Sky Memories by Pat Brisson


Original date reviewed: 2/18/03

Summary: Emily’s mom is diagnosed with cancer. The book follows their last year together and the positive way they try to make each moment precious through shared memories of different sky scenes. Emily’s aunt moves in to care for both of them and then takes over as Emily’s guardian after her mom dies.

Personal Reaction: I cried!! I don’t even know anyone with cancer, but I gave it to my media clerk whose mother died two years ago and she sobbed! It is a poignant and touching look at how the characters shared their dwindling time together.  UPDATE TO THIS REVIEW: My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in 2010 and is a survivor, my friend’s mother has survived breast cancer. Things changed since 2003, didn’t they?

Any Cautions:  You’ll have to be aware of whether your students have/had a family member with cancer or other terminal illness. This will affect them deeply.

Points for discussion with children:  terminal illness, cancer, valuing family and time spent together

Possible classroom uses: This might be a good item to select whenever a school “Pasta for Pennies” (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) or “Relay for Life” (American Cancer Society) event is occurring. It’s short and won’t take more than a day or two to cover. It can remind everyone how precious life is.

Connections to other books: Any cancer or terminal illness related book should be made available for those who need to bond with “others out there” who have had this experience. Nonfiction:  Have pamphlets/information available on support groups and online resources for cancer support groups. Coping When Someone in Your Family Has Cancer by Rocha. The Power of a Wish by Spizman about the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Fiction: Lurlene McDaniel has a series that deals with teens’ terminal illnesses. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer is excellent; A Walk to Remember by Sparks, Kira-Kira by Kadohata, and Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Sonnenblick (this one made me laugh). YA/Adult – Before I Die by Downham (explicit).

Realia: watercolor paintings or other depictions of sky scenes, purple sequined baseball cap, forsythia flowers

Food items connected to story: None


Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Original date reviewed: 4/8/03

Award: Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable Book

Author’s Website

Here’s a curiously non-descriptive book trailer from the author; this one’s cuter but makes the book’s audience seems a bit young…

Summary: Primrose is having her own Series of Unfortunate Events. Her parents are lost at sea, her guidance counselor thinks she’s trying to kill herself (and small animals), and her babysitter is losing her mind. Her Uncle Jack loves her in a real-estate agent kind of way (very charming), but she firmly believes that this is all temporary because her parents aren’t dead – just marooned. Her best advocate is a chain smoking cook/owner of The Girl on the Red Swing, the only place that Primrose can speak plainly and remain connected to the memory of her mother’s cooking.

Personal Reaction: I liked the language tone and form that Primrose uses – precious or precocious? Either way, it’s logical and straightforward. I don’t know if this will appeal to many unless they can keep the right tone playing in their minds as they read. However, I busted a gut (seriously) laughing when Primrose accidentally sets her new guinea pig on fire. It was the matter-of-fact tone of the statement that did it to me.

Any Cautions:  Be sensitive to orphaned or foster children & victims of storm damage

Suitable for Read Aloud? Yes

Points for discussion with children:  orphans, foster children, cooking/recipes, real estate sales, guidance counselors

Possible classroom uses: Just an entertainment read – no curriculum tie-in – unless you want to include it in books where a main character BELIEVES in something no one else does.

Connections to other books? Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books – though I think this is funnier! Any of the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery would be successful with lovers of this book!

Realia: stuffed Guinea Pig, yellow rain slicker, cookbook, knit sweater, fake hand with tip of pinky missing, fake foot with small toe missing, photographs of beach front businesses or townhouses

Food items connected to story: (this story is full of recipes) waffles, boiled potatoes, carrots in an apricot glaze, asparagus, lemon sugar cookies, tea biscuits, caramel apples, cinnamon rolls, chocolate covered nuts, pear soup, tuna noodle casserole, shepherd’s pie, butterscotch chow mein noodle cookies, cherry pie pork chops, Polynesian skewers

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!

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

author’s website    No video trailer found, but this is an author’s tour of the book’s primary location – it’s really interesting!

Summary: 11/12yo “D” (no one except his mom calls him Dimitri) has had some struggles. Dad is a mysterious, non-existent figure from his past. Mom has recently passed away from breast cancer. D spends a brief time in the foster care system before being taken to live with kindly old Mrs. Martin. But then the crack-addicted baby foster girl comes to live with them and D feels a little overwhelmed. He’s just getting into his new school and is accelerating in math, has made a friend of an older boy named Keem that needs a math tutor, and there’s an awkward friendship with Keem’s crush Nyla. (Both Keem and Nyla seem older than what I guess are 8th grade in the story). Then D finds a possessed bird who wants him to be a “host” for her spirit and go down under Prospect Park in NY to find the souls from the African Burial Ground and help them move on to the next realm.

Personal Reaction: Loved the demon bird cover, but the book was kind of “meh.” There’s a LOT that’s left unexplained, and everything moves too quickly to be satisfying for my taste. I think if this story had been fleshed out more it would have been much better. I did like the brief touch on what being Muslim means for Keem. Since it’s kind of simple, I’d say it would be ok for grades 4-8, but there’s some scary points where D is attacked by inanimate objects, chased by spirits/skeletons, and both D and Nyla are hurt. So maybe just gr 6+ depending on your reader’s sensitivity. One brief mention of “freaks” at school includes those who are attracted to same sex.

Curriculum or discussion topics: African Burial Ground and Battle of Long Island, Hessians; bullying

Connections to other books: Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence  by Joyce Hansen, Long Island’s Military History by Glen Williford,  by The Complete Guidebook to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Berenson, maybe even Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists) or Math Doesn’t Suck by McKellar

Items to display with book: stuffed white dove, maps of NYC, photos of Prospect Park and boulder plaque for Battle Pass, historical info about the African Burial Ground and Battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War, math textbook

Food items connected to story: Pizza, potato chips, hot cocoa, oatmeal with brown sugar

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.