Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. Grades 8+ Dial Books, June 2015. 400 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

What it's about:

When Minnow was five years old, her parents moved the family to the remote woods of Montana to join a religious cult led by a Prophet named Kevin. Good Kevinian girls didn't read or write. They obeyed the prophecies that came to Kevin. They didn't doubt or question. They prepared for the war that the evil Gentiles would one day wage on them. But Minnow didn't quite buy it. And when she rebelled, they cut off her hands.

Now the Prophet is dead. The Community has burned to the ground. A green-eyed boy was beaten almost to death. And Minnow sits in a juvenile correction center, trying not to remember the horrors that came before. The FBI is investigating what happened and Minnow might be the key to unraveling the events of that horrifying night.

My thoughts:

We have been doing so much booktalking this year that sometimes I feel like that's all my reading is - prepping for booktalks I will do. So it's been hard for me lately to get into books that I know I can't booktalk (YA stuff, since we only cover the elementary schools and early middle school grades).

Not so with this book.

I had heard some rave reviews and I picked this book up Sunday night and I seriously could not put it down. I finished it less than 24 hours later. That has NOT been happening lately, so you know this is a special book!

Minnow is a really compelling character, a strong girl who has escaped from those who would harm her and who is trying to stand on her own two feet. And her story is compelling, as well. Author Stephanie Oakes metes the back story out at a nice pace, keeping tension taut in the story while still giving you enough to keep you invested. I was also riveted by Minnow's time in prison, how she navigated the waters and how she managed with no hands. I was so engrossed in the story that it was hard to get it out of my head. I went to lunch with a friend and kept thinking about what it would be like if I had no hands myself.

The book reads like part crime-thriller, part religious cult expose, and it reminded me of several of my favorite TV shows - Orange is the New Black and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (not the tone of that last one, but a little bit of the premise).

I would totally booktalk it to 8th grade and up if I was doing teen booktalks. I think the premise alone (they CUT OFF HER HANDS!) makes a great booktalk and this is one that kids who like thrilling stories will clamor for.


After by Amy Efaw - another ripped-from-the-headlines type of story about a girl in juvie for abandoning her newborn baby in the trash.

The Year We Disappeared by Cylin Busby and John Busby - this true crime story has the same compelling style where you just can't put the book down until you know what happens.

I'd also hand this book to fans of Jodi Picoult, especially Plain Truth and The Pact.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Booktalking Redux

Photo by Book Aid International

It's been a magical year of booktalking at our local schools! I posted last fall about getting in to our local schools for booktalks, and now that we're wrapping up our first booktalking year, I wanted to post about how things have gone this year. 

We ended up with 18 grades at 9 schools that we saw monthly (or regularly - one group had us come every six weeks when their language arts unit changed). This includes the 5th & 6th grades at our middle schools and our teen librarians visited the 7th & 8th grades there, as well. We saw different combinations of grades for a total of 12 monthly visits each month. Some of these visits were as short as 15-20 minutes and some of them lasted as long as 3.5 hours, depending on the numbers of classes and groups we saw.

For example, we visited one 4th grade class at one of our private schools for just one presentation, about 15 minutes at the end of their school day, each month. At one of our middle schools, we visited twice a month and saw 6-8 groups for 15 minutes apiece at each visit in order to get all the 5th/6th grade classes in. 

Typically, we see each class (or group of classes) for 15-20 minutes, during which time we can share 5-6 books. We always try to keep a balance between genres and formats and we always include diverse books. This year, we saw kids ranging from 1st to 6th grade. Some of the teachers asked to check out the books we were bringing in school collections, some did not. 

We were lucky this year that we had the collection budget to order multiple copies of the books we were bringing if teachers wanted to check out the books for their classes. Unfortunately, next year it looks like we may not have the money to do that, but we're brainstorming ways that we can still make it work. The good news is that we can reuse some of the books that we brought this year (but we have to be a little careful about that - if the 2nd grade team used a book that we also used for 3rd grade, that wouldn't be one we would repeat this year). That's going to be the biggest challenge for the 5th/6th grade groups we saw since we won't be able to repeat any of those books.

