Sunday, August 7, 2016

you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is a must read for teens and lovers of young adult literature. Told in alternating perspectives of the three main characters, this book is sure to become a life long favorite to be read and reread.

The three main characters live in Forrestville, Tennessee - a town named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Dill Early Jr. is a talented song writer. His father is a convicted criminal and his mother blames Dill for his father's imprisonment. Lydia Blankenship is an internet star who runs a famous fashion blog and dreams of leaving Forrestville for New York City. Travis Bohannon is a gentle giant who is obsessed with the fantasy series, Bloodfall, where he escapes regularly. Travis is an odd duck with a sad story of his own.

The Serpent King is Jeff Zentner's debut novel. He has been a guitarist and song writer, and his poetic style comes through in this beautifully written story.
About The Serpent King, Jeff says, "I wanted to write about young people who struggle to lead lives of dignity and find beauty in a forgotten, unglamorous place. Who wonder what becomes of dreams once they cross the county line. This book is my love letter to those young people and anyone who has ever felt like them, no matter how or where they grew up."

 My favorite bits from Dill's chapters:

And worse, somewhere, circling and flitting around that dread, was another awful feeling: nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.
 "I read somewhere that a lot of the stars we see don't exist anymore. They've already died and it's taken millions of years for their light to reach Earth," Dill said.
"That wouldn't be a bad way to die," Lydia said. "Giving off light for millions of years after you're gone."
"I think lives are more than the sum of their parts," Lydia said. "I don't think it's fair to measure them in accomplishments."
"Nothing stops when we're gone," Lydia said. "The seasons don't stop. This river doesn't stop. Vultures will keep flying in circles. The lives of the people we love won't stop. Time keeps unspooling. Stories keep getting written." 
And if you are going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

My favorite bits from Lydia's chapters:

"We should do things we're afraid of. It makes it easier every time we do it."
"I'm tired of many things," Mr. Burson said, fighting for composure. They turned. "I'm tired of watching children perish. I'm tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I'm tired of out living those I shouldn't be outliving. I've made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery. I needed to say that out loud to somebody other than my cats. Please take care of yourselves, my young friends." 

My favorite bit fromTravis's chapters:

"Writing is something you can learn only by doing. To become a writer, you need an imagination, which you clearly have. You need to read books, which you clearly do. And you need to write, which you don't yet do, but should."
And even though this comes in a Dill chapter, it belongs to Travis:

Rest, O Knight, proud in victory, proud in death.Let your name evermore be a light to those who loved you.Let white flowers grow upon this place that you rest.Yours was a life well lived, and now you dine in the halls of the Elders at their eternal feast. 

And, finally, my favorite bit from the author's website: 

"What’s funny is that I never set out to write a YA novel. What I really wanted to do was to write for young adults. And it happens that the best way to do that is by writing a YA novel. So that’s what I did. I think that’s such an amazing period of life, where you’re basically as intelligent as an adult, but the world and experience haven’t lost their newness. I remember the immediacy of feeling and wonder that accompanied those years of my life. There’s a magic there. I also love the way that young adults experience art and cling to the pieces of art that they love. I wanted to create something that would (hopefully) be loved and clung to."

Get this book for every teen you know! They will love and cling to it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

If you know someone (or if, like me, you are someone) who loves Hamilton: The Original Cast Recording...

be sure to share this list of all things Hamilton:

Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. This is the behind the scenes look at the creation and production of the hip-hop musical with footnotes by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Also, there's a song in the play that's not on the cast album: Tomorrow There'll Be More Of Us.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. This is the book that Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up on his way to vacation in Mexico. It's the 800-page biography that inspired Hamilton the musical. 

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz. This ten-dollar, founding father biography is the best read for middle grade scholars. "Don't be shocked when your history books mention me. I will lay down my life if it sets us free." This 100-page biography might satisfy most young Hamilton fans; but, there may be some who choose to "rise up" and listen to Chernow's audio book.

