it so.

And structural marvel it is most definitely.

I was blown away to find chapters written in the second person to create a sense of mystery in which a high school student struggles to balance her friendships. Sherm, one of my favorite characters, write letters to his grandfather, who suddenly left his grandmother after decades of marriage, that he never sends but notes how many days are left until his birthday. All the while, Stead develops a brilliant narrative focused mainly on three friends trying to survive seventh grade, and several well developed subplots, including the two mentioned above, the girls’ families, Sherm and Bridge’s friendship, and a several other relationships that all become so interconnected, I’m left wondering how many revisions this story must have gone through to make everything work so flawlessly.

When we read stories like this, the world certainly seems less strange and definitely more hopeful.

Finally I’ve read several critiques that say this book is confusing, and a few that suggest that young people won’t like it as much as adults. These critiques remind me of some critiques I’ve read of Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman: Too dark. Too confusing. Too adult. Too etc. Starmer’s trilogy to date (two of three books have been published), has been one of the most popular reads for my eighth graders in the past two years. I think this due directly to its complexity and stunning storytelling. Starmer’s trilogy has broken new ground for many of my students as readers. Although certainly less frightening than The Riverman and its sequel The Whisper, I think when given the opportunity to forge into new reading territory, such as with a structural marvel like Goodbye Stranger, many middle and even high school students will relish the time they spend with this excellently woven tale.

Don’t say, “Goodbye,” until you’ve said, “Hello,” to Goodbye Stranger.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

Rating: All-The-Stars
Age Recommendation: 12 and up

Book received via Netgalley