I have to say, I made pretty good progress on my summer reading list...especially the kidlit/YA list. The adult list did not fare as well, and there are two serious-looking novels that I checked out of the library sitting on the table looking at me right now. Ah well! Kidlit is too much fun! Find part two of my summer reading (and the next-ups) below.
Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, by Jordan Stratford (4th-6th grade interest, GRL O/P)
I've read the first two books in this series, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, and The Case of the Girl in Grey, and I love them so much! In the introduction, the author explains that he's taken some liberties with history so that two remarkable real-life figures could meet as girls. And start a detective agency, and go on adventures, and become friends. One is Lady Ada Byron, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who would grow up to be the world's first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. The other is Mary Godwin, daughter of the author and early feminist thinker, Mary Wollstonecraft. In Stratford's world, the two meet and start their detective agency in the first book after unexpectedly stumbling upon a mystery; one of my favorite small details of the second book is that they consider their agency a secret, but don't understand how people keep finding out about it.
Ada and Mary are both lovely and complex characters. Ada is brilliant and isolated, craving quiet to think and solve and invent. She often has almost paralyzing difficulty managing crowded places and navigating social rules. Mary is mature for her age, empathetic, and intuitive. She misses her mother and is glad to continue her education with Ada. Mary comes to understand Ada's quirks and particularities quickly, and before long is able to translate the choppy speech Ada falls into when she gets overexcited, and support Ada when she gets overwhelmed. Ada, on the other hand, initially has no interest in making a friend, but before long she becomes comfortable with Mary, and learns to appreciate and care for her. For me, these two bright, brave, compelling characters and their friendship are really the heart of the books. The mysteries are engaging and just the right amount of complicated for this reading level, and the writing is smart and funny. Stratford also weaves in a variety of other historically-based characters, and includes mini-histories of them in the backs of the books, which seems particularly fun for grow-up readers who like extra bits of history geekiness.
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson (6th-8th grade interest, GRL Z)
So, obviously this reading level is well above my current group, and the content is too mature to use it as a read-aloud with them. I chose it because it kept crossing my radar, and honestly because it's been on display in my local bookstore, and the cover art is so striking. It's the first book in the "The Seeds of America Series." This is a fascinating piece of Revolutionary War historical fiction, which I think would work very well in the classroom for students studying the period. The protagonist is thirteen year old Isabel, who is unceremoniously sold to a Loyalist couple in New York City after her owner in rural Rhode Island dies, despite the fact that she had been promised her freedom. The story is a wrenching portrayal of slavery, layered over the events of the American Revolution, as both Isabel and the colonies fight for their freedom. It's not an easy read, but a worthwhile one, and provides an alternate, diverse perspective to the usual My Brother Sam is Dead fare of this time period. There are two more books in this series, Forge, and Ashes, which continue Isabel's story.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen, by Jennifer Torres (4th-5th grade interest, estimated GRL T)
Stef is a seventh grader who simultaneously adores and is embarrassed by the fact that her dad owns a taco truck. She's clever and creative, loves fictional pop star Viviana Vega, and has a close relationship with her mom and dad. This was a nice, light summer read, and Stef is a grounded, relatable character trying to navigate the twist and turns of middle school. The author also draws a positive picture of a hard-working, close-knit immigrant family (although she doesn't identify from where Stef's parents moved), and some of their challenges. When the local food truck business is threatened by changes in permit regulations, Stef's dad relies on her to read and explain the documents; she recognizes that while her dad is more than capable of reading in English, he doubts himself when it comes to important, technical texts like these. I appreciate Torres' depiction of Stef's understanding, as well as her frustrations in acting as a mediator between her parents and the world.
Lone Bean, by Chudney Ross (3rd-4th grade interest, estimated GRL O)
Honestly, this is another one whose cover was in part responsible for drawing me in. How could I resist this charming friend? The book itself let me down a bit, though. Bean (real name: Chrysanthemum) is dealing with 3rd grade problems like a best friend who won't speak to her, a class mean girl, two bossy older sisters, and the struggles of learning the violin. I didn't love some of the attitudes in the book, and there wasn't much growth in the characters. For example, the class mean girl is labeled as such, and is later revealed to be from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. Bean gets a glimpse into her background, but doesn't connect with her, remains kind of frightened of her, and tries to blame her for Bean's own transgression. Also, I feel like the tone of the third graders voice isn't quite right; Bean's dialogue often feels a bit too grown-up. So, I wasn't wild about this book, but it's a novel in the vein of Judy Moody, and would be an enjoyable read for the 8 and 9 year old crowd.
as brave as you, by Jason Reynolds (5th-6th grade interest, GRL X)
As I think about this book, I realize that even in my kidlit reading, I rarely pick up books starring boys, which is probably something I should attend to. In as brave as you, we meet Genie, age twelve, who, with his older brother, is spending the summer in rural Virginia with his grandparents. Genie is a city kid, smart and a little awkward, who is constantly updating his notebook full of questions…and also asking a lot of them out loud. Over the course of the summer, Genie explores and questions some attitudes about bravery, masculinity, honesty, and family relationships. It's a really solid summer coming-of-age story, with well-developed characters and an interesting plot. As with some of the others, it's a bit mature for my guys (and includes a scene with learning to shoot a gun that I think many would be uncomfortable with in school, but could definitely be taught through with older students), but is a nice addition to stories in this age bracket about boys.
the good braider, by Terry Farish (8th-10th grade interest)
This book falls solidly into YA, which makes it feel like a guilty pleasure, since I can't even come close to using it in school. It's so excellent, though, that I can't feel too guilty about it! It's written in free verse, so a middle school ELA teacher could really get into the language, word choice, and imagery with students. the good braider tells the story of Viola, a young woman who grew up in Sudan, then fled the war with her family to resettle in Portland, Maine. Viola's story covers so much territory, and covers it intimately. We are with her in the danger and brutality of her besieged home country, in the excruciating limbo of a refugee camp in Cairo, and in the delicate balancing act of her life in Portland, where she tries to become an American teenager while remaining connected to her Sudanese family and community. This is a beautiful book, and a deep, specific look at the experience of being a refugee in the United States.
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That's what I've managed this summer in terms of kidlit and YA. I did read a few adult titles, as well, including finishing bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress from cover to cover, which I want to write about all on its own. I've got a few more books on my to-read list, which clearly won't make it into my summer break, but maybe I'll get to them before the season is officially over. Here are my next up:
Flying Lessons, ed. Ellen Oh (of We Need Diverse Books fame; I've started this one and the first two stories are sooooo good! More short story collections for young readers, please!)
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (It was checked out of the library the last time I went, and I couldn't help but be glad it was in the hands of a Jersey City teenager instead of me...although I hope it's my turn soon!)
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh, by Uma Krishnaswami (I'm hoping the library acquires this one by the time I get to it!)
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia Pérez (This JUST came out, and it took all of my willpower not to buy it in hardcover last week at the bookstore. It looks so joyful, I can't wait to read it.)
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.