I scheduled certain staff members to visit certain schools and we all pretty much saw the same groups each month. This allows the kids to get to know their librarians and the librarians to get to know their kids. The way it's worked out is that I have a set of early elementary booktalkers and a set of older elementary/middle school booktalkers. We'll see how this pans out for next year when we may possibly have an increase in the number of programs we're asked to do.  

All in all, it's been an extremely fun and valuable year. Many of our teachers have already asked if we will be doing the booktalking visits again next year, and I'm excited to see who will have us back and if we'll have any "new recruits". 

As we are wrapping up with each group, I am sending out a wrap-up email explaining about scheduling for next year, including a book list of all the books we brought to them throughout the year and a link to a survey for teachers. I love to send out the book lists, which can be a great resource for kids as they're trying to find good books to read over the summer. We're slowly getting responses to the survey and we've been getting very positive feedback. It looks like the books we brought this past year were on-target for the age groups we were seeing and have been getting kids excited about reading and introducing teachers to new books. 


1. We see kids in all the time, asking for books we have brought to their classrooms. The books are checking out. 

2. Kids have gotten more excited about reading and teachers are being exposed to new books they didn't know about before. We heard from one middle school teacher who has used one of the books we introduced to develop a problem-solving lesson that her kids were super into. Huzzah! 

3. Kids have a chance to connect with librarians and ask questions about the library. We have the opportunity to tell them how to get a library card, give an extra push for Summer Reading Club, or tell them about fun programs that are coming up. 

Things We Have Learned:

1. May is too busy for Summer Reading Club school visits and a bunch of booktalking visits. Next year, we will do booktalks September through April (like the rest of our programming!) and maybe we can offer an extra visit in May to talk about and answer questions about the Summer Reading Club. 

2. We're taking August off for scheduling. That was the most stressful part of last year for me - trying to take vacation in August when I was in the middle of scheduling a ton of booktalking visits. This year, I have let teachers know that we'll be in touch in August to schedule visits for the school year. I am going to take that month to get everything scheduled and then we'll be ready to go in September. 

3. It's GREAT to be able to send teams of two to do the booktalks. Not only does it cut down on the number of books you have to prepare each month, but it makes it easier to get a nice balance of genres, formats, etc. This past year, I only sent one person to some of the smaller groups. Next year, I'll probably still send one person to these groups, but I am going to rotate so that it's not one person seeing the same group every month. We'll rotate between three or four of us, which will help make the workload more manageable and also result in more balanced presentations over the course of the year. 

4. Send reminder emails!!! I have gotten into the habit of sending out a short reminder note a week before our visit. This allows us some time to put together School Collections if anyone has any special requests, time to reschedule if we need to make changes due to field trips, etc., and it's helped keep everyone on track. I copy the staff who will be doing the visit so that everyone's on the same page. 

Now that I feel like we have a better handle on how booktalking programs can work for us and our teachers, I am really excited to schedule folks for booktalks next year! 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Save the Date: 48-Hour Book Challenge!!!

It's time to start gathering your To Be Read pile up and stocking up on snacks! Pam at MotherReader has just announced the TENTH ANNUAL 48-Hour Book Challenge will be held on the weekend of June 19-21!! This is one of my favorite weekends of the year and you can bet I will be reading with bells on (um, is that a thing?). 

More details to come at, so stay tuned. 

PS: I know I have been failing at blogging lately. Summer Reading is coming and my budget is frozen and that's all I'm going to say about that (for now). But I will try to get back to it soon. <3 p="">

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reading Wildly: Science Fiction

This month at Reading Wildly, we talked about Science Fiction books. We had an interesting conversation about the different types of science fiction that exist - it's not all aliens and spaceships (although it is some of that!). And we talked about whether science fiction is more "for boys" and whether science fiction is being written that will attract girl readers, too. (What we actually found was that the books we read were about half and half with girl protagonists and boy protagonists and that almost everyone on my staff [mostly female] was able to find at least one science fiction story they enjoyed.) 

To start our meeting, we discussed the following articles: Sci-Fi Series and Stand-Alones Across the Curriculum by Aileen Kirkham (LibrarySparks, March 2012) and Why Everyone Should Read More Science Fiction by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Huffington Post, 2013). One consideration we talked about is that some of our school require kids to read in different genres and sci-fi can be a hard sell for some kids who think they don't like it. We're always on the lookout for sci-fi that reads like other types of fiction (example: The Fourteenth Goldfish is a science fiction story, but also has a lot of elements of contemporary fiction). 

And then we shared our booktalks and here's what we all read this month: 

For June and July, it's Reader's Choice for our monthly meetings.... and we're not going to actually meet! It's so hard to get everyone together over the summer that we're forgoing in-person meetings and I'm asking everyone to contribute to our group "reading log" throughout the summer. We'll be back to our monthly meetings in August, once the kids are back in school and peace reigns again. ;) 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Preschool Storytime: Family

I've been doing so many preschool storytimes lately! Really, I had a drought for awhile with my other staff doing them and then my turn has come up at the end of our spring storytime session. Last week, I did a Family storytime and it was a HUGE HIT. Family is a topic that is familiar to all children and they all had something to share with me about their own families. Here's what we did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: The Family Book by Todd Parr. I feel like librarians either love or hate Todd Parr and I love him. I love the colorful, silly illustrations and the welcoming and inclusive messages of his books (while they're still funny and engaging). The Family Book talks about all different kinds of families with the messages that all different families are okay and they all share love and help each other.

Book: Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. This is a really fun rhyming book with a great rhythm. It begs to be read aloud! Baby won't settle down for his nap, preferring to dance away instead. Hearing rhyming words is great to help children hear that words are made up of smaller sounds.

Song: If You Have a Brother... This is a song that I made up which follows the concept of If You're Wearing Red Today.

(Tune: Mary Had a Little Lamb)

If you have a brother
A brother, a brother
If you have a brother
Please stand up!

And I repeat with different family members. Today we also did: sister, mommy, daddy, cousin... and then I asked the kids what other family members we could include. The first suggestion was "dog"! We also did cat (just me!), grandpa, and grandma.

This song is a great way for kids to share something about their family. It is also great for practicing listening and following directions.

Felt Story: Mr. Pine's Purple House by Leonard Kessler. In this story, Mr. Pine tries to distinguish his house from his neighbors' but every idea he has is thwarted when his neighbor like them so much that they copy him! This is a great story for reinforcing the concept of same and different. We also talked about what kind of house (or apartment, etc.) our family lives in.

Book: You Can Do It, Too! by Karen Baicker, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max. This is a fun story about a big sister and a little brother. Everything big sister does, little brother wants to do, too. As I read this story, I asked the kids if they do some of these things, too - picking up their toys, brushing their teeth, going down the slide, etc.

Felt Activity: Family members. I passed out a piece to each child and asked them to bring it to the board when I called the family member they had. After we have all the kids' pieces up there, we all count them together. This is good counting practice and - bonus! - helps me get a head count for my stats.

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Play Stations:

Family portrait craft. If you do a Google search for picture frame, you get lots of options and I printed some out and let the kids draw a picture of their families. This was a pretty popular activity and great writing or pre-writing practice for the kids.

- Blocks with family play set. We have a set of family figures in one of our theme kits and I brought these out to play with the blocks. This was another popular activity with kids acting out different scenarios or building houses for their play families.

- Floor puzzle. We also have a Richard Scarry house floor puzzle in our theme kit and I brought that out. A few kids worked together to put that together.

Additional Resources:

There are so many great books to choose from for a family storytime! You can find lots more great ideas here:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ten Great School-Age Readalouds

Every year, we visit our 9 public elementary schools' afterschool programs with stories and crafts. Now that we're wrapping up our visits for this school year, I wanted to share some of my favorite books that I shared with the kids. Our groups are K-4th graders and the group sizes range from about 15-65 kids. Since they've been in school all day, engaging stories are a must. Here are some that worked best for me this year:

Beware of the Frog by William Bee (Candlewick Press, 2008). Old Mrs. Collywobbles lives on the edge of a dark, dark forest, so of course she needs something to protect her from the creatures lurking there. Is a frog up to the task? You'll be surprised what her guard frog can do... and of course there's a twist at the end!

