Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt August 18, 2016

book cover2Ally knows she is different from the other kids. Reading is hard for her, almost impossible. She’s gotten good at hiding it from teachers, her mother, everyone. She’s become the master at creating a diversion, saying something funny, even getting sent to principal’s office if she has to, just to keep her secret. But her secret is draining to keep. It feels like she’s carrying a heavy weight that makes it hard to keep afloat. When she starts sixth grade, her teacher Mr. Daniels sees what’s really going on. It is a relief for Ally, like the weight has been taken from her shoulders. But can Mr. Daniels really help her? As far as she knows, there’s no cure for dumb.

This is a heartwarming story about a girl with dyslexia. It is both believable and unbelievable that her parents and previous teachers did not catch on to her struggles. I want to believe that someone would have noticed, but I’ve heard many stories about kids slipping through the cracks. I would recommend this story to upper elementary or younger middle schoolers who will be able to relate to Ally’s desperation to have her problems disappear and wanting to blend in with her classmates.

3 out of 5 stars

Advertisements
 

I Wish My Teacher Knew by Kyle Schwartz

Filed under: adult non-fiction,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 8:31 pm

book cover1Ms. Schwartz, a third grade teacher from Colorado, asked her students to fill in the blank. I wish my teacher knew ____. The answers, and therefore her understanding of her students, transformed her life as a teacher. After sharing her experiences on social media, teachers all over the world tried the exercise with astounding results. Some students’ answers are shared throughout the book as well as insights from teachers. Most of the book, however, is focused on how to create a community within the classroom and school and how to best help students who are struggling with personal challenges such as poverty, hunger, grief, and more.

As someone who wanted to be a teacher since she was 5, I read about this book in an article and couldn’t wait to read it. It was very interesting and really emphasized the important role teachers play in students’ lives. I felt that old pang of regret for changing my career path and never being a teacher. Teachers have a HARD job. I think many people fail to appreciate what an emotional bond teachers form with their students and how teachers care about students as people beyond (just?!) teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I wish the book would have had more of the students’ responses to the question. There was one per chapter, but I got the impression that the book would be filled with them, Post Secret-style. I also felt that sometimes the author was really touting all the great things she has done for her students. (Don’t get me wrong- She seems like a wonderful teacher.) Sometimes it gave me that panicked feeling that the world is a horrible place and there is little I can do to help. However, it also gave concrete suggestions for helping children feel included and safe. This book is definitely worth reading, especially if you are a teacher or work with children.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Longest Night by Andria Williams March 23, 2016

Longest NightBased on true events that took place in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1959-1961 as the military was experimenting with nuclear power, The Longest Night is a tale of family, trust, secrets, and the drama those things create. The story begins as Paul and Nat Collier and their two young daughters move to Idaho Falls. Paul has just completed training with the U.S. Army to be an operator at a small nuclear reactor 50 miles outside town. Nat, a free-willed California native, is adjusting to life raising two young girls in a small suburb taken over by military families. Both are figuring out how to navigate their new home, from uncomfortable dinner parties at the commanding officer’s house to the rumor mill generated by Army wives. When tension at Paul’s workplace leads to an unexpected deployment, Nat’s loneliness threatens to rip their relationship apart. Will their family survive when physical and emotional disasters strike?

This was a quiet drama set in an interesting period in recent history. It’s both comforting and frustrating to know that the joys and struggles of middle class Americans are essentially the same in 1959 as in 2016. The author’s note informs readers that Paul’s job and the disaster that occurs there are based in fact. I did a bit of research (read: Wikipedia) to find out more about Idaho Falls and its history and found myself wanting to reread parts of the book. Overall, I think the author did a nice job capturing that era and the life of a young Army wife stifled by social norms in a small town. I would recommend this book to adults who like historical fiction and family drama stories.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley March 11, 2016

War That Saved My LifeThe story begins as Ada is punished for looking out the window of the dingy one-bedroom London apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother Jamie. Ada is nine years old and has never been allowed to leave the apartment. Her mother tells Ada that people would be disgusted by her twisted foot. She accepts her lot in life. At least she has Jamie to keep her company. But when Jamie starts school and spends more and more time away, playing outside with his new friends, Ada realizes the little she has in life is slipping away.

