The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Here’s the author’s website, but I did not find any book trailers.This is a fan-made video trailer.

Summary from Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

Personal Reaction: Mature content similar to Stuck in Neutral‘s obsession with female anatomy, but with a sign language Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew-ish cameo) twist. It was very dark, yet engrossing.

Any Cautions: I read Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator (also by Berk) a few years ago. My summary notes for that title are – HS only. I laughed, but this book is packed full of penis humor and “that’s what your mother said” jokes. This book has similar YA humor. HS math teacher’s physical relationship with football captain and his posting of trophy snapshots from his conquests online should be taken into consideration for recommendations.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Bullying, hearing impaired history/education, coal mining

Connections to other books: I like the smart/witty characters with a snarky attitude. Try Berk’s other books or Neutral by Trueman mentioned above. John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines or The Boxer and the Spy by Parker, are good, too. For middle grades, go with Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by Grisham, I,Q by Smith or The Last Thing I Remember by Klavan (completely awesome). Non-fiction companions: Signing Illustrated and Growing Up in Coal Country.

Items to display with book: “Deaf child in area” sign, a box  of Hamburger Helper? I have never heard of a texting device called a Crony, but if you can find one (I guess any kind of tablet will do) or a photo, it would be cool; or, a printout of a text conversation from book. Fake beard & moustache, dark glasses. Private notebook.  Lump of coal. Map of (northeastern) Pennsylvania. Football helmet. Fake Facebook page for Leigha or Purple. Stuffed black dog. Pack of fanned out playing cards (party invitations), especially face cards.

Food items connected to story: Anything will do, served on a cafeteria tray for that extra touch – pizza, fried ravioli, ice cream, hamburgers, broccoli casserole


Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex

Here’s the author’s website  which includes three videos (2 “Vampire Hunters” shorts and one infomercial for “Re-Vamp”). I did not find any book trailers online, but this video is a Skype interview with the author about writing the book.

Summary: Doug is turned into a vampire by another newbie vampire crazed with bloodlust. That vampire is hot, Doug is not and is now worried about spending all eternity as a dweeb. While trying to find a balance to his new life without hurting anyone, his best friend Jay tries to help him sift through the myths. Meanwhile, Sejal is a new guest student from India who is trying to forget an incident from her previous addiction to the Internet and make a new, “good” life for herself in the States. Doug becomes obsessed with Sejal. Doug is tracked by the production crew of a reality tv show “Vampire Hunters.” Things go wrong.

Personal Reaction: The good – I had no idea that the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was still captivating the teen set after all these years. There’s typical adolescent obsession with who-likes-whom and it is not much of an issue whether the couples are hetero- or homosexual. There are dead and undead with various orientations. The bad – I thought maybe I might be able to like Doug’s character… but then I never really did, so it’s hard for me to praise the story. I was practically wanting to reach into the book and beat him with a stick for being so slow in the bloodmobile. He has constant foot-in-mouth disease when it comes to treating Jay with true friendship. I actually liked Sejal’s storyline more than Doug’s.

Any Cautions: The f-word is used (not often, but enough), a few instances of underage drinking.

Curriculum or discussion topics: online & offline bullying, LGBT lit, internet addiction

Items to display with book: vampire fangs, Rocky Horror poster, vlog/blog example, civil war soldier photo, stuffed bat or wolf, fake tv commercial or print ad for “Vampire Hunters,” and theater bulletin for “West Side Story”

Food items connected to story: pizza, any red liquid beverage will do (V-8, dark punch, etc.)

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

author’s website                         No video book trailer found.

Summary: 7th grader Georges (silent S, named after artist Georges Seurat) is getting picked on at school, dad has recently lost his job, mom’s an absentee doing double shifts at the hospital. They have to sell their house and move into an apartment only a few blocks away in Brooklyn where Georges gets sucked into his new friend Safer’s Spy Club to determine whether another neighbor is evil. Friendship & family come together in this story so well.

Personal Reaction: Now this is getting tough – another one to nominate for SSYRA!
This book was expertly crafted as opposed to just being written. I love it when the climax pulls so many pieces of the story line together that it makes you dizzy. The LIE, the revelation to dad, the mom, the blue team… it was awesome. My favorite funny is p.74 stomping in slippers.

Curriculum or discussion topics: bullying, Science (sense of taste unit, bird watching), Home Ec (so many foods to make and describe!), PE (volleyball, Capture the Flag),  Art (color theory, Seurat, architecture, shabby chic, repurposing items) and Language Arts (the Science teacher has them write using taste sensory words, Scrabble tile messages, practical fortune cookie messages). Do I love this or what???

Connections to other books: NONFICTION – any books about art, esp. Georges Seurat and biographies will be great; kids cookbooks; books about your sense of taste, especially with microscope closeups of taste buds; PE/camp games to try with friends like Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games; spying & sleuthing skills, Morse Code & codebooks; the history of candy (any kind!), Wild Parrots In New York City; FICTION – for candy lovers The Candymakers by Mass, for Spies-in-Training NERDS by Buckley, for Benjamin Franklin trivia 39 clues Maze of Bones by Riordan…

Items to display with book: Scrabble tile message, blue Sharpie pen, silver flask, America’s Funniest Home Videos DVD, tongue chart (see link), binoculars, Naturalist’s notebook, fake dog poop or dog collar/leash, SPY CLUB sign, silver gum wrapper, small suitcase, baseball, old keyring with dozens of keys and/or little gold diary key, hospital scrubs

Food items connected to story: candies of any kind (esp. giant SweeTarts, lemonheads, Starburst, peanut M-n-M’s), coffee, all kinds of Chinese food (chicken & broccoli, sesame noodles, soups, scallion pancakes, and definitely fortune cookies), pretzels, peanut butter & banana on hot dog buns, pizza, Mallomars, scrambled eggs (with or without cheese), milkshakes, crusty mac-n-cheese

full disclosure: I received an ARC of this title as a Twitter prize, but was not compensated or asked to write a review for this book at all!

Eighth Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich

author’s website includes a video trailer

Summary:  Main character is at an alternative/progressive learning school in NY but still suffers from typical middle school problems. Reggie’s called “Pukey” by most classmates since an unfortunate incident on the first day of school. He’s got an ex-friend who seems intent on making his life as miserable as possible. Reggie writes his own Night Man graphic novels illustrated by his friend Joe C. The girl of his dreams, Mialonie, doesn’t know he’s alive. Reggie’s in a hate-hate relationship with his sister, Monica, and their father has recently lost his job. There’s a lot of realistic questioning that goes on by the kids in his church youth group. When his YG sponsor gets them involved in documenting the stories of some of the residents of the local homeless shelter, Reggie gets emotionally invested in the project. He’s got two really good friends who are as shocked as we are when Reggie makes a surprise announcement that he’s running for class president.

Personal Reaction: Another one that was heavy on the religion, but it just works out. Maybe I’m a closet Christian? “All I want is some positivitiy for Heaven’s sake.” See??? I actually liked this more than Lost Songs by Cooney though it wasn’t as complex with Cooney’s multiple character perspective. I want to nominate this one for SSYRA too. I loved it. Maybe it’s another one of those books where the kids have more high school personalities than middle school, but I was really touched by it and I think the volunteerism displayed here is achievable – especially the thought that if you have community service as a core value of your school motto, then you should get school credit for it.  One of my favorite quotes is, “I need a few more points in my life GPA.”

Curriculum or discussion topics: positive actions (character counts), school elections, volunteerism efforts, homeless students, bullying

Connections to other books: graphic novels (both DC and Marvel – Spawn, Lobo, Luke Cage, Black Thunder, Agent 355) ; a Bible or teen & religion titles;  self-help books like Advance Your Swagger: How to Use Manners, Confidence, and Style to Get Ahead by Bentley, A Raisin in the Sun by Hansberry, Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets  and other black poets & collections; books on how to write & illustrate your own graphic novels or examples of graphic novels like Super Diaper Baby by Pilkey or especially those with black characters like Icon or Static Shock (both by McDuffie) or Firestorm by Moore.

Items to display with book: Dora the Explorer sneakers, Bob Marley album, brochure/info about local homeless shelter, vote posters for school election, fake vomit. (Would it be wrong to include a Very Special Binder?)

Food items connected to story: (Jamaican foods as well as cafeteria foods) breadfruit, pizza w/anchovies, garlic & onion potato chips, tuna tacos, Juiced! (any bottles of fruit juice with weird facts under the cap – like HonestTea or Snapple?), mini-candy bars, organic apple broccoli muffins, oxtail and stew peas, callaloo, etc.

Teenie by Christopher Grant

author’s website                        no video trailer found

Summary: Freshman Martine “Teenie” is an honors student who just got her braces off and makes a debut outfit appearance which catches the eye of senior basketball star Greg. She’s a wreck and her recent fight with best friend Cherise doesn’t give her anywhere to go for advice.  Cherise is using an online romance for the extravagant presents he sends, and Teenie worries that this generous stranger is a pedophile.

Personal Reaction: Another urban drama… it’s an OK read that teens will go for, but I can’t say that I wasn’t hoping for more.  (Spoiler: he asks her for a “blessing” by their 2nd conversation, which she doesn’t know is a BJ, and then almost forces her into it AT SCHOOL twice.) My favorite part was the final confrontation with Beresforda’s ashes. The best parts for me were Teenie’s super strict parents and they way they looked out for her – I’d like to see a lot more of these parents around.

I just die a little every time a book adds another hopeless brick to the wall for my black readers. Being a nerd is not cool. Clothes, especially sneakers, get more mention than anything. Who’s doing it with whom and how often. Someone’s going to bring a knife to the fight. Basketball. UGH. I’m not saying that I think we should all close our eyes and pretend it’s not happening. But, if all the book choices lead you to think that its inevitable, that’s wrong.

Curriculum or discussion topics: I can’t see this as a class read, but maybe a counselor would suggest it to specific girls. Online safety, friendship, dating, conflict resolution

Connections to other books: Jason & Kyra by Davidson (he WILL wait if he loves you) for HS; all the Bluford High Series (multiple authors); Jumped by Williams-Garcia; Hip-Hop High School by Sitomer; A Smart Kid’s Guide to Avoiding Online Predators by Jakubiak or similar nonfiction; From Clueless to Class Act by Smith; maybe nonfiction about dating/relationships or even sexting

Items to display with book: Cell phone, credit card, clothing (especially a Wade NBA dress), basketball, biology or math textbook, ashes in an urn, map or tour book for Spain; computer with Instant Messaging windows opened or photo of IM chats)

Food items connected to story: hamburgers, ginger ale, shrimp, cookie ice cream