Friday, March 16, 2018

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

This is a very timely book to add to your school library collection. Catherine Reef has written many biographies for younger readers and this one about Queen Victoria does not disappoint. Typical of any biography, it talks about her childhood, living in a palace, ascending to the throne at 18, her coronation, wedding, politics and national decisions, her family life and her love for her husband. The text is engaging and it reads like a story. 

The book itself is gorgeous. From the beautiful cover, to the photos, portraits and period engravings. All of the images contribute to the story of one of history’s most interesting women. I personally enjoy the Victorian era and this book gives a lot of insight as to how much influence one woman had on society. There are a lot of notes, sources and a family tree in the back of the book that I think students will find quite interesting. 

I think this would be appropriate for a middle school to high school library. Adults will enjoy it too. There are obvious connections with history, this book could be used for a variety of projects. It could be used in an ESL classroom as an example of biographical text. It would fit into CCSS and into an IB curriculum. I will definitely display as part of a British History or British Monarchy display. It might be a good choice to tempt a fiction- only reader to give this non-fiction text a try.

Author's website:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein book review

I just finished Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein and it was a really fun read! I think some of my IB students will totally be able to identify with the main character, Maya. Maya is dealing with the death of her mother and her boyfriend breaking up with her. While Maya is visiting her aunts, she is asked if she has looked at her mom’s research. Maya has not, but she starts going through it when she gets home and finds that her mom had been doing research on manipulating pheromones to enhance human attraction. Maya wants to finish this research as a way to reconnect with her mom and to win her ex-boyfriend back. She enlists the help of Ann, her mom’s research assistant, and they try to recreate the experiment. Maya was not anticipating enlisting 2 other boys into her experiment, but they needed a control.

 I love that the setting of this book was on the campus of MIT and the surrounding city. I love the fact that Maya was a super smart science and math girl. She made geeky, cool. Not everyone gets to experience growing up in a university city with a mom who is a leader in her scientific field. As a reader, I was not expecting a romance story to take place in this setting. But the author totally pulled it off. The story was fun. The setting was realistic and so was the scientific process, even with the fictional love serum. There was emphasis on good friendship, a solid relationship with parents and working hard at school. I feel like there are a lot of students at my school who would really love this book. The dialogue was playful, with great scenes throughout the book. It’s a perfect escape for when you need to take a break from homework. I will definitely buy this book when it comes out for my school library.

This book needs a book trailer to promote it to students 😉

Monday, December 11, 2017

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio - student book review by Isabella

None of the above is about Kristin Lattimer, a typical high-school girl, whose life is picture perfect: she is a champion hurdler with a full ride, she has a fantastic boyfriend, and has just been crowned homecoming queen. However, suddenly her life is turned upside down, when after experiencing excruciating pain during her first time, a visit to the doctor reveals that Kristin is intersex. Outwardly, she looks like a girl, but she has male chromosomes. Now, she not only has to process this brand-new revelation, but she has do deal with the scrutiny of her community, when her secret is leaked to her school. As she struggles to cope with her new life, she realizes that the question of identity is much more complicated than it appears.
I found this novel fascinating and enlightening. Kristin is an incredibly complex and vibrant character and it was a true pleasure to be able to understand her emotional journey to come to terms with her new identity. I have never personally encountered someone with AIS (androgen-insensitivity disorder), and thus I learned a lot about the implications of this condition. Furthermore, I found Kristin’s emotional response very realistic and appreciated that the author did not try to minimize her feelings, but rather explored this event’s impact in depth.
Furthermore, I think this novel is an important step in spreading awareness about the complexity of identity, particularly gender identity. If others are able to understand someone like Kristin’s feelings and experiences, they may be able to overcome their prejudices and embrace them as an individual, rather than stereotype. Also, showing the impact other people’s negative responses to her identity had on Kristin, may make readers more aware of the impact of their own actions. Overall, what I liked the most about the novel was the emphasis on not reducing Kristin to purely her gender identity, but rather treating her as a person first and foremost.
I would recommend this novel to any student, who has an open mind and is willing to learn about the experiences of others. This novel could be used in a literature, psychology, health, biology, or gender/queer studies class. One thing to note, is that there are mature topics addressed (e.g. sex, sexual health).

Little Peach by Peggy Kern student book review by Isabella

Author (Last name first): Kern, Peggy
Title of the Book: Little Peach 
 Publisher: Balzer and Bray 
 Date of Publication: 2015 
 ISBN#: 978-0062266958 
 Price: $17.99
 Grade Level: YA 
 Number of pages: 208 
Rating: 5Q, 4P Highly Recommended

