Hi guys! October has been a very crazy month for me, and November is going to be even busier! I have a choral festival, scholarship applications, auditions, and a whole bunch of other things to prepare and complete. Somehow, in the midst of my senior year craziness, I’ve managed to read quite a few books–averaging a book or two a week! However, the books I’ve read this past month are sorted into two main categories: those I really enjoyed and those that failed to astound me. I hope you enjoy!
By the way, I’ve recently updated the way I rate and review books. Now, four stars means that I enjoyed a book while three stars is reserved for books that “are not bad but they’re not good.” If I did not like a book, I would rate it two stars. It sounds very similar to my past review scale, but I’m not judging books a bit more harshly since I have been too lenient regarding books that don’t impress me. I would instantly recommend books four stars and above. Three star books I’m more hesitant with. This new system helps me distinguish books that were “okay” versus books that I truly enjoyed and thus books that blew me away.
Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler (Yes, I Re-Read This a Month after I Finished It!)
Hi everybody!! I am on a three-day weekend today (woo hoo!), and I’m spending this Labor Day break reading and relaxing and catching up on things. One day off really can make all the difference, don’t you think? Today, I am sharing my August Reading Recap, and I read eight books this month! I’m a bit surprised at that, but I’m so glad to do so. I’m planning on doing some more re-reads of my favorite books (I have The Continuum Trilogy and The Book Thief next on my list) along with knocking out a lot of review copies and backlist books. I hope you enjoy!
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Re-read!)
Fawkes by Nadine Brandes
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan
Hi guys! By this time, most schools should be starting school, which inspired the theme for this month’s LILbooKtalk about instilling a love of reading in students. Today’s guests include a middle school teacher and a librarian who not only frequently work with children but also write for them! Please welcome the amazing Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt as we discuss turning students into big readers!
About How to Stage a Catastrophe
Sidney plans to be the director of the Juicebox Theater when he grows up. For now, he handles the props, his best friend Folly works the concession stand, and his sister May hangs out in the spotlight. But the theater is in danger of closing, and the kids know they need a plan to save it and fast. When they join a local commerce club to earn money, Sid and Folly uncover some immoral business practices, and it gives them a great idea for saving the theater. That is, if you can call extortion a great idea. Hilarious and heartwarming, the mission to save a failing community theater unites a riotous cast of characters in this offbeat middle-grade novel.
From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.
Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game–one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?
Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.
With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.
The Right Hook of Devin Velma releases from Feiwel & Friends on September 25th! Pre-order it today!
Kester: The first author we have today is Rebecca Donnelly, author of the MG contemporary novel How to Stage a Catastrophe and her upcoming book The Friendship Lie. She also works at a public library in northern New York. Could you describe to us a little about you and your books?
Rebecca: Sure! I’ve worked in public libraries for about 12 years now in different roles, but being a children’s librarian is my favorite. It’s been great training for being a writer, since reading in your field is such an important part of both jobs. How to Stage a Catastrophe published in April 2017, and it was inspired by the time I spent as a middle schooler doing community theater. It’s about a group of kids who try, fail, and try again to save their community theater from closing down, going to great and scheming lengths to do so. The Friendship Lie is a quieter story about fifth grade friends who have fallen out with each other and are trying to find their way back to friendship, with the help of an old diary one of them finds. The Friendship Lie is set to publish August 2019. Both are with Capstone.
Kester: Both of your books sound awesome!!! I hope I’ll be able to read them one day! 🙂
Alongside Rebecca, we have Jake Burt, author of MG contemporary debut Greetings from Witness Protection! and The Right Hook of Devin Velma, which will release in just a few weeks. He is a fifth-grade teacher from Connecticut. Would you also like to tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?