The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr by Judith St. George. This middle grade book introduces A.Ham and A. Burr: both were orphans, both were brilliant students, both studied law, both were war heroes, and both were politicians. Told in alternating chapters, this book catalogs the similarities and differences (Wait For It) of these two founding fathers who played major roles in the formation of the United States. 
Death doesn't discriminate/ between the sinners and the saints,/ it takes and it takes and it takes./ History obliterates./ In every picture it paints,/ It paints me and all my mistakes./ When Alexander aimed at the sky,/ He may have been the first one to die,/ But I'm the one who paid for it./ I survived but I paid for it./ Now I'm the villain in your history./ I was too young and blind to see./ I should've known./ I should've known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me./ The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.

The Most Famous Duel in American History: Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown. This illustrated middle grade book looks at the complicated relationship between Aaron and Alexander and gives a more sympathetic spin where Burr is concerned. "Even though we started at the very same time, Alexander Hamilton began to climb." (Non-Stop)

And for those who have fallen head over heals for Lin-Manuel Miranda, be sure to listen to the audio book of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (read by Lin-Manuel Miranda)
"I sure as hell don't want to study Alexander Hamilton." - Lin-Manuel Miranda (Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)

And for fans of the Tony Awards, be sure to watch the cast of Hamilton perform Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) and Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony acceptance speech for Best Score.

And, for learners and teachers: The New York Times The Learning Network's ideas for Learning with Hamilton. It is an amazing resource! Also check out School Library Journal's page of Teaching with Hamilton.

Finally, for fans of The White House performances of Hamilton: The 2009 Hamilton Rap, cast performance of Alexander Hamilton, cast performance of My Shot, and the #Ham4Ham West Wing Cabinet Battle.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Unproductive Ted

On a recent long plane trip I read Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. 

Every Exquisite Thing is the story of Nanette O'Hare, an average high school senior who has always done the right thing and followed the path chosen for her by her parents – that is until she is given a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper ... and it changes her life.

“And then one day you will look for you in the mirror and you’ll no longer be able to identify yourself—you’ll only see everyone else. You’ll know that you did what they wanted you to do. You will have assimilated. And you will hate yourself for it, because it will be too late.” 

After reading (and re-reading and re-reading) The Bubblegum Reaper, Nanette is full of questions about the book, and life in general, which leads her to seek out the paperback's writer. 

"Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you have to do it."

This book is for every high schooler...

“Then we talked a lot about our parents and how we didn't want to become them, but we had no other role models--or "maps," Alex kept saying. 'My father is a terrible map, mostly because he doesn't ever lead me anywhere.' And I thought about my parents being maps that led to places I didn't want to go-- and it made a shocking amount of sense, using the word maps to describe parents. It almost made you feel like you could fold Mom and Dad up and lock them away in the glove compartment of your car and just joyride for the rest of your life maybe.”

For every high school senior who needs to make big decisions...

“Sometimes you just have to pick a direction and make mistakes. Then you use what you learn from your failure to pick new, better directions so you can make more mistakes and keep learning.” 

For every teen who is attempting to insert their true self into the world...

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

Monday, April 25, 2016


This weekend I read Kate DiCamillo's new book, Raymie Nightingale. The book is beautiful and wonderful and loosely based on DiCamillo's childhood. The story is about loss and love and friendship and community.

It's the summer of 1975 and 10-year-old Raymie Clarke has a plan to enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. And, if Raymie intends to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, she must learn how to twirl a baton... enter Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante.

This book is absolutely perfect for the middle grade readers you know. It's perfect for anyone who needs to know that you are stronger than you think; that it takes a lot of bravery to be kind; that sometimes you think you can understand how the world works but not know why it exists.

Read the first five chapters HERE.

My favorite chapter is Chapter 21

My favorite quote:
"Beware of the brokenhearted," said the grandmother, "for they will lead you astray."
Outside it started to rain even harder.
"That's all of us, though, Granny, isn't it?" said Louisiana over the noise of the rain. "Aren't we all brokenhearted?"

Thursday, April 14, 2016

BOOKED: an inspiring gift for readers

Kwame Alexander's new book, BOOKED, is a reminder of the power of verse. It's a beautiful entry point for reluctant readers, an amazing look at the power of words, and an inspiring gift for readers.

Twelve-year-old Nick Hall has a passion for soccer, but is less enthusiastic about reading. However, BOOKED will nudge even the most reluctant reader to take a second look at words, language, other novels, and pop culture.

I loved the footnotes: malapropism, the amusing and ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with one of a similar sound. Here's an example: my English teacher, Ms. Hardwick, is a wolf in cheap clothing.


Ms. Hardwick's Honors English class
is one boring
required read
after another.
So you've become a pro
at daydreaming
while pretend-listening.

Huckleberry Finn-ished
Great discussion today, class.
I'm sure you all see why
Mark Twain is one
of our greatest literary
treasures, Ms. Hardwick says.

With only five minutes left in class,
it's probable she's forgotten
the assignment
she gave you,
which means
you're off the hook.

Tomorrow, we will begin
another classic
of children's literature.
One of my favorites,
Tuck Everlasting.

And your laughter gushes
like an open fire hydrant
'cause you could have sworn
You heard an F,
Instead of T.

She says,
from the French word limier.
I can tell you what it means right now, Ms. Hardwick.
Go right ahead, Winnifred.

Limerence is
the experience of being in love with someone,
commonly known as a crush,
but not any old crush.
A. Major. Crush.

*onomatophobia: fear of hearing a certain word. DEAD!!!!

Your Suggestion
Can we please choose
a book with a boy this time -
Weren't you listening? Winey interrupts. It is about
a boy.

Preferably in this time period, you continue.
I need a break from history, I'm just sayin'.
Like what? Winnifred whines.

Like Peace, Locomotion,
an epistolary novel, which
means a -

Great choice, April says, and winks

at you.

Get this book for all the readers and non readers you know. Get it in the hands of sports lovers, word lovers, and librarian lovers. This book will spread the idea... don't be afraid to show your intelligence.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bravo! Bravo!

Your Fate Is Not Yet Sealed.
Even In The Darkest Night, A Star Will Shine,
A Bell Will Chime, A Path Will Be Revealed.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a wonderful story within a story within a story. (phew)

The book begins with Otto and Mathilde playing hide-and-seek. It moves to three sisters, a kindhearted midwife, and a selfish witch. And then there is the harmonica and twelve-year-old Friedrich, eleven-year-old Mike Flannery, and fifth grader Ivy Lopez. The harmonica travels across years and continents and wars.

Echo is almost 600 pages of historical fiction, fantasy, fairy tale, magic! Even with its hefty size, Echo is a book you will want to read more than once.

The story contains a magical element around the power of music, and an audio version of the book is highly recommended. Hearing the musical pieces that Ms. Ryan uses in the book adds an extra emotional element to the narrative - as the characters get carried away by the music, so too can the listener.

Brahms' Lullaby, America The Beautiful, Auld Lang Syne, Some Enchanted Evening

Tonight, there was a brilliance in the hall, a communion of spirits, as if ... everyone were one, breathing in and out to the same tempo, feeling one another's strength and vision, filling with beauty and light, glowing beneath the same stars...... and connected by the same silken thread.

"Let me say it!" said Frankie. "We will stand up and clap and yell, 'Bravo! Bravo!'"

Get this book; read it once or twice, then listen to the audiobook. And every night as you lay in your bed, wondering what joy tomorrow might bring, yet knowing how precarious life can be, repeat the words:

Your Fate Is Not Yet Sealed.
Even In The Darkest Night, A Star Will Shine,
A Bell Will Chime, A Path Will Be Revealed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


"About one in twenty-eight school-aged children in the United States has a parent in prison."

All Rise For The Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor is the story of a boy raised in a minimum security correctional facility. The story embraces "what home means". It explores second chances, forgiveness, and win-win.
"Win-Win. That's Big Ed's other motto for being a successful resident. The first "win" means you count all small good things that happen to you everyday... The second "win" means you do things that bring victories to others. I've heard Big Ed say it at least a hundred times. 'No matter where you live, you have a community of some kind. And you can be a contributor.'"

If you want young readers to contemplate commuting overly long sentences for nonviolent offenders, get them the book, All Rise For The Honorable Perry T. Cook