Book Talk: I went on a Laurie Halse Anderson kick this summer, and this is one of my favorites of hers. Hayley is a mystery for readers, and as bits and pieces of her life are revealed to her friends at her new school, we find out more about her painful past and challenging present caring for her father with PTSD. We are also reminded that everybody has problems of their own, people just choose to handle them differently. (It also doesn't hurt that Finn is totally crush-worthy as a book boyfriend!)
Read Aloud: I'd keep this one straight-forward and read chapters 1-3 out loud. This chunk spans about 8 pages, and should be enough to create sufficient intrigue about Hayley's past and what will happen as she adjusts to her high school.
Themes and Connections: I love a book that has a female protagonist and a somewhat romantic plot line but still appeals to male readers, and The Impossible Knife of Memory definitely fits. This book really has something for every reader, a healthy dose of romance mingled in with stories of war and edgy, contemporary realistic fiction. I want to recommend this book to John Green and Rainbow Rowell fans, it will especially speak to those who love Eleanor and Park.
4. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock- Matthew Quick
Ok, I loved this book. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a teacher, or if I just love everything Matthew Quick writes, or if it's really as good as I think it is. I'm not sure if I'll actually be book-talking it and reading aloud to 8th graders though. I mean, I will recommend it to some students, but I will have to be somewhat selective here. The novel begins on a disturbing note as Leonard, the protagonist, plans a murder-suicide and contemplates modern art over breakfast. For that reason alone, this book will stay on the "mature readers" shelf behind my desk. I don't want someone to pick this up who isn't going to finish it. This seems to be a theme in books I've read in July, but Leonard's past is a mystery that is slowly revealed to readers as the story unfolds. It's disturbing (like, really disturbing) and though the way he plans to deal with it isn't recommended, you can totally empathize with Leonard's mental state by the end of the book. Herr Silver, Leonard's Holocaust studies teacher, is the kind of teacher that I think most good teachers want to be, and his situation with Leonard is one we fear facing.
3. Reading In the Wild- Donalyn Miller
When I read The Book Whisperer last summer, my instructional philosophy about reading changed. I wrote about this in my first blog post, so I won't repeat it here. What I will say is that Donalyn Miller continues to inspire me to make my classroom a place that cultivates wild reading. This book is a must-read for upper elementary and middle school ELA and reading teachers. It is full of resources and practical strategies to integrate into a reading and writing workshop classroom, including suggestions for dividing classroom time, and plenty of templates to use with students for keeping track of reading. I'm going to skim through this again in the week before school to remind myself of everything I want to use in the coming school year!
2. A Little Life- Hanya Yanagihara
Reading A Little Life was a welcome departure from YA literature for me. This isn't a plot-driven page turner. It's all about the characters.
Okay, what is it about? It is an 800 page epic spanning the life of Jude, another character with a disturbing past that is gradually revealed to readers (I told you it was a theme in my July reading!) A Little Life also chronicles the friendship of Malcolm, JP, Willem, and Jude, along with several other characters, all living in contemporary NYC. (I say contemporary because there's nothing in the novel to define time period specifically, which some reviewers call lazy writing, but which I think is a way to put all the focus on the characters.) Yanagihara portrays friendship, family, and issues of sexuality in a way that I haven't read before. If you have abuse or self-harm triggers, I would steer clear of this novel, but otherwise, read it. The time and emotional energy you'll devote to it are worth it.
1. I'll Give You The Sun- Jandy Nelson
Book Talk: Everybody with a sibling knows that you can go from best friends to worst enemies in a second. The twins in I'll Give You The Sun, Noah and Jude, are no exception. Both twins are artistically talented, and they both struggle with friendship, family, and love throughout the novel. Something happens that rips the twins apart, and their relationship does a 180 from closest of close to strangers or even enemies. The story of the transformative events of the twins' 14th year is told through their alternating perspectives, which are not only different in point-of-view, but in their place in time. Just read it- I feel like nothing I say is going to do it justice!
Read Aloud: I think I'd skip the first few pages and begin on what is page 7 of my edition, it's the first break in Noah's narration, starting with "The next night at dinner..." This part of the story begins one of the main plot arcs- Noah and Jude applying to CSA- the local art school- and also introduces readers to all of the main characters in the family.
Themes and Connections: I'm always looking for books with diverse characters, and Noah's sections of the novel portray discovering his sexuality in a way that doesn't just scream, "HEY THIS IS A GAY CHARACTER" for the sake of including an LGBT character, but as a true experience. I loved both Noah's and Jude's ways of coming into themselves and dealing with (you guessed it) past experiences that are gradually revealed to the readers throughout the text. I think that most of my 8th graders would find something to love in this book, and I'll definitely be encouraging students to pick it up at the beginning of the year.
Whew, that's July. August is right around the corner and I'll be out of the country for a while, but there's always time to read. I have plans to read a few more professional development texts and education philosophy pieces before returning to the classroom, as well as some adult best-sellers for airplane reading while I travel. I'm still debating whether to read Go Set a Watchman...
As always, if you have more to say about the books above or recommendations, post them in the comments. You can also check me out on twitter or instagram for more! Happy reading! :)