Jake: Absolutely, Kester, and thanks for having us! Greetings From Witness Protection! debuted last October. It’s the story of Nicki Demere, a 13-year-old girl in foster care who gets recruited by the US marshals to join witness protection; their notion is that she’ll help hide a family by changing up their dynamic. The Right Hook of Devin Velma, out on September 4th, is about one boy’s quest to find out why his best friend punched him in the face. Both are MG contemporary, both are set in middle schools, and there are no vampires in either one. I’ve been told that’s an important distinction to make.
Kester: Thank you, Jake! It’s definitely my pleasure! And haha, that’s good to know about the vampires, especially since I’m about to start on Devin Velma soon!
Jake: Awesome. Can’t wait to hear what you think!
Kester: Thank you! Here’s my first question: Since both of you work frequently with young children and books, how do you promote reading and writing among your students? What do you when you encounter reluctant readers, and how do you turn them into avid bibliophiles?
Jake: Want me to take a swipe at this one first, Rebecca?
Rebecca: Sure, since our roles are a little different!
Jake: Cool. On it! I’ve found that the key to developing confident, invested readers is empowerment. Kids most frequently encounter books (at least, in the school setting) via gatekeepers, whether that’s me, our fantastic school librarians, or someone similar. While that can be a great way to introduce new books to a kid, there’s not a lot of efficacy on the part of the reader there, so students often come to me without a strong sense of how to find and, more importantly, enjoy their own books. So early in the year we work on developing an understanding of how to read for pleasure…it seems strange, but that’s actually a modelable and learnable skill. We talk about being able to quit a book if it’s not grabbing you, about comparing books, about discussing books with friends, and about the value of rereading old favorites. We talk about skipping ahead and watching the movie first and reading more than one book at a time – all the ways adults who have learned to love reading come at their TBR piles.
Rebecca: I love everything you’re saying here, Jake! I work in a public library, not in a school, so my work with kids is almost entirely around helping them find things they want to read. The piece I’m missing is having the ability to work with them in depth, the way a classroom teacher or school librarian is able to. When I visit schools, or when classes visit me in the library, I try to emphasize the importance of choice, and that browsing is a skill–modelable and learnable, as you say. It’s great to get recommendations from friends, but I love seeing a kid who has the time to browse the shelves and find something new on their own. That’s genuine empowerment! One of my goals is to work with my local school to help them build their community of readers, too!
Jake: That’s vital – the teamwork component. A network of adults, all of whom love books and reading, surrounding a child can do wonders, particularly as far as access is concerned. That’s often one of the first hurdles to developing a love for reading: just not having enough books to promote true choice. It helps so much when librarians can work with teachers and families to fill in gaps and expand availability.
Rebecca: Yes! I got a massive donation from Scholastic this last spring (1300 books) that I gave out to every kid 3-6 grade in three different local schools. I scoured my giveaway books to get enough to be able to give something to every kid pre-k to 2nd grade, as well. One thing we really strive for in public libraries is giving kids access to books over the summer, since their regular school library visits aren’t happening. I give away books as prizes for playing my summer reading Bingo game, when I do outreach visits, and every time I visit the local Head Start. Simply getting books to kids is a huge part of developing readers.
Kester: That’s so awesome to hear!! The work you’ve done is definitely commendable!!
I’m very curious about this, so what’s your stance on Accelerated Reader? I personally did not like it as an elementary student, but I would love to know your thoughts.
Rebecca: I’ve worked in a library where the local school district used AR, and it was incredibly frustrating to have to help kids find a book at “their level” that a) we owned and b) they were interested in. It seemed to be difficult for everyone, parents and children included.
Jake: We don’t use it in our classrooms, but I’ve taught at schools that did. Personally, I’ve never found much use for the data it provides…and that’s what it is, a data aggregation tool. It’s not designed to deepen understanding or enjoyment of reading. If a teacher or school was considering adopting it, I’d challenge them to ask themselves what they’re truly hoping to learn by collecting that data. Is it something they couldn’t get by having a meaningful 5-10 minute reader’s conference with a student?
Rebecca: Jake, you might know this better than I do, but isn’t there a quote from Fountas & Pinnell, who developed another leveling system, saying that reading levels have no place in reading assignments, book choice, or kids’ expectations of themselves?
Jake: Yes; we use the Fountas and Pinnell continuum for literacy instruction in our Lower School. They stress a genre-based approach (heavy on mentor texts and book discussions) rather than levels. It strikes me as a more authentic system, moreso now that I’ve seen things from the author side, too. I don’t write novels with any notion of what “level” it might be. If my character is the type of girl who would use the word “runcible,” she’s gonna say “runcible.” I’m not changing it to “spoon” so that it can fit cozily into a level. And I’ve certainly never gone to the library or bookstore as an adult thinking, “I’m fixing to snag me something at my level.”
Rebecca: Ha! Good point–we put all kinds of pressure & restrictions on kids that we would never put on ourselves, including what makes a “good” book.
Kester: I remember as an elementary student I felt very forced to read at a level higher than my grade… which knocked out many novels that I would have loved. There were so few books I could read that I eventually stopped reading a lot in middle school.
Rebecca: I’m so sorry! But obviously you were able to be a reader on your own terms, which gives every kid hope!
Jake: Yes, so glad you came back around to reading, Kester!
Hi guys! July has been a crazy month for me, and it’s definitely been busy! I’ve been to Singapore and road-tripped around the Philippines, and it’s great to be back home. I’m looking forward to all of the adventures I’m going to have this school year, whether they be in a book or in real life! I’ve actually finished nine books this past month, which is a stunning accomplishment for me! I am going to try to knock out as many ARCs and review copies as I can in August (though I’m not doing #ARCAugust). Hope you enjoy!
Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder (Re-Read!)
Hi everybody! I usually don’t post many discussions, but because it is summer and I’ve had a bit more time to write, I’ve decided to write this little reflection about reading versus reality, especially since I’ve had so many great experiences this past school year and it’s been tough finding the will to read during my “emotional hangovers.” I hope you enjoy this post and maybe ponder over when it’s best to choose between reading and reality.
Sometimes We Need to Choose Reality Over Reading
Reading has always been my escape. When I feel lonely or dejected, burdened or stressed, I just pull out a book and become transported into another world. I want to become amazed by the magic in fantasies, moved by the raw truth of contemporaries, or enlightened by the real inspirations in historical fiction. Stories turn the ordinary of my life into the extraordinary, full of whizzing technologies, majestic creatures, and relatable characters that I would like to befriend in reality.
I have always been an emotional guy. I let my heart take control sometimes. And after undergoing through many amazing experiences in my junior year, it became hard to read at times. When the school year ended and my time in my high school elite choir the Madrigals came to a close, my heart swelled with so many feelings that I could not finish more than a couple of pages in my book. During my time at TN Boys State, I did not want to read since the time I could use to hang out with so many of the awesome delegates there was very limited and precious.
There was even a moment when I doubted myself as a reader. I did not want to read anymore. Thankfully, after my emotional hangovers had subsided a bit, my bibliophilia was restored. I admit, I can be a bit volatile at times—which is why I need to think with my head before I let my heart steer the reigns—but I have learned a valuable lesson from all of these events.
Now I am not trying to degrade reading at all. That is not the point of this essay. In fact, I commend people who can read hundreds, if not thousands, of books a year. I wish I could do that! And I want those who do that to keep on doing that.
But I have learned that sometimes you need to close your book, go out, and take on new experiences. While books are portals into new lives and new places, the real world can be just as exciting. My junior year of high school has been filled with events and memories that I will never forget. I have sung at venues that I would never imagine performing at (from Christmas caroling to All Northwest Honor Chori), toured our nation’s capital, made many friends at Boys State, attended two book festivals, and brought home the coveted DECA glass from SCDC. I have strengthened my current friendships, discovered a second family in my choir, and connected with people from all around the state. I have stood on the very steps where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and witnessed the actual flag that flew at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Those were some of the best moments of my life, and I will cherish those memories forever.
Now not everyone has the same opportunities as I do, but every person’s life is equipped with all sorts of opportunities to fill it with love, with excitement, with awe, with gratitude. Whether it be a bustling city or a quaint small town, there is always something to do and somewhere to go.
However, there are times when we need to read to find consolation and refuge from the trials and darkness of the outside world. When life is tough for me, I often pull out a book to be transported to a new realm where I could feel accepted, or at least connect with characters that are going through troubles that could relate with what I am going through. I credit books with keeping me company when I feel alone in a crowd, calming me when I feel nervous and stressed, and boosting me with hope when I feel dejected. I have learned so many lessons from these stories, and they’ve aroused in me a kinder and more adventurous spirit.
But in order for these novels to truly change our lives, we need to go out and put these lessons and newfound feelings to the test. We need to go out into the world and make new encounters. It is great to read on the beach with the cool breeze in your hair, in the mountains full of peace and quiet, next to the fireplace with a blanket and a cup of cocoa. But don’t forget that those places can make new memories outside of stories, from swimming on the beach, hiking and marveling at God’s glorious creation, and bonding with friends and family on a cold winter’s night. Experience the world around you. There are lots of things to do, places to visit, people to meet, and events to attend. Traveling to a fictional world is an amazing experience that can teach so much about life, but the real world can be life-changing as well.
Yes, George R. R. Martin is right when he says, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives one.” But don’t forget that reality has so much to offer, so much to be explored, so much to be written, so much to be experienced.
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!
Hi guys! Fortunately, because summer’s here, I’ve been able to read more and blog more over the past few weeks! I have managed to finish nine books (compared with May’s two/three) and I have finally completed a few reading goals! I’ve found two five-star books (yes, my four-star drought has ended!) and I’ve finished a classic outside of English! Jane Eyre took me a long time to read but it was so well worth it! I hope you can check out these amazing books!
Hi everybody! This month’s Reading Recap will be very short because I have read only two books this month. Yes, two. This past May has been one of the busiest months of my entire life, with AP exams in the first two weeks, end-of-school activities the third, Boys State on the fourth, and traveling to the Philippines on the fifth. It has been very crazy for me, so I have not been able to read at all. Hopefully this summer, I’ll be able to catch up on reading and reviewing and blogging!
Hi guys! Happy Easter! May the glory of Christ’s resurrection provide you strength and bless you continually throughout your lives! I pray that God may guide each of you throughout your lives. Today, I am posting my March Reading Re-Cap, and surprisingly I managed to finish so many books regardless of my extremely busy schedule. My Spring Break is also about to end, but I’ve certainly recharged with a lot of rest, prayer, and reading these past few days. I hope you enjoy this post, and have a blessed day!
Hi guys! March is going to be a crazy month for me! I just performed last night in my choir’s Evening with the Madrigals, and I sang and/or played the piano to “Hold Me Now” by Johnny Logan, “Home” from Beauty and the Beast: The Musical, and “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera. Next week is Midterms week, along with my DECA State Convention and the SE-YA Book Fest. And that’s only the first two weeks of March, and there’s much more in store for me. At least last month, I was able to finish 10 books somehow!
Cry of the Sea by D. G. Driver
These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt
AutoFocus by Lauren Gibaldi
Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLellan and Louis Sylvester
Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Rook by Sharon Cameron
These Vengeful Souls by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Hi guys! January was definitely a crazy month for me. I got off for an entire week due to snow, but I did win first place in DECA regionals! I met and chatted with so many amazing authors over the past few weeks, and I am really excited to see the blog grow even more in 2018. Also, I’m beginning to Bookstagram, which is going to be fun yet a bit challenging. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in 11 books this month, which is a remarkable feat considering my schedule, and I’m hoping to finish many more soon!