Books on the Blog: What are you reading this winter?
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Booked by Kwame Alexander is a great read for fifth through ninth grade students. Nick Hall, the main character, is a bright eighth grader who loves soccer and spends time dreaming about upcoming soccer tournaments in school as well as a girl he likes. His best friend Coby shares his passion for soccer. This perfectly crafted story is told in verse and deals with the stress of separation and the eventual divorce of Nick’s parents. When Nick ends up in the hospital to have his appendix removed, he turns to books he has avoided with his soccer dreams temporarily on hold. He is surprised to find more than he expected there – a good message for middle school readers! A reflective narrative with a likable protagonist, Booked brings to life very solid teen and adult characters. It includes vivid soccer scenes, great wordplay, and a clear picture of some of the challenges (including bullying) that young people face. A satisfying, winning read!
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner is a riff on “The Fisherman and His Wife.” The main character, Charlie, catches a magical fish that says she will grant Charlie’s wish in return for her freedom. Charlie wants some control over her life. Her wishes are not exactly accurate. She gets the wrong boy to fall in love with her, and wishing that her mother would get a new job causes her to miss an Irish dance competition. Then it is discovered that her sister has developed a heroin addiction during her first semester in college. Charlie’s parents get Abby into a program, and Charlie has to spend her Saturdays visiting her older sister at the facility and lying to her friends about it. It’s hard to be supportive whe
n she discovers her sister has lied about many things. Will the fish be able to make things right? Or are some things in life beyond even magical help? In this story about an ordinary family – solid and loving parents, sisters that get along with each other, a great family dog – a problem arises that rocks their world. How could heroin addiction happen to a family such as this? I particularly liked the way Messner handled this situation. It is believable, honest, appropriate, and respectful. Her brilliance was the way she helped the reader understand how the family, including Abby but specially Charlie, suffers because of this addiction. I felt hopeful when it was over. Kudos to Kate Messner for tackling this difficult topic.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicole Yoon tells the story of two teens: Daniel, the son of Korean shop owners, and Natasha, whose family is from Jamaica and living in N.Y.C. illegally. During one hectic day their paths cross while Daniel is going to an interview with a Yale alum and Natasha is looking for a lawyer to help prevent her family’s deportation to Jamaica because of her father’s D.U.I.. Daniel is pressured by his Korean-born parents to get accepted into Yale. His older brother Charlie has been forced to return home from Harvard after two semesters of probation. Daniel wants to pursue his own dream, not his parents’ dream of graduating from Yale and becoming a doctor. When Daniel and Natasha meet, they are attracted to one another even though they are very different. Natasha is all science and logic and Daniel is the passionate poet. They spend every possible minute together that day. Ultimately, they fall in love, but Natasha’s family is deported. Ten years later, Daniel and Natasha meet again on a flight. The reader can only imagine what happens next! Yoon’s romance novel is also a story about family, immigration, and fate. This exploration of love and life tempers some harsh realities with the soothing powers of hope in a way that is deeply moving and extremely satisfying. A great read for high school students!
Lynne Dorfman is a co-director of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is co-author of A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6, available this September at Stenhouse Publishers. Lynne serves KSRA as an editor for PAReads and is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University. She attributes all her successes as a presenter and as a writer of professional books to her participation in PAWLP’s invitational summer writing institute and all her coursework at West Chester University through the PA Writing & Literature Project. It changed her teaching life and enriched her personal life with wonderful friends.