Ada begins to prepare. For what, she doesn’t know. She teaches herself to walk on her crippled foot. It is painful, but she is used to pain. When Jamie comes home from school one day, he says a war is coming and they are sending the children away from the city into the safety of the country. Ada realizes this is her chance to escape her cruel mother, the nights spent locked in the cupboard as punishment for the slightest infraction, the life spent trapped. She and Jamie run away and find themselves thrust into the home of Susan Smith, a strange but kind woman. Ada finally has a life of freedom, but can she really trust that things are as good as they seem? Or do all good things come to an end?

This was an outstanding historical fiction novel about vulnerability, trust, and redemption. Ms. Bradley’s books pack an emotional punch and present history in an interesting and relatable way. I would recommend this to older children and teens. I also think this would be a great read aloud for a classroom.

5 out of 5 stars

 

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Filed under: ages 10-14,drama,fantasy,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 5:24 pm
Tags: , , ,

West of the MoonAstri’s father left Norway for America, promising to send for her and her sister as soon as he could. Unfortunately, her aunt and uncle sell her to a nasty goat farmer before she receives even one letter. After months of punishing physical labor and mistreatment, Astri escapes her captor, pausing only long enough to retrieve the mysterious girl also being held captive by the goatman and her younger sister. The strange trio must stay ahead of the goatman and make their way toward America, armed only with a stolen troll treasure, a magical hairbrush, and the hopes of fairy tales and their own imaginations.

This was an interesting story and a refreshing departure from the typical young adult novel. The descriptions of the Norwegian countryside and the ambiguity of the time period added to its fairy tale-like quality. An added bonus came in the author’s note at the end, explaining the story was inspired by a line from her great great grandmother’s diary. Norwegian words and folklore make for an intriguing tale. I would recommend this to teens and adults who like fairy tales and stories with a bit of magic.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Steep and Thorny WayThe story begins as Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and a black man, sets out with a small handgun hidden under her skirt to kill her father’s murderer. It’s almost too easy- Joe Adder is naked, bathing in the small pond behind the shed where he’s been hiding out since getting out of prison. But before she can pull the trigger, Joe tells her he’s innocent… and the true killer is closer to her than she might think. Hanalee needs answers and finds surprising friends and foes along the way. The Steep and Thorny Way is an atmospheric tale of racism, fear, intolerance, and friendship set in rural Oregon in the early 1920s.

This is my third Cat Winters book, and it’s been my favorite so far. Her books have all featured a strong female character who defies social norms and are historical fiction with a spooky supernatural twist. This book tackles some big issues (bigotry, the KKK, eugenics, homosexuality) in an interesting and engaging way. I appreciate historical background and author’s note at the end; they added context and acted as a springboard for further research on the subject. I also appreciated that story was romance-free. Yay, no stupid love triangles! I could see this as a good book club choice- lots of good discussion points. I would recommend this to teens and adults.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff February 9, 2016

Fates and FuriesFrom the outside, it seems young married couple Lotto and Mathilde are the perfect couple. They are madly in love, attractive, and intelligent. But marriage is never perfect, no matter how much we want it to be. The first half of the book focuses on Lotto, born Lancelot, the golden child. Beneath his charisma, good looks, and “life of the party” personality, he harbors a deep mourning for his childhood and the adoration of his mother. The second half of the book reveals the truth about Mathilde’s life pre-Lotto. The unshakably supportive wife of a genius is not without secrets of her own. This story reassures us, in its own dark way, that even the most picture-perfect are flawed and prone to cracking under the pressures of life.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was complex and well-written, but it had plenty of dark, uncomfortable moments. It dragged on in some scenes and didn’t give us enough in others. I didn’t care for the twist near the end and felt the story would have been fine, maybe even better, without it. Overall, though, I liked it and am still thinking about the characters days later. I would recommend this to adults who like drama and literary fiction.

3.5 out of 5 stars

 

 
%d bloggers like this: