Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Links: Author’s website  No video trailer found. After reading the book, you might enjoy this audio version of the Rock Island Line song featured in the story by Lead Belly. There are other versions available.

From Wikipedia:

Rock Island Line” is an American blues/folk song first recorded by John Lomax in 1934 as sung by inmates in an Arkansas State Prison, and later popularized by Lead Belly.[1] Many versions have been recorded by other artists, most significantly the world-wide hit version in the mid-1950s by Lonnie Donegan. The song is ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

Book Summary: Lilly is growing up in 1920’s Illinois in a poor railroad town but a tightly-knit, successful black family. Her innocent childhood with her best friend Lois (also discriminated against, but for being American Indian) contains a touch of comedy as neither girl knows where babies come from and Lilly is determined to buy a baby brother. Lilly grows up and eventually does discover how babies are born and how they die.

Personal Reaction: Because the book encompasses most of Lilly’s lifetime, I cannot say I would recommend it to middle graders due to the adult topics that arise (nothing graphic), but I liked it as a personal choice. I loved the bonfires and the character of Lee. I was shocked at Papa’s confession and the tragedy of Pearl and Maggie.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Racism, personal responsibility, family values. Author has book club discussion questions posted on her website.

Connections to other books: Out Of The Dust and Witness by Hesse, Bud, Not Buddy by Curtis, A Long Way From Chicago by Peck; The Great Depression and World War II by Carlisle, Al Capone’s Chicago by Yancey, maybe a few of those decade chronicles-type books for 20’s and on… like The 1930s from the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz by Feinstein

Items to display with book: Railroad set or model train, photos of Depression era Illinois, spelling book, big brown dusty oxford school shoes, Jazz or Blues records (on a phonograph if you can score one), bell jar full of pennies, baby doll or diapers

Food items connected to story: Chicken every which way (fried, roasted, sandwiches, soup, potpie, & dumplings); pot luck party foods (lima beans, casseroles, cakes, biscuits) lemonade, etc.


Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China by Savannah Grace

author’s website includes lots of photos (and a spoiler – how long the “one year” of traveling turns out to be)

Summary: Self-published travel memoir: a 14 year old girl’s account of being forced to leave her home in Canada to travel across China and Mongolia with her mother, brother and sister. Detailed account of backpacking lifestyle.

Personal Reaction: Scary, actually… I don’t have the backpackers’ sense of adventure to live this kind of life. I think a really good editor would made this book better, but it still works as a teen writer’s first book.

Any Cautions: Minor cursing

Curriculum or discussion topics: For any middle grade teacher working on a unit about Asia, this would be good as an extra-credit mention for students.

Connections to other books: The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, Gone with the Wind by  Mitchell, The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, travel guide books for China & Mongolia

Items to display with book: The website has several photos and maps you can display. Jade bracelet, water bottles, backpacks, boots, deck of playing cards, chop sticks, travel guide books for China & Mongolia

Food items connected to story: Lots and lots within the story. Dr. Pepper! You can go basic Chinese food (any rice and vegetables will do, green tea, yoghurt, banana pancakes) or interesting (chicken feet). It may be harder to get goat soup here in the states.

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Author’s website with a cool playlist!            No video book trailer found, though there are a few long book review trailers. There was one fan made trailer for the sequel, Ballad.

Summary: A dark faerie fantasy: 16yo musical prodigy Dierdre falls for Luke. At the same time, she begins to get the “sight” and is able to glimpse the faerie realm – only, the faeries aren’t nice. The Queen of the Faeries have sent Luke to kill her, and if he won’t do it then there are several other characters waiting around to take the job.

Personal Reaction: Though typical teenage romance-ish, things get passionate but there’s only one use of the F-word. I think the author meant it to come as a shock (and it DOES) to show how not-nice the faeries can be. Violence ensues, but I appreciated the mob ending. This book wasn’t necessarily my style, but I think it’ll find a YA following.

Connections to other books: books on faerie lore or Irish/Celtic folklore, Thomas Rhymer, Daoine Sidhe (see primary and secondary sources here); Faerie Wars by Brennan, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Black, The Faerie Path by Jones, Wicked Lovely by Marr, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Items to display with book: sheet music, flute, harp (if your school has one); white dove in a gold cage, stuffed valentine heart, illustration of The Hunter or a hound figurine (as many as you can find;, things made of iron: nails, rings, etc.; green slime in a jar (use food coloring and Crisco?), photo of a fairy ring

Food items connected to story: anything BBQ, esp. pulled pork sandwiches, fries and sweet tea; perfect ice cream sundaes

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Flux Books in a Twitter contest, but was not asked for anything in return.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

movie footage – opening sequence

Summary: (Translated from the French by Matthew Ward.) Mersault visits the group home where his mother has recently died for the funeral and is glad when it’s over. Mersault’s girlfriend wants to get married, though he admits he doesn’t think he loves her. He later becomes friends with another tenant in his building named Raymond who is wrapped up in an intrigue with a cheating girlfriend. Her brother and his friends want to beat Raymond up or worse for the way he abused her and a confrontation arises on the beach. Mersault awaits trial for the murder of her brother. Mersault’s neighbor Salamano hates his own dog until the day the dog runs away.

Personal Reaction: Just goes to show you that I’ve spent way too long reading teen/tween stuff to be able to appreciate “classic” literature. My neighbor’s kid (a 19yo boy) gave this to me and begged that I read it so he could have someone to talk to about it. He says he loves the description and how it made him feel like he was really there.
I didn’t like it. Yes, lots of description of the outside, but nothing’s going on inside the main character until the end. He doesn’t cry at his mom’s funeral because it’s too hot. He shoots a guy on a beach because it’s too hot. He gets convicted… and it’s really too hot, why wasn’t he given a fan like everyone else? He doesn’t think about why anything happens, just that it does and that’s all he needs to know.

Any Cautions: unmarried sexual relationships, not graphic

Connections to other books: Reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger

Items to display with book: beach towel, black tie or armband, photo of casket & flowers, cigarettes, photo of jail cell or courtroom, fake gun

Food items connected to story: bread & wine (grape juice), cheese, blood sausage, fried fish

The Color of Magic (Discworld bk 1) by Terry Pratchett

author’s website                       series video trailer

Summary: A failed magician named Rincewind is being stalked by Death (“Sod you!” says D, “Piss off! says R) as he tries to keep a bumbling tourist named Twoflower from being robbed or killed by unsavory townsfolk. They end up in adventure after adventure as they travel around Discworld with all sorts of magical beings and near-Death experiences. The cute sidekick being the trunk of gold belonging to Twoflower having feet to follow along and teeth to keep prying hands away from T’s undies. Also adorable are the demons in T’s camera and pocketwatch.

Personal Reaction: I am so in love with this author’s wry witticisms. As I said in my Goodreads review of (book 30) The Wee Free Men, I don’t think middle grade kids will “get it” unless they have a sophisticated sense of humor. Maybe HS or adult. There is mention of whores and whoring several times, but it is tongue-in-cheek (and I don’t mean that to be a pun).

Connections to other books: other books in the Discworld series (and there are many), Gaiman’s Good Omens has this sort of humor too as Pratchett was a co-author. It also reminds me of the scene in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King as Pellinore and Grummore joust together.

Items to display with book: Trunk of gold, magician’s hat, astronaut’s helmet, photo of Discworld, dragon, chess set?

Food items connected to story: chocolate gold coins, grape juice (wine), seaweed biscuits, candied octopus (maybe gummy worms?), pulled pork…