The Rundown- June ’17

0-439-02348-3The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins (reread)

I started out my summer rereading this dystopian trilogy. I read it for the first time six years ago (around this time actually!) and it immediately dropped into my favorites category. Here’s what I said then:

These books were by far the most exciting {I read this summer.}There was hardly ever a dull moment (except maybe in the third one). Perfect summer reads in my opinion. I flew through these books, hardly able to put each down once I started it. Definitely recommended!

I still agree. For the uninformed, here is the gist: in the future, North America is condensed to a nation named Panem, with the all powerful Capitol in the middle, surrounded by twelve districts. Each year, to remind the districts of their power, the Capitol sends two kids from each one into an event called The Hunger Games. There, they fight to the death until one victor is left standing…. did I mention the entire nation watches this live on television? The books follow 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who becomes one of the tributes (the contestants) after volunteering for her younger sister, whose name is picked.

As I previously stated, these books are jam packed. The world Collins has created is intriguing and, at times, scary. She does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and settings, creating extremely vivid images. Katniss is a great protagonist and role model, even through her flaws. To me, this is a trilogy that spans age, gender, culture, and genre. Anyone can get into this and relate to something. Especially in these times!

VERDICT: There is no doubt in my mind that this series deserves a place among the best of all time! “Catching Fire” is my favorite of the trilogy, but they’re all great 🙂

**You can find Ashley’s review HERE**

**After reading, I watched all four of the movies this weekend. Watching them so closely after reading, I basically consider them the Cliff Notes of the books. There is SO MUCH that is left out, especially in “Mockingjay.” You may want to watch a movie or two to see if you’re interested in the story, but then definitely read the books because they are such a better experience! After I saw the first movie when it came out, I wrote a little piece about the differences, which you can read here.


The Wall by Peter Sis (new read)

thewallThe full title of this book is The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain. Seeing the full title immediately had me intrigued. Second surprise: it’s a picture book! Thus, I was able to read this while I was at school last week opening the library for summer checkout.

Peter Sis’ memoir tells of his life growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The story is told mostly through drawings and panels. Some pages contain several of his journal excerpts to show the passage of time. He aligns the rise of Communism with what he’s allowed to create and listen to throughout the years.

I think this is a great way to introduce young adults to this difficult topic. It simplifies it and also makes it personal. His drawings are in black and white, with uses of red (and sometimes other colors) for emphasis. The illustrations are focused and specific, and draw out quite a bit of emotion. They’re great conversation starters.

It was really interesting to read the progress of events from someone who was there. I learned several new things myself! For instance, in 1968 a new leader took over the country and they were on the way to making progress away from Communism. However, Russia got wind of it and came in and took back over, which set them all the way back.

VERDICT: Even though I had never heard of it previously, I think this book deserves its place on the list. The story is one that needs to be told. The way Sis constructed this book is purposeful and accessible. A must read historical text!


Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (new read)

johnny tremainThis was one of the books I wasn’t looking forward to reading from this list, so I figured I’d power through after getting to read some of my favorites!

In the introduction to this book, the backstory to this Newbery winner was told. Forbes wrote this story immediately after winning a Pulitzer Prize! for a book about Paul Revere. She decided to use all the research she had done for that book to write a children’s story. That is amazing to me. To write for two wildly different audiences about the same topic (and win awards doing both!), is impressive.

The story takes place on the eve of the American Revolution in Boston. Johnny Tremain is an apprentice in a silversmith shop. While working on an important order for John Hancock, Johnny sustains an injury and the course of his life is altered. We see Johnny’s journey over the next two years, with the story ending just after the beginning of the war.

Because of Forbes’ research, the story is extremely detailed and specific. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes I got bogged down in it. I enjoyed the first third of the book, but the more I read, the less interested I became. It, of course, turned into a story of politics and war, which I don’t typically care to read about. However, I think it was well written and historically accurate to my knowledge.

VERDICT: Good historical fiction, especially for young adults, is lacking in general. Since my aversion to this book is purely based on preference, I think it should be included on the list. It’s a great teaching tool, and I think it would appeal to many students.



April/May/June ’16 Update – Ashley

Yeah, I know… It’s kind of cheating, but life happens!  I’ve also read the second book in the Percy Jackson series, which I still love!  🙂

* Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (reread) – This is a book that I read for the first time many, many years ago.  It wasn’t one that I revisited often, but I always remembered being beezus-and-ramona-book-cover-author-beverly-clearyfond of it.  I was excited to see it on the list and to have the chance to see if it lived up to my memories.

Here are the basics: Beezus is the big sister.  Ramona is the little sister.  Beezus is trying to grow up and do typical ten-year-old things. Ramona doesn’t get it and wants to do typical preschool things.  This causes predictable, yet amusing, mishaps.  They’ve got the underlying sisterly love thing going on, but that doesn’t mean they always have to like each other, right?

My Take: What a fun book!  Easy, but fun.  And classic.  And  relatable and non-intimidating.  It was such a relief to read a book from this list that wasn’t heavy and didn’t require a whole lot of depth in thought.  But yet, this is easily the most I’ve identified with any book in this challenge so far.  I mean, who can’t relate to classic older-younger sibling dynamics?    However, one of the 100 best YA novels of all time???  If best = classic, absolutely!  If best = most forward/moving/provocative?  Not so much.  Not a clear choice for me…

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


* The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (new read) – Everything I knew about this book excited me from the beginning – it was one that I was looking forward to reading as soon as we found “The List.”  The title, the premise, the cover art… everything abwesting gameout it appealed to me.

Samuel W. Westing, mysterious millionaire, has died.  One of the sixteen (seemingly random) tenants of the Sunset Towers is the heir to his fortune.  In order to claim their inheritance, the group is divided into teams of two and then given a check and a clue.  They are tasked with using those clues to uncover the murderer among them.  The first to do so will win the remaining Westing fortune.   As the teams gather more and more information, secrets are uncovered, relationships formed, and motives questioned.

My Take:  Really wasn’t a fan of this one… It was fine.  I think my main issue was that I didn’t like or care about any of the characters.  They were well-developed in the sense that we came to know different layers of them throughout the story, but that didn’t ever change my feelings towards them.  I also found the supposed mystery element lacking.  It was infuriating to know “the answer” the whole time, but still suffer through the characters’ ridiculous attempts to solve it.  I certainly don’t think this one belongs on “The List.”  How ’bout a good ol’ Agatha Christie instead?

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (new read) – I was very hesitant to read this book.  I had heard such high praise for it, that I assumed there was no way it’d live up to the hype.  I wanted to enjoy it so badly that I worried that I had jinxed myself.  Of course, in the end, I had nothing to fear!

Set in Germany during the second World War, this is the story of Liesel Meminger, who lives with foster parents after a devastating separation from her natural family.   At only ten years old, Liesel is still a child, but yet old enough to notice the horrors happening all around her every day.  She struggles  to understand the very grown-up world she’s living in, all while trying to hold on to her childhood.  She ends up finding comfort in the words of stolen books and the friendship of the Jew hidden in her basement.  What results is a story of self-empowerment and a gut-wrenching, emotional testimony to the power of the written word.

My Take: This might be my favorite challenge book so far!  The writing is absolutely brilliant.  It took me a minute to adjust to the unusual narration, but then I was hooked.  For me, the best part was the development of Liesel’s relationships throughout the story.  Each one was so perfectly complicated and beautiful.  Plus, as  reading teacher, I love any story that speaks to the oft-unnoticed power of reading and writing!  This was one of those “I-can’t-put-it-down-until-I-finish” books.  It went everywhere with me until I was done – car, purse, pool, lake…  Worthy of a spot on this list?  Without a doubt.  This is one I will come back to over and over again!

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

The Rundown- June ’16

Happy summer! I think I tried to make up for all the books I didn’t read earlier this year by reading them all in June 😛

wrinklecover9A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (new read)

I still don’t know what I just experienced.

A Wrinkle in Time is fantasy, science fiction, and spirituality all rolled into one.

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin, are sent out on a journey to find their father. To put it simplistically: with the help of a colorful cast of characters, they travel through time and space to defeat the evil thing that lurks.

And that is very simplistic. There are lots of things about this book that I can’t explain and frankly, that I don’t completely understand. I think that’s part of the appeal though. It was easy to get lost in the story and want to know what was going to happen next—because I couldn’t possibly predict it!

I appreciated the fantasy aspects of the story the most. Most of the science fiction elements bogged me down a little, but I liked the explanation of the title. A cool concept! The spiritual parts came mostly near the end, and it didn’t seem like they really fit with the rest of the story, but it wasn’t distracting enough to take away from it entirely. The variety does broaden its audience. Depending on the kid, I could see someone reading this for the first time all the way from upper elementary to early high school!

VERDICT: I honestly can’t name one other book I’ve read that is anything like this (not even ones that include time travel). For its pure uniqueness, this book deserves to be on the list!

*Once again, apparently this book is the first in a “time quintet” written by L’Engle and she even has written books beyond that featuring the same family. Therefore, you have lots of options to continue if you love this book!


Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (new read)5113IWSiaoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I had never heard of this book before the challenge, and was only vaguely familiar with the author. When I read the synopsis, it sounded interesting enough. Little did I know what a rollercoaster ride I was about to take!

TJ is a multiracial teenager who lives with his white adoptive parents in an almost all white town in Washington state. Although he has a lot of athletic prowess, he doesn’t participate in any school sports, much to the chagrin of the athletic community at his school. When he decides to start a ragtag swim team, he puts an even bigger target on his head.

I’ll admit, I initially was turned off by this book. The language and plot got raw really fast. This is a book with a lot of “issues.” Adoption, special education, racism, elitism, abuse, bullying—it’s got it all. As I settled in though, I got invested in the characters and what was happening to them. I laughed. I cried. I cringed. It made me think of some of my students I’ve had throughout the years, and how they will turn out when they’re older.

I would say this book skews older based on the subject matter and language. I wouldn’t recommend anyone under 14, at the very youngest to read it. At the end of the book, it had a list of accolades it had received, and the first one listed was that it was one of the ALA’s most challenged books when it came out. They seemed very proud!

VERDICT: This is one of the times I wish I knew what criteria was used to pick these books. I don’t know that this is a book that I think every young adult should read. It does bring in some perspectives that some people may never encounter, so in that way I guess it makes for a good entry. It’s a toss-up for me.


N24680The Pigman by Paul Zindel (new read)

Even though I’d heard of this book many times, I had never read it and had no idea what it was about. Long story short, this book is about two teenagers, Lorraine and John, who unintentionally befriend a middle aged man, who comes to be known as “The Pigman.” The story details their friendship over the course of a few months, with chapters that alternate the point of view between the teens.

I can’t really tell you too much more about the plot without spoiling some things. What I will say is that ultimately this book is depressing. I did not enjoy reading it because I kept waiting for something bad to happen. The friendship was odd in general, and I don’t even know that someone would write a book of this manner today. The main character also reminded me of my dad in some ways, and that made me sad.

This book is on lots of high school required reading lists, which is unfortunate, because the last thing teenagers need is to be forced to read depressing literature, with all that angst going around!

VERDICT: Like I said, I’ve heard praise for this book many a time, but I just don’t see it. I think it’s really strange and don’t understand the motivation for writing it, unless it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale. I threw it on the floor when I finished it because the ending made me so mad!


The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (new read)838771._UY200_

So, I originally put this on my “reread” list, but after beginning it, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it. I think I got it mixed up with another title, The Chocolate Touch maybe. This is another book that is on lots of required reading lists and, in many ways, I can see why.

Although it was quite easy to read, the first half of the book was hard to follow. There are SO MANY CHARACTERS and the chapters would jump around and not have the same characters in consecutive chapters. They also had similar names and characteristics, so it was hard to keep track.

At its heart, this is a story about nonconformity. However, it takes a long time to get there. Trinity High School is a Catholic all boys school where they have a “secret” society called The Vigils. Jerry Renault is a freshman, new to the area, who gets tapped for one of the society’s infamous assignments. What unfolds is fairly unsavory.

The second half of the book reminded me somewhat of Lord of the Flies, though in a more formal setting. It presents questions like: Should you fall in line because it’s easy? Or should you do what you think is right, even if it’s hard? What about the repercussions?

VERDICT: I think it’s very telling of the time period in which it was written (1970s), but I think it’s still relevant today. What a great think piece for teenagers and a springboard for discussion and self-reflection. Although it wasn’t immediate, I do think The Chocolate War has earned its place on the list.


I’d love to know what y’all think of these books! Have you read any of them?

June ’15 Update – Ashley

Wow!  Can you tell it’s summer break?  Both books read and blog post complete and it’s not even the last week of June!  I actually leave for Mexico next week – time to decide which books I’m packing!  But, first, my reads in June….

* The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum (reread) – Fun Fact about this read: the copy I read was actually the copy given to me by my parents when I was nine years old and participating my my first “real” stage production – as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz!  After that, theatre became a really big part of my life (including being my first major), so this particular show/book was kind of a big deal for me.

The imageWonderful Wizard of Oz tells the tale of the fantastic journey one girl takes from her home in gray and gloomy Kansas to a beautiful but mysterious land full of bright colors, strange creatures, and magic.  Her only hope of returning home to her family lies with the much-talked-about, yet never-seen wizard, who lives in the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road.  Along the way, the girl (Dorothy) encounters a scarecrow,  a tin man, and a lion, who quickly become companions on her journey – each hoping to get what they most want from the storied wizard.  However, as with any journey tale, the road to the Emerald City is fraught with danger and surprises.  The foursome meet many friends – and enemies – along the way.  Among these enemies is a very wicked witch who is willing to go to any lengths to stop Dorothy and her friends in their quest.

My Take:  It pains me to say it, but I feel very confident in saying that this is one of those books that is actually better known as a movie.  As a matter of fact, I had completely forgotten how incredibly different the book is from the movie (which I begrudgingly admit to being more familiar with)!  Typically, books are much more extensive than films, and the same can be said for these two.  However, I have to say – I think the movie does a better job of reeling the audience in and adding details to scenes in order to make them come alive.  In the book, everything was kept very succinct.  Of course, there is so much more that happens in the book that you never see in the movie, so…  it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Overall, it was an entertaining story and definitely a classic.  Worth reading, but also worth watching!

* The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (new read) – This book has been calling my name since we first found “the list.”  Of course, the title itself is interesting…. then you stumble upon the author’s name and can’t help but smile.  So, I bought it in that first mass purchase of books back in February.  It’s been sitting on the shelf next to my bed since then.  Now, it’s a little lengthier than some of the other books I’ve read so far, which explains why I hadn’t read it yet…  During the school year, most of my #yabookchallenge reading happened at the very end of the month and this particular book seemed too daunting at those times.  However, in June (with all of Summer Break in front of me)… I jumped at theimage chance to read it!  (Turns out that it wouldn’t have mattered… I finished this book in a matter of hours!)

From the very beginning, the only word I can really think of to describe this book is fun!  The title, the author’s name, the warning on the front of the book (“Read this book – if you dare!”), the repeated warnings on both the back and first few pages of the book…  Everything about it screams FUN!  The Name of This Book is Secret tells the story of two young friends (an unlikely pairing, as seems to be the case in most great YA novels…) who stumble upon a big secret and the various escapades they go through trying to learn more.  The author is completely bent on not revealing too much of the real story – for all the danger it might put the reader in (!) – but that just adds to the fun.

My Take: One of my favorite new reads so far!  This was a very entertaining book – it was easy to get lost in and just enjoy.  Did I mention that it’s fun?  😉  Now, as my disclaimer… Don’t go into this book hoping for some deep, moral revelation.  Don’t start reading it thinking that you’re reading the next great American classic.  There are some themes and topics within the story that could lead themselves to interesting conversations, but this is a book to read … just for FUN!