The Girl Who Could Fly – reviewed by Jessa

Photo on 2-4-16 at 4.13 PMJessa is the smiliest kid! She loves to sit at the front of my literature class, and smiles and nods and shares great ideas. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her thoughts profound. Also, she has a great love of hair bows, and I look forward to seeing which one she’ll be wearing as she walks into the classroom.


The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Foster

51vkDz0GUoL“You just can’t keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods. Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie. Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops. Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities. School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences. Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.”     – Amazon

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester is a fantastic story with a great, heartfelt plot, interesting characters, and good writing. The plot, though scientific, features magic and love. I enjoyed how, even though the main characters’ powers are clearly sorcery, the institution treats them like science and uses drugs, surgery, and technology to change them. In the plot, heart can conquer all, such as how Sebastian’s song managed to break through the children’s thick coating of treatment. The characters are deep, like Dr. Hellion, who seems perfect, then pure evil, then misunderstood. They’re different, too– there are no two similar characters. The word choice is great. Victoria Forester uses many metaphors, good descriptions, repetition, etc. to her advantage to create feelings in a scene. Pretty much anyone would like it, especially lovers of science fiction or fantasy. To sum it up, The Girl Who Could Fly is a beautiful and well-done book that anyone can enjoy like I did.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – reviewed by Hannah Meit

-1 Hannah was a fabulous student in my class last year. Her nickname was Wolf, though I admit I always just called her “Hannah”. We’d had a run on kids wanting animal nicknames, and I’m an old dog, er, teacher, and never managed to switch over from real names for most kids. Regardless, the title seems quite fitting, and the book looks interesting. Great cover, too!


Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

12875258June’s mother didn’t know what she was doing when she made her brother, Finn, June’s godfather. June was five, and she desperately tried to follow in his footsteps. Finn was a painter, a famous one at that, who was obsessed with everything medieval. As June grew up, she grew into those traits of Finn, too. Her mother would say that she took it a bit too far. June would only wear long skirts to school, along with blouses and old-timey sweaters. She had her treasured black leather boots that Finn gave to her as some of the only shoes she wore. June was closer to Finn than anyone else- or so she thought. Then, her life changed forever.

Finn had AIDS, and his health was declining rapidly. June, now fourteen, desperately tried to hold onto everything she had of him. He offered to paint her a portrait of her and her sister, Greta, to be his last work. Greta, sixteen, is snobby and mean, nothing like she and June used to be. They used to be best friends. Now June envies her sister. Greta is pretty, popular, and dainty, while June sees herself as ugly, unpopular, and clumsy. While the portrait is being finished, Finn obsesses over every last detail up to his death.

June is torn to shreds. While picking herself back up, a month after Finn’s death, she receives a strange call from a strange man who she later finds out was Finn’s significant other. His name is Toby, and he is dying, too. At first she despises Toby, but then they grow together. June has to balance meeting with Toby to talk with keeping him a secret to her family, as he is the one who her mother thinks gave Finn AIDS. Her mother hates Toby with a passion, and blames him for not only giving Finn AIDS but also tearing Finn away from his family. Inwardly, June’s mother had also wanted to be a painter, but her dream never came true like Finn’s did. She needed somebody to blame, and found Toby. Toby has nobody after Finn dies. After overcoming her suspicions, June figures out that she needs to be that somebody for him.

Set in the 1980’s, Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is an adult book. I suggest it only for adults and mature teen readers.

The Book Thief – review by Uma


Uma is in my 6th grade literature course. Serious and fun, sweet and clever, this girl is great to have in class. If you read enough of these posts, my adjectives for student do repeat, but she, like her classmates, really is all that. What can I say? I work with great kids.

Uma has chosen to review THE BOOK THIEF, which I affectionately call “The best book I’ll never finish.” The writing is sublime, but I found it so distressing that I couldn’t make myself read the rest. Uma’s review makes me want to grow up and be more like her because I know I’m missing out. Thanks, Uma, for making me reconsider this one.


The Book Thief, by Markus Zusakbook_thief

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.”-Amazon

In the past, I have read many different historical fiction novels, (it being my favorite genre) but none can compare to the intricate and beautiful story The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story explores much more than the Holocaust. It explores how humans love and form inseparable bonds in a variety of scenarios, which is a very creative and interesting topic, in my opinion. Some examples are a  Jewish man and the non-Jewish protagonist creating a friendship that lasts through tragedy and separation, or the main character’s foster father teaching her how to read, which begins her book thievery and constant love for this new parent. Narrated by Death, the book tells the story of a little girl growing up in Nazi Germany and how this time period affects her life. Her triumphs, failures and lessons, are hilarious, heartwarming, and touching. The protagonist is also very charming, for although not relatable by modern standards, she is very brave (such as when she reads in bomb shelters to soothe neighbors) and not scared to stand up for herself, and she has a big heart. Lastly, although this is a fantastic book, it is quite mature. There is loads of cursing and it is very violent, so I would probably recommend this for grades 6 and up. But overall, The Book Thief  is a book with complex, interesting storyline and ideas and a fantastic set of characters that will captivate you!

Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan – Review by Sofia Corrales

attachment-1Sofia is a 6th grader in my literature class. She has a bright mind, a kind heart, and the sweetest of smiles. Never one to call out or disrupt, she goes about her work with thoughtfulness and diligence. As a middle school teacher, I never get enough time, like I did when teaching elementary, to get to know the kids’ interests and tastes. This book review and “portrait” gave me a little more insight into Sofia’s life and sense of humor. Thanks Sofia, and I hope you’re enjoying the blizzard wherever you are.


Jedi Academy Return of the Padawan, but Jeffrey Brown

attachmentJedi Academy: Return of the Padawan is about Roan Novachez, a padawan who is about to start his second year at Jedi Academy. It seems like this will be the best year ever, but things take an unexpected turn. He gets into fights with his friends, training gets really hard, and the class bullies don’t seem so bad anymore… Only one question remains: will he turn to the dark side?

This book is very interesting to me because it is very similar to the Star Wars movies and has a great story. Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan takes place in the Star Wars Universe, and many things in the book are the same as the movies, like the planets the characters go to and the things they do there, or that happen to them there. Some characters mentioned are even from the original Star Wars films. For example, when Roan and his friends take a field trip to Hoth, with Yoda as a chaperone, they encounter a Wampa (a carnivorous species that lives on Hoth), just like Luke does in Episode 5.  This book also has a very good story. Not only is it based on Star Wars, a story that many people love, but about how Roan deals with his troubles in middle school; bullies, fighting with friends, hard schoolwork, and new experiences. Even if you haven’t watched the movies and know nothing of Star Wars, these are things many people can relate to, which is only one of the reasons why I loved this book so much, and a reason many others will too, fans or not fans. Also, this a different story of Star Wars with all the same amazing qualities of it, so the stories don’t have to end with the movies, and people can keep enjoying it.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, or you like to read books with great storylines, this would be an awesome book to read.


The Westing Game – Review by Hanako W.

imageHanako is currently a 6th grader in my class. Insightful, sweet, bright and sincere, this kid is going places. She likes to sit at the front of the room and acts like I’m pretty interesting and funny, which I enjoy, especially, since it’s the last class of my day and the fourth time I’ve delivered the same lesson.


The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin71MT0ceUanL

When sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will, an extraordinary game begins. Although no one understands why the unconventional, game-loving millionaire has chosen a possible murderer to inherit his extensive fortune, the players all know that Sam Westing may not be alive, but that won’t prevent him from playing one last game.    

This book was spectacular. It was a detailed, edge-of-your-seat kind of story, with twists and turns on every page. The Westing Game is full of mysteries just waiting to be solved, and, as a reader, in a way, you get to. The characters are so deeply developed that you can imagine what he or she may do before he or she does it. This allows for the reader to have a “day in the life of a detective” and further expands on their understanding of the story. In the plot, there was a lot of working together involved. Players of the Westing Game are put in pairs, and then required to try and figure out who murdered Sam Westing. In the end, the only way that the players can win is to use one another’s individual talents. This was one of the themes of the book, but it was very subtle, and not as cliché as books that I have read before. I read The Westing Game this past year, and was perplexed as to why I had never read it before. I recommend this book to students and adults of ages 9 and up, simply because some of the parts can be a bit confusing. For me, however, that is one of the parts of the book that I enjoyed. Ellen Raskin tied the short, simple things that, as readers, we may sometimes overlook, into the larger, more complex areas, to create a slowly thickening plot. This was a beautiful book about how teamwork can open up opportunities that may not typically come without the help of complementary personalities working together.


The (Mostly) Ugly Truth About My Writing Life

LIW5C-9eI am a success. I am a failure. I am driven. I am defeated. I am thrilled to tell the truth. I am terrified of the consequences.

But here goes.

Why share this? Because the most popular post I ever wrote on Facebook was about my crappy birthday a few years back. People were refreshed by (to steal from Colbert) my “truthiness”. I’ve been exchanging emails with a poet friend of mine, and when I threatened to share my feelings about writing in a blog post, she said, “Writers need to hear this from other writers – and so do students.” Maybe they do. And maybe I need to tell it. Or maybe I’m about to commit career suicide. Could it get worse than where I am? I’m not sure.

Here’s the truth — I’ve been rejected a lot for the past few years. It’s been defeating. But I keep trying. I often think I’m stupid for continuing to try.

Here’s some advice I’ve gotten — You should promote yourself more (my books and I have been featured on TV, in two newspapers, two magazines, in alumni bulletins, and I did multiple blog tours). You should be on social media (I am; I don’t think I’m good at it). You should write what interests you (I did). You should be able to guess what the next big thing will be (um…).

I also get — You should have written that great idea in a different way with different characters and a different setting. You need to write something totally different. You should write realistic fiction. You should not write realistic fiction. You should write something cleaner, something smuttier, something with no curse words, something that sounds like real kids who curse, something socially responsible, something crazy and immoral.

 Conclusions — Maybe I suck. It’s possible. I don’t think so. Am I the best? No way. Close? Nope. A decent storyteller? I think so. I really do. So what gives? I don’t know.

So I self-published. A successful writer friend told me not to do it. That made me feel horrible and caused me to wait a few years to try it, but I wanted to share Mac/Beth and I wanted to take hold of my own destiny. I made a little money. People have enjoyed it. And self-publishing, like internet dating, has lost much of its stigma. I still cringe when I think about it. I’m going to do it again anyway.

Some comments I’ve gotten about self-publishing — There are self-publishers who eventually got real book deals afterwards. There are self-publishers who made millions. There are self-publishers who would never want to traditionally publish again.

The trouble is, since none of those has come true for me, I feel like a failure in a new area. Glass half empty? Maybe. True? Yes.

I’m disappointed a lot.

How I deal with this — I reach out to friends who are cheerleaders. I love to see what some writers post (many are funny and enlightening). I block some writers on Facebook (I feel petty every time I do this). I feel stabs of jealousy at every Scholastic Book Fair, at every cover reveal, and every deal announcement (I hit “like” anyway; I really am happy for them). I get depressed about my writing career (but I can’t stop telling stories. I’m happiest when I’m writing, so I write). I cry a lot when dealing with the business side of writing.

But what about The Royals? What about Falling for Hamlet? Mac/Beth? — Well . . . those are . . . nice. In some cases, better than nice. Amazing. I should be forever grateful (I will be) and incandescently happy (it’s hard to sustain happiness!). I share my good news. I tweet it. Shout it. Text it. Post it. But for every happy post, there’s a whole lot you’re not seeing.
So is the rejection because I suck? Maybe. Was it someone else’s fault? Fault is too strong a word. Is rejection part of the business? Absolutely. I knew it going in. I know it now. Does that make it hurt less? Hell no.

How I deal — Out of interest and personal growth, I read dozens of suggestions from successful writers telling me that what I need to do is write what I love (I did, got rejected), to work on my craft (I did, not sure if I got better, still trying), to stick with it and keep writing and trying to get published (I am, but often doubt this is a good idea). I keep reading their suggestions and mulling over inspirational quotes, kicking myself for not being positive enough and wondering if my doubts are, in fact, holding me back. If I really leap, the net will appear. Right? But I thought I did leap.

I keep following my friends’ more personal advice by having a good cry, dusting myself off, getting up and trying again. I get up and get up and get up. But what if I’m never published traditionally again? What if the rejections keep coming? At what point am I a foolish, under-talented idiot who should have given up long ago?

I’m terrified of that, but since I don’t know – and I can’t stop myself – I’ll keep writing.

Fish in a Tree – Review by Maria

9s8cGHqYV85RzSyXHwkZdwo7f6ygh4VUkyi6IgWHVwvoH2F4GCULH77l-jh74VfdpUZDpiiYal1BBAX-_diTkpitZpjna5OCXvi8kl4FAXUqVw=s0-d-e1-ft Maria is currently in my 6th grade literature elective. She is delightfully earnest and thoughtful. Every day she responds with care in writing and during discussions, she works to connect our books to current events and history, and stops on her way out the door at the bell to make a last comment or just to say thank you.

She has chosen to review Fish in a Tree, which was written by one of my EMLA agency mates and Facebook friends, but I assure you, this choice and her ideas are all her own.

Fish In A Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a book that faces the problems of growing up and believing in yourself. It tells the story of Ally, a girl who has dyslexia. She is ashamed, teased, hides it. But her newest teacher sees who Ally truly is: a smart, creative girl. With his help, Ally becomes more confident and discovers that there is more to herself than she and others know.


I cannot say how much I loved, enjoyed, and was amazed by this book! It is a truly original story about being confident and being yourself. Unlike other stories, the problem isn’t magically solved. This book describes in detail the shame and hate Ally receives. I read this in about 2 days, and cried at the end of it. Hunt has many descriptive, heart – wrenching paragraphs about Ally’s bullies, and her dad, who is off in the military. In one paragraph, it says, “I’ve been drawing pictures of myself being shot out of a cannon. It would be easier than school. Less painful.” Hunt uses amazing sentences such as this that will make the reader, no matter who, feel as if they are Ally. Despite being a bit of a tearjerker, I would recommend this amazing story to anyone 9 – up. Some of the parts are very sad and emotional, and not all kids might enjoy the more cruel and sad scenes. But aside from that, anyone can enjoy this story, as we have all been an outsider at a time and will be able to sympathize with Ally’s struggle. I loved the ups and downs, the descriptions and drama, and the wonderful quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”