Little Peach takes a brutally honest approach to the realities of child trafficking and prostitution. Fourteen-year-old Michelle has never had an easy life, nevertheless, she could always count on her grandfather to keep the wolves away. However, when he dies and her jealous mother kicks her out of the house, Michelle has nowhere to go. With one last shred of hope, she tries to find an old classmate in New York, but soon realizes the futility of her endeavor.
She is alone, aimless, and afraid. Suddenly, a charming, nicely dressed man approaches her and welcomes her into his world. At first, Michelle naively believes that she has found her happily ever after. Yet, soon she discovers the truth that she is to be a child prostitute. Stuck in this impossible situation, Michelle will have to make choices that no child should have to make.
Little Peach is a difficult book to read. It is not an uplifting story, but rather one aimed to educate the reader about the way children wind up in prostitution. I found the writing to be very nuanced, as the style reflected Michelle’s maturity and mental state: as a young child her thoughts were simplistic, but when her environment forces her to grow up quickly, the reader can see this change evident in the style of writing.
One moment in this novel that struck me particularly was when the girls find a missing child poster and realize that no one is looking for them. I found this eye-opening because I had never thought about the children who are not on missing posters, but who simply disappear. Furthermore, I found it shocking how these girls had nowhere to go, when they were abandoned or abused by their families. They feared being put in a group home or foster family more than going to New York City by themselves, which can be seen as rather indicative of the poor state of child protective service in poorer regions.
Finally, I think that this novel’s lack of a happy ending was a good decision because it shows that in these situations there are never picture perfect movie endings. Nevertheless, it suggested that it is possible for some to escape the dark world of prostitution, but that they cannot do this alone and thus we as a society must work together to save these girls.

This novel would be a good choice for an upperclassman English class, government/politics, or cultural studies class. Please note that this novel has many mature themes (e.g. sex, rape, drugs, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, prostitution, and violence).


George by Alex Gino book review

George is a 4th grade boy, who decides he wants to try out for the role of Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web, during the class/school play.  He and his best friend, Kelly, practice the part of Charlotte.  He is not really interested in typical “boy” topics and hobbies.  His best friend is a girl and they talk about stereotypical girl things. George tries to keep his secret from his mom and brother in that he feels like a girl on the inside. George has a hidden stash of magazines that are teen girl magazines, but he is ashamed of them and hides them from his family.  After all the rehearsing of Charlotte’s part, George gets shut down pretty quickly by the teachers who tell him it is a “girls” part and don’t let him try out.  He goes home very sad, but can’t really tell his mom what happened.

There is nothing inappropriate in this story as far as anything sexual or more in depth transgender details.  This is a upper elementary story about someone who does not feel comfortable in his body.  I feel that it is written for young children.  It may help a child who feels different or it may generate empathy and understanding in readers who have a friend like George.  I really think it’s a groundbreaking book to give a voice to those who have not traditionally had a voice in children’s books.  The narrator uses female pronouns for George, while teachers, classmates and family use male pronouns. This book is providing a diverse character for some readers to identify with, who many not have many fictional characters to identify with. This book is not being challenged for any words contained within the pages, but for its ideas.  I’m sure the ones most vocal against this book have not actually read it.

I picked this book up because it was appearing on the ALA most frequently banned/challenged lists for 2017.  It is definitely a elementary/middle grade reader, which I usually don’t purchase for my high school library.  However, I did think it would be a good addition to our GLBTQ collection just in case there was a student who saw the banned book list and was interested in reading it.  Although, I can see where conservative groups would try to remove it from school libraries. I also picked up this book because I heard Alex Gino speak at nErDcampMI about the book and I am always interested in the books when authors talk about them.  There is definitely a personal connection. The cover design is simple, but very cute and when you open the cover, there are multi-colored hand drawn pictures depicting items most young children enjoy.  Overall, it’s a well written, groundbreaking book.  I would recommend it for school and public libraries.

Author's Website:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Using Collections by Destiny in an IB School

I have been playing around with Destiny Collections over the past few weeks, and I am super excited about the way it is allowing me to share my IB library resources with my staff and students. I think the physical collection is being featured more prominently because it’s integrated with online sources as well. I was a big user of Resource Lists in the previous version, but exporting a text list is not as visually appealing as a whole collection that can be shared with one link. The Collection has pictures of the book covers, screenshots of free web resources and YouTube videos that are playable through the Collection. Simply put, I think that students can see at a quick glance that they have access to great library resources.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron - student book review by Alyssa

The premise behind The Forgetting is something that, to me, is insanely fascinating. It follows the idea of a society where, every twelve years, every citizen loses all of their memory. The citizens must write their true life story down in books, which they carry with them at all times, so they can read them and know who they are after the “forgetting”. The book does a fantastic job of exploring the possibilities for corruption in the society, such as what happens when a person’s book is lost, or if a person never forgets, both of which happen to the main protagonist, Nadia.
The Forgetting originally appeared to me as similar to a novel in the dystopian fiction genre, as it features a small, idyllic city with a different society from ours and with a seemingly corrupted government. I went into the book expecting the general dystopian YA plot - a love interest, overthrowing the people in power, etc, all of which were indeed present; however, I was caught completely off guard and found myself very pleased with the science-fiction rout the book ended up taking. It managed to explain a lot about some seemingly fantastic and unrealistic aspects of the setting, even giving an intriguing scientific explanation for the Forgetting itself.

In general, the book covers themes such as corruption, truth, love, memory, and family. It should also be noted that the book is definitely YA and up, due to the descriptive imagery in the romantic scenes and descriptions of the anarchy and death that occur in the days before the Forgetting. The Forgetting would be a good book for free reading or book clubs, due to both the general aspect of enjoyment and character development, as well as the deep themes which would be fascinating to discuss. Although I found the beginning to be a slight bit slow, once the science fiction aspect dropped in around halfway I was completely captivated and could not put it down!

Author's website: