The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

4 stars Middle School

I listened to this book on audio and I really enjoyed the voices. I don’t know why I picked up this book, it must have been the title and the synopsis that lured me in.  I enjoy Star Wars but I can’t say that I’m a huge fan but I can say that I’ve known my share of students in school who stood out as being “different.” 

I thought Dwight was rather creative.  As the voice of Yoda, what advice does he actually give to those who call upon him?  What stake does Yoda have in the lives of the individuals around him? What a creative way for Dwight to find his way into the lives of his peers.  I thought the book was rather interesting and said a lot about Dwight.  Not having any illustrations to look at, I think that I processed this book differently than someone who actually read and looked at the illustrations.  Fun, entertaining, and short story. I highly recommend the audio. 4 stars

Kate the Chemist: Dragons vs. Unicorns by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4 stars Middle School

I was impressed how this middle school fiction story mixed in as much science as it did, without the story sounding ridiculous or too nerdy.  You mix in too much information and you lose too many readers, you provide minor information and you lose readers, you do this and you lose readers, I feel that there’s this fine line of what information you can include in these types of books to be successful.  I’ve read a couple of the author’s science experiment books so I thought it was only fitting that I try one of her fiction stories.  My advice: if you’re thinking about this book, do it!  Dr. Biberdorf mixes in science terminology, knowledge, and excitement into a fictional story of a small group of fifth grade friends who find that their fall break camp has more drama than they signed up for.

I liked Kate’s excitement about science.  Her willingness to try and her great attitude even if things get out of control, she’s giving it everything that she has.  She really wants others to love science and experience it like she does. I loved how the author mixed in the science terminology within the story.  I found this book to be a fast read, containing short chapters with just a handful of important characters.  I hope that the author includes more male characters in this series as I feel both boys and girls would enjoy reading them.  This looks to be a great start to a fun, educational series!    

Kate the Chemist: The Awesome Book of Edible Experiments for Kids by Kate Biberdorf,

4.5 stars nonfiction children’s

I was all excited about another Kate, the Chemist book but I felt confused as I looked inside to see what types of experiments, she was featuring this time.  I hoped it wasn’t filled with slime recipes but I wasn’t expecting tomato sauce, chocolate chip cookies, defrosting berries, and creating pretzels bites.  Perhaps the title of the book threw me off and reading her last book which had another edible experiment.  To me, these weren’t experiments, they were recipes that turned into experiments based on how you went about preparing them. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a horrible book, it’s just that I was expecting something totally different.  This book focuses on why something works in a recipe.  While doing this, it also provides alternative methods (more experiments) to achieve this result.  Take for example the Banana Bread Experiment.  To make great banana bread, you usually need overripen, sweet bananas, but what if you only have yellow bananas?  Kate has an experiment for this recipe that has the reader doing 3 different methods for ripening your yellow bananas, so you can make the bread.  You’re recording your results as you perform the 3 different experiments. Once you get your results, you can continue on with the rest of the Banana Bread Experiment.

For each of the chapters, Kate provides a brief note about the project, a messiness level (most were 2 out of 3), a list of materials needed, whether you need: oven mitts, latex gloves, an adult, wonderful step-by-step instructions with fantastic illustrations, a What Do You Think? Section, and a How It Works: section. 

Each chapter is its own experiment (recipe).  I can’t say enough about how organized and detailed each chapter is.  That is what I love about Kate’s books, she is very detailed-oriented.  The illustrations are in color and the directions are detailed, with easy-to-understand language.   The What Do You Think? section asks the reader a handful of thought-provoking questions about what they have done and has them think about what might happen had they done something else.  I really enjoyed the How It Works section as it goes into detail about why this experiment does its job.  This section is quite lengthy which is why I like it also.  This section is not a bunch of scientific words but it explains the science behind why the reaction occurred which might be overwhelming to some young readers.  You could have an older individual read this section and explain it to a younger child so they could understand it.    

I liked reading why these experiments worked as I found it interesting and cooking can be fun, if you make it fun.  I feel that some children will be like me and be shocked when they open the book and see what each chapter is about.  I’m afraid they will see the book as a cookbook and they’ll want to pass on it while others will love it.  If you haven’t seen Kate before, I suggest you check her out.  She’s on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and online.  This is a great book; I just wished the title was something else.  4.5 stars

The Only (Endling #3) by Katherine Applegate

5 stars Middle School

Is this really the end? This is the third book in this series, supposedly the last book, yet I feel that the journey is far from over for some of the species in this book.  It has been quite an adventure and as I read this book, the struggle became more intense and determined than it had ever been.  Assigned to a mission, they knew that success was the only answer, and drawing from all sources, they gave it all they had.

I feel Byx and Tobble have come a long way from when I first met them in The Last and now, they’re responsible for gathering recruitments for the Army of Peace. The Army hopes that a peaceful agreement can be obtained amongst all the world’s species before the two most powerful groups come head-to-head and engage in war.  I thought this was a lot of responsibility for these two friends to take on, considering their lack of experience and all the risk that was assigned to this task.  They each had a skill but would that keep them alive?

I enjoyed this series and I would like to reread it now, that all the books have been written. I did cry reading this last book (it wasn’t when I closed the last page), it was when the two friends were with one another and their friends were close by, and that is all I am saying about that moment.  This was a wonderful journey, created with great imagination and unique characters.  I enjoyed the friendships that were created and how they developed.  The characters encouraged one another and they believed in teamwork.  I was surprised though, in this final book, at the difficult vocabulary used and the way that the author described the last scene.  I thought the author used some challenging words in this book which, if you’re able to decipher words, is fine. Sometimes though, it was hard to decipher a few of those words and I had to use the dictionary.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just something that caught me off guard.  The final scene though, I thought it might contain too many details for some students.  The confrontation that occurs gives some descripted details which to some students might be okay while to others, they would be fine with, “his xxxxx would never be the same.”  A great series that I highly recommend.

“I think being brave means being afraid and still doing what you must do.”

Links to trailers for Book 1 and Book 2

BOOK 1
BOOK 2

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen

4.5 stars Middle School

This book had a lot of themes going through it but it worked. Miriam, an 11-year-old girl is the protagonist in the story as her family moves into a rundown motel, in the hopes of creating a new future for themselves and the business. They had only planned this to be a short-term plan, hoping to save some money and then move on. Moving into a small community was different than New York City and the longer I read, the more I realized what this family was hiding internally.

As the family moves into The Jewel Motor Inn, the two children live in one of the rooms and the parents’ take-up residence in an adjoining room. As an 11-year-old, I thought that would be fun but I could understand the novelty wearing off. Maria, continues to work at the Inn, taking care of the housekeeping issues and helping the family become familiar with the motel. I loved how she helped Miriam learn Spanish and I felt that Maria was a very kind and tolerant individual. As her parents start the clean-up process, Miriam pitches in. On an errand to the diner next door, she meets Kate. Kate’s grandmother owns the diner and eventually, Miriam ends up helping out at the diner making pies.

Now that Miriam has met a friend, the two girls start hanging out together. While talking about their small town, they come up with a plan that they think will benefit everyone in it. Now, if only they don’t get caught creating their plan! An innocent plan which when you think about it, was harmless. I thought the girls were rather clever. As guests arrived to the hotel, Miriam meets Anton. This child was a gem! Anton arrived with his mother and his wheelchair. Miriam saw the wheelchair. I really think she saw the wheelchair before she saw Anton until Anton met her in the swimming pool. After that, Miriam changed how she looked at him. Anton was not the only person who tried to help Miriam with her fear of water, Uncle Mordy tried his hand at that, too. Uncle Mordy arrived to help out the family so he decided to help Miriam. Slowly, he introduced her the water, letting the water touch her upper thighs, it was a start.

The girls felt guilty for what they did for the town but they didn’t want to admit to anyone what they did. Just as the family is enjoying their new home, they discover something painful and disturbing at the motel. This event has a snowball effect on the community which all began because of emotions and the lack of accountability. I cringed to see this happened to them and I had to hope that somehow, they found find strength to fight it.

And what do you see? Just one of many that are out there.

A middle school read that packs religion, faith, friendship, disabilities, and family all in one book. I found it to be a fast read and I really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars

” They stand with their arms around each other. The man points and traces somthing in the air. The woman nods and smiles and I see tears rolls down her cheeks. “
“Is what we did good or bad? Yes, we fooled people, but if it makes them happy and gives them hope and saves the motel and the diner, is that so bad?”

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: Harry Houdini by Katherine Factor

4.5 stars Choose Your Own Adventure Series

This book took me back to when my children were little.  I used to love reading these books when my children would check them out from the library and this one, was no exception.  I choose my first path through the book, based on what I’d want to do and then, I went back and reread the book a few times, choosing paths that were totally different.  I was Harry Houdini, a magician with big dreams!

All paths in the book begin in America, in the year 1899.  Working as a traveling sideshow, you like to call yourself the “The King of the Cuffs,” as you’re able to outwit any handcuff that anyone tries to attach to you.  This of course, angers the police but you’re starting to make a name for yourself, as people are beginning to notice you. Now in Chicago, as a crowd gathers around, you’re getting the attention that you don’t want.  The police have arrested you, placed you in chains, and put you in a cell.  Can their charges be legitimate?  You’ve never attempted a cell break before, yet it could be possible.  You receive a sign just before the lieutenant rushes into your cell to offer you a deal. 

It’s time now for the first decision in this book: does Harry take the deal that was offered to him or does Harry decide to use the omen that he received and not take the lieutenant’s deal?  What the reader chooses will direct their path to the next section to read and set their course for this book.

This book is based on a true story and there’s an article about Harry at the back of the book.  I enjoyed my adventures as I traveled through the book; some were short-lived and I did have one very long journey.  I did learn a few things about this man as I read and having the opportunity to choose the storyline is a very fun way to read a story. 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

5 stars MIddle School

The ending of this book was fantastic!  That was one adrenaline rush! I seriously don’t think I took a breath as the minute-by-minute action played out.  As I reflect back on this book, I realized just how much I enjoyed it.  After I had been introduced to the characters, I didn’t want to put this book down. 

Zoey didn’t want to be on the debate team, nor did she want to be a part of the debate club. It’s not like she didn’t have an opinion, its just that she doesn’t like to talk out loud in class and isn’t that important in debate?  Zoey’s teacher sees something in her and she motivates her to join.  As Zoey attends a few of the meetings, I had to laugh as she begins scribbling information down and it seems as if she’s just “existing” while she’s there.  You can tell she’d rather be anywhere else then, sitting there in these meetings.  Yet, she’s listening and she’s grasping what’s really transpiring all around her, is anyone else doing the same?  

Zoey’s life at home is complicated.  She has three younger siblings (Hector, Bryce, and Aurora) which she helps care for when her mother works at the Pizza Pit.  Zoey doesn’t see her father and Bryce and Aurora don’t visit their father either.  Her mother is trying, she really is. With a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep in, her mother is trying to make a better life for her children. They’re all currently living with Hector’s father, Lenny and his grandfather in a trailer.  Sounds cozy, doesn’t it? 

I could see myself in Zoey’s mom, so much that it hurt. Her mom saw a goal and she was trying to reach it.  In-between her and that goal were her kids -that’s it……nothing else.  She was trying to make a better life for them and that was her goal.  Zoey: her view through the lens was different. With everything that Zoey is juggling, she wants to help her mom now.     

This is an excellent story that addresses the issues of poverty and abuse through the eyes of a middle-schooler. I really enjoyed how Zoey’s knowledge of debate came into play and how Zoey’s character matured in this book.  Zoey relationships with her peers and her family played a huge part in her life.  The responsibility she shouldered and her attitude was remarkable.  I loved how realistic this book felt and how smooth the writing was.  It deserves more than 5 stars!   

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

5 stars YA

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.  This has been my precept lately and when I read about August’s language teacher giving his students precepts to reflect upon monthly, I was moved. In fact, there were many characters in this book reflecting back on their actions and/or their comments because sometimes, individuals act spontaneous. I enjoyed all the characters in this book, each one of them was important to this story.  August may have been the common thread that linked them all together but they were all needed, to make August into the best person that he could be. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have read parts of this book over the years.  As a substitute teacher, I would read this book in various classrooms when I would do a read-aloud with the students.  I never heard a student tell me they didn’t enjoy the book, in fact, most kids got excited when I read it to them.  They would try to tell me different parts of the story and I could definitely feel their enthusiasm.  I had no desire to read this book after reading the disjointed version over and over throughout the years.  Book Club came to my rescue and dang, what a book!  I laughed, cried, and gave my copy of the book a good talking to, a few times as August ventures inside a school building.   Don’t go to school, go to school, don’t go, go, heck…..I don’t know.  I wobbled back and forth, as August tried to decide what he should do about attending school in a building vs. being home schooled again by his mother.

August knows the reaction that he’ll receive when he goes to school, he’s been getting it his entire life.  He wants to think that he’s used to it but in reality, he knows he’s not.  His mom feels that since it’s 5th grade, all the students will be new to the building and it’s a perfect transition time but August knows that he still has the disadvantage.  After the school tour, August feels that it’s not as bad as he thought yet, when he actually attends the school, it’s harder than he thought. 

I wasn’t ready for parts of the story as I read them.  In the back of my head, I’m thinking positive thoughts but I know that negative things can happen, when “it” happened.  They made me feel as if I’ve been run over by a bus.  I know kids can be cruel, I know they can be truthful and honest but wow, seriously? I loved August’s sister, Via.  She’s the real deal.  She tries to toughen him up as she throws punches at him and he has the choice to either fight back or walk away.  I believe that Via hoped that he’d confront her, she wanted him to push back, as that made him stronger. 

Being a kid is hard, you want to fit in, but where?  There’re many examples of this in the book, and the reality of it hits home.  Kids want to be accepted, they want to a part of something, I think everyone has this feeling sometime in their life as I read, I understood the position they took.  Sometimes I didn’t like it but I understood it.  I think both his peers and August matured in this book.   I liked how the teacher was trying to get his students to think on their own when he assigned the precepts.  He wanted them to apply the various concepts and form an opinion, then they were to express themselves on the various subjects. I think this is a great exercise will help the students grow internally. 

I’m so glad that I was forced to read this book for book club as I don’t think I would have read this book otherwise. I now want to see the movie as I heard it was good and was close to the book. 

There were many great quotes in this book but these stand out as my favorite:

“Now, unless you want to be treated like a baby the rest of your life, or like a kid with special needs, you just have to suck it up and go.”    (guess who said that?)

““Do people go out of their way to avoid touching you, Vic?” he answered, which left me momentarily without an answer. “Yeah, right. That’s what I thought. So, don’t compare your bad days at school to mine, okay?””

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne

4 stars YA

Sky’s playing field is the basketball court but she can’t stay there forever.  On the court, she’s confident and free yet off the court, Sky insecurities control her. When she talked about Lay Li, this story sounded all too familiar. 

Lay Li and Sky were best friend, the emphasis is on the word, were.  Sky discovers that Lay Li is not girlfriend material as she doesn’t have Sky’s best interest in mind afterall. Its hard to come to this realization and then, to have to walk away from this close relationship but she had to.  

Written in verse, this was a great book about relationships and about taking care of yourself.