Blizzard! by John Rocco (Disney-Hyperion, 2014). This story of an epic blizzard, based on a blizzard that John Rocco experienced as a child, captures the imagination as kids picture themselves buried in feet of snow. I especially like the fold-out spreads that show our young hero's wayward path around the neighborhood in search of groceries. And most kids seem to like a story about snow days!

Egg Drop by Mini Grey (Red Fox Books, 2002). If only the egg had waited! If only he hadn't been so impatient! But the egg was determined to fly, so he took matters into his own hands. After he fell from the tall, tall tower, we tried to put him back together, but you can't fix a broken egg. If only he had waited!

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2005). The bouncy rhyming text lends itself to reading out loud and the kids are always amazed by the crazy things our young protagonist includes in his dream car. Afterwards, I always ask the kids what they would include if THEY built a car and we get some really creative responses.

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Colin Jack (Tundra Books, 2014). There are lots of uses for a dinosaur - from trimming your trees to snowplowing to being a water slide at the pool - but there are also some jobs dinosaurs just aren't suited to... This book sparked a GREAT conversation with the kids about what they would do if they had a dinosaur.

Moira's Birthday by Robert Munsch (Annick Press, 1989). Friends, this one is readaloud gold. The rhythmic, repetitive text just super lends itself to reading aloud. This would very easily translate to an oral story if you want to ditch the book (say, if you were telling it to a very large group). When Moira has a birthday, she wants to invite 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, aaaaand Kindergarten! Watch the fun unfold as Moira's birthday grows out of control!

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014). Oh, man, the kids loved to catch all the places where Sam & Dave just missed finding something spectacular! And then we had some great discussions about the weird ending.

Sausages by Jessica Souhami (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2006). This funny folktale warns listeners to be careful what they wish for, especially if they have rescued an elf and now have three wishes to spend. Hungry and tired of thinking about what to wish for, the farmer foolishly wishes for some sausages. This upsets his wife so much that she impulsively wishes the sausages were stuck to the end of his nose! And then, of course, they have to use the last wish to get the sausages unstuck (but at least they have a nice dinner).

That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems (Balzer + Bray, 2013). Of course, anything Mo Willems is gold. Many of the kids were familiar with this one when I brought it and they were more than happy to chime in for the chorus of "That is not a good idea!"

This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne (Henry Holt & Co., 2014). This book gives readers a surprise as it eats the protagonist's dog! And when a brave soul goes in to rescue the dog... he disappears, too! Can anything be done to save the day?

These are my top ten school-age readalouds for this school year, and I see a problem here: I am greatly in need of diversity in my picks! I tend to gravitate towards books that are funny or have twists or surprise endings. Can you recommend great school-age readalouds featuring, written, or illustrated by people of color?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Preschool Storytime: Weather

Last week, I visited one of our local preschools and brought a storytime about weather. We certainly have been having crazy weather over the past few weeks, so this was a fun topic to explore. This is what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Kite Day by Will Hillenbrand. This is a cute, colorful story about friends Bear and Mole who build and fly a kite on a perfect, windy kite day. When a storm pops up, they lose the kite, but luckily it lands in a great place - in a tree, protecting a nest of baby birds from the rain. The text is very simple with lots of repeated sounds. We talked about what kind of weather you need to fly a kite (windy!) and that weather can change very quickly, especially in spring!

Felt Story: Hello Sun! by Dayle Ann Dodds. Speaking of weather changing very quickly - in this cute picture book, every time we try to leave the house, the weather has changed and we need to change our clothes! Miss T had made this into a felt story and it was perfect to relate to our changeable weather. We talked about what different clothing you need when it's sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy, etc.

Book: Storm Song by Nancy Viau. We'd especially had some stormy weather the week I went to visit the kids, so this book was perfect. Short, rhyming text evokes the sounds and sights of a thunderstorm rolling in - the roaring thunder, the spark of lightning, leaves blowing past the windows. When the power goes out, mom calms the kids by singing songs, making a snack, and taking a nap.

Felt Rhyme: Five Little Umbrellas. (I had a source for this once upon a time, but it looks like the site I linked to no longer exists...!)

Five umbrellas stood by the door,
The pink one went outside, then there were four.
Four umbrellas, pretty as could be,
The blue one went outside, then there were three.
Three umbrellas with nothing to do,
The green one went outside, then there were two.
Two umbrellas not having much fun,
The yellow one went outside, then there was one.
Just one umbrella alone in the hall,
The purple one went outside, and that was all.

Book: Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry. As we turn each page in this book, a rainbow forms with the colorful page edges. My favorite thing to do with this book is to read it and then have the kids help me retell it with our colorful scarves! So you know the next thing...

Scarf Activity: Retell Duckie's Rainbow with scarves. I passed out the scarves and asked the children to notice what color scarf they had. When I reached the page with their color, I asked them to hold their scarves up high and wave them. When we get to the end, we all waved our scarves together to make a rainbow!

Scarf Song: Toss Your Scarves. It's so much fun to play with scarves! This song is not only fun, but it gives the children practice following instructions and it builds gross motor skills. 

Tune: “Jingle Bells”

Toss your scarves, toss your scarves
Toss them way up high.
Toss your scarves up in the air,
‘til they reach the sky.

Wave your scarves, wave your scarves,
Twirl them ‘round and ‘round.
Twirl your scarves one more time,
Then let them, all fall down.

Book: Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car by John Burningham. All of the children and animals want to accompany Mr. Gumpy on his motorcar ride, but when it starts to rain and the car gets stuck in the mud, no one wants to help push! This is a silly story and the kids just love the name Mr. Gumpy. 

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is? 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Preschool Storytime: Bugs

Last week, I visited one of our local preschool classes for a storytime on bugs. Here's what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: I Love Bugs by Emma Dodd. The rhyming text in this large, bright book contains many great vocabulary words like "frilly" and "spiny".

(Another similar book you could read is Lenny in the Garden by Ken Wilson-Max, which is a great title for including children of color in your storytime books. Unfortunately, it was checked out at the time of my program!)

Flannel Rhyme:  Five Little Ladybugs. I have a couple of versions of this rhyme, but this is the one I used. I like it because we talked about aphids (vocabulary!) and that ladybugs eat aphids. Unfortunately, I do not have an original source for this one. It was in our storytime files and I see it in lots of places all over the internet.

Five little ladybugs, climbing on a plant,
Eating the aphids but not the ants.
The first one said, "Save some aphids for me!"
The second one said, "They're tasty as can be."
The third one said, "Oh, they're almost gone."
The fourth one said, "Then we'd better move on."
The fifth one said, "Come on, let's fly!"
So they opened up their wings and they flew through the sky.

I asked the children to hold up one finger for each ladybug and at the end, we made our hands fly through the sky.

Book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Pop-Up Book) by Eric Carle. This is a familiar story to most of our young listeners, but the pop-up format gives it some extra appeal! This is another great book for sneaking in a little STEM knowledge - what caterpillars really eat, that caterpillars turn into butterflies, etc.

Scarf Rhyme: Butterflies. This one comes from Scarf Songs by Jean Warren. I passed out scarves, we did a few intro activities (wave your scarf high, low, fast, slow, through your scarf up in the air) and then I asked each child to hold their scarf in the middle and flap it like a butterfly as we said our rhyme.

Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.
Flapping your wings, as you go.
Flapping your wings, up high, then low.
Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.

At the end, I asked the children to bring up their scarf when I called the color scarf each one had. It's fun to play with scarves and this play helps reinforce basic concepts like colors, etc. 

Book: The Itsy Bitsy Spider (Pop-Up) by Richard Egielski. Here's another fun pop-up book I brought today! Again, this is a familiar song to kids, so I asked them to sing with me as I turned the pages of the book. We sang it twice, since it's short and that gave them a chance to see the pictures again. 

Felt Rhyme: Little Miss Muffet. I brought this one from a set of nursery rhyme felts we purchased many years ago. Saying nursery rhymes is a great way to include some vocabulary that you don't hear in normal conversation (curds & whey, tuffet, etc.). 

Fingerplay: Here is the Beehive. Again, I don't have an original source for this one. I have used it for many years!

Here is the beehive (hold out one fist)
But where are the bees? 
Hiding inside where nobody sees (point to fist)
Watch as the bees come out of their hive
1...2...3...4...5! (count on fingers)

Felt Activity: Bugs set. I passed out one bug to each child and as I called their bug, they came up and put the bugs "in our garden" (on the felt board). I like to do participation activities like this because they get kids used to approaching and interacting with a new adult. It also helps children practice listening and following directions. And the kids love putting stuff on the felt board. 

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is? 

Since this was an outreach storytime, we didn't do any play activities afterwards. 

More Ideas:

Here are additional ideas for bugs storytimes: 

"Bees are good!" (And if a bee shows up at your storytime, keep your cool like Barack Obama did!)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Reading Wildly: Sports

This month, we met for our Reading Wildly discussion about sports books. April is a great time for sports since lots of our families are starting baseball and March Madness has just ended. The article that we shared this month was Bringing the Game to Kids: Sports Books 2014 by Sally Lodge (Publishers Weekly, March 14, 2014). We talked about the appeal of sports books, especially books written by sports players and authors who are knowledgeable in the field. We also mentioned that both boys & girls like sports books and not all boys like sports. It's important not to make assumptions!

Here are the books we shared together at our meeting:

We also did a sports month last year, so check out that post for even more suggestions!

Our two teen librarians joined us this month and will hopefully be frequenting our meetings and bringing some teen/tween titles to share. As you can see from this month's list, lots of our titles could fall into that tween range, which is important for both departments to know about!

Next month, we're talking about Science Fiction (Superheroes optional to tie in with our Every Hero Has a Story summer theme). Got any favorite science fiction titles you'd suggest to me???

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. Grades 4-7. Scholastic Press, January 2015. 229 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

Book talk: Mark has cancer. He was first diagnosed when he was a little kid.. and he got better, but now the bad headaches are back again and a call from the doctor confirms that the cancer is back. And this time might be for good. Having been through rounds of treatments and the dread of not-knowing before, Mark decides to do something different. He wants to make sure that he lives before he dies. And more than that, Mark needs to take control of something.

So, he decides to climb a mountain. It may sound crazy - Mark's sick, he's weak, he knows this could possibly be the last thing he ever does. But he needs to do one heroic thing on his own, with nobody's help, before whatever is going to happen to him happens.

He leaves a note for his parents and one for his best friend and he trickily buys a bus ticket headed the wrong way before taking the train to Seattle, towards Mount Ranier.

Half-chapters tell the story of the folks left behind - Mark's parents who are distraught and frantic with worry and Mark's best friend Jess. Jess knows where Mark is headed, she figures it out from the note he left her. But she also knows that Mark trusts her to keep his secret, that he would not want her to tell anyone. And as a freak storm approaches the mountain, Jess has to decide how much Mark's trust means to her. Should she keep his secret even if it puts him in danger?

My thoughts: I took this one to work, intending it to be my on-my-lunch-break read that I keep at work, but after I started it, it was so compelling that I had to take it home and finish it that night. I was drawn in to Mark's story from the beginning and I just had to know what happened to him. When I read this passage about Mark's dog defending him from some teen muggers, I sat up and took notice:

Beau came out of that duffel bag like hot burning justice. Like all the right kinds of anger. Like everything the world ever needed. He came out into the darkness and the blood of that cold city street fast and loud and hard, all teeth and bark and bravery. (page 44)

There is some really great writing here, and I always felt like it was true to Mark's character. Having been through an illness like Mark has experienced, it made sense that he would look at the world in this detailed, introspective way. And although there are definitely poignant moments, it never slid into sappiness. I found it a little over-dramatic in some parts, but it's all in the interest of creating a suspenseful and exciting story.

This is a story of a sick kid, of a brave kid who does not want to go gently into that dark night. But it's just as much a story of friendship - between a kid and his dog and between best friends who trust each other implicitly.

It's something of a tear-jerker (although the parts I personally found the most gut-wrenching were the half-chapters told from his parents' and Jess's perspective, which may resonate differently with child readers).


Press this into the hands of kids who are interested in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green but who are not yet ready for the young adult content of that book. I wonder if the cover design purposefully evokes TFIOS's cover for this reason.

This would also be a great one for kids who are intrigued by the story of a kid facing his own mortality, such as Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nichols.

I might also try this on kids who enjoy character-centered, introspective survival stories like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. This story definitely features a main character who's interested in challenging himself and figuring out how to make it up the mountain.