TASL Book Reviews – We’re Back!

Written by: Ginger Kirchmyer; reviews written by: Suzanne Costner, Jenifer Grady, and Missy Locke.

We are back with more great reviews, and we’d love to get your feedback. Do you like this resource? Is it helpful? Can we change it to make it more user-friendly? What features are you using?  Right now it’s pretty-much in a bare-bones beginner phase because we want to make sure we’re providing something of value. Then, if we learn that you like it, we can grow in the right direction! So tell us what you think!

If this is your first time hearing about our Book Reviews, read ahead for a description of how it works, otherwise, you can skip down to the reviews themselves (below). For those of you that are new to this, we are attaching a spreadsheet to this post that has a beginning list of book titles and short reviews created by other TASL members. The purpose of the spreadsheet is that there is a place where you can get quick info on titles – from themes to appropriate ages to a quick synopsis or lesson plan suggestions.

You may notice a title on the spreadsheet with no information; if so, that is because it has been recommended for the team of reviewers but no one has begun reading it yet. Once a reviewer’s name is next to that title, that means it has been “claimed” and is currently being read with a review to follow shortly. You should also note that there are three tabs along the bottom of the spreadsheet: elementary, middle grades, and high school.

In addition to our useful spreadsheet of titles, TASLTalks will publish a quarterly book review blog focussed on helping YOU get to know some of the reading trends in more depth. We will provide three reviews each time – one at each level: elementary, middle grades, and high school. The titles to be reviewed are chosen by our team leaders: Jennifer Boren, Julie Caudle, and Julie Dahlhauser. Either they or one of their team members will write the review to provide more information than the spreadsheet can give.

Share your thoughts about this resource in the comments below or by emailing us to get you connected. You can email Jennifer at jboren@colliervilleschools.org or Julie at jsclibrarian@gmail.com.

Here is a link to the spreadsheet to see the newest titles added. Enjoy this quarter’s featured TASL Book Reviews below:

elementary review

Review by: Suzanne Costner

Garbage Island by Fred Koehler.Boyds Mills Press, 2018.

ISBN: 978-1-62979-675-8


Garbage Island is a seagoing survival story with all the perils you can imagine. The two main characters are an inventive shrew named Archibald and a mouse named Mr. Popli who loves to organize. As part of an animal community in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Mr. Popli serves as mayor and Archie keeps things running with his recycled inventions. When they become separated from home, these two opposites must work together to survive and find a way to return. Come along on this disaster at sea/buddy story and root for the success of Archibald and Mr. Popli as they learn to appreciate each other’s strengths.

This book is a perfect class or family read-aloud, with plenty of cliffhangers to keep everyone anxious for the next reading session. It could also spawn some great STEAM/makerspace time as readers try to top the amazing inventions that Archibald cobbles together from bits of trash that float by. A study in how the community cooperates rather than eating each other as some of the animals would do in their natural environment, as well as curiosity about the garbage patch itself, could lead to some independent research. Perfect for readers in grades 3 – 7 who enjoy animal-based fantasies like The Tale of Despereaux, The Rats of NIMH, and other pint-sized heroes.



Middle Grades Review

Review by: Jenifer Grady

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

ISBN: 9780385689236


Trevor Noah is a stand-up comedian and the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. The title of his autobiography refers to the 1927 South African law that prohibited sexual relationships between Africans and Europeans. Noah was born in 1984, and that law was still enforced, which made his very existence illegal because his mother, Patricia, was Xhosa, and his father, Robert was Swiss/German. However, his mother wanted a child to love and love her, and she did not allow the rules or laws of her time to define how she was educated, where she lived, where she worked, or how she became a mother. The memoir is thoroughly engaging and most appropriate for children 13 years and older because of some adult themes and a bit of foul language. Noah skillfully weaves how his life was shaped by being born during apartheid and growing up post-apartheid, but still in a world where he was too black to be white and too white to be black. He spoke several languages so he could communicate with everyone, but was consigned to outsider status, even at times in his own family because of his mixed heritage.

Noah’s story is an introduction to the origins and realities of a political system that attempted to define one’s future by the color of their skin and ethnicity of one’s parents; it was brutal, unfair, and typically effective because those in power often used terrifying tactics to enforce laws. Noah escaped the limitations of many of his family and friends’ lives because of his defiant mother and his talent for entertaining. Noah was a also rabble-rouser, finding loopholes in what his mother told him to do, what teachers expected him to do, how faith was supposed to make him behave, and what society told him was acceptable. Therefore, he got into a lot of trouble throughout his time in Soweto, but he also made a lot of money as a teenager, selling bootleg CDs and promoting a dance troupe.

As he matured, Noah suffered great trauma from an absent father, though it was due to a mutual decision by his parents, and the death of his mother. Noah’s story is one of triumph over adverse conditions, the ability to talk frankly of the good and bad of life, and to find humor even in pain. If you’re looking for a template for how Trevor achieved popularity in the United States, this is not the book. There are life and history lessons throughout that may make you appreciate Noah’s particular brand of humor even more if you’re already a fan. If you’re not a fan, even if you’ve never seen Noah perform, Born a Crime is a humorous journey through the cities and townships of South Africa and a coming of age story interwoven with the impact of American culture in the 1980s and 1990s.

High School Review

Review by: Missy Locke

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus; Delcorte Press, 2017.

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1468-0


Bronwyn (brain), Addy (beauty), Nate (criminal), Cooper (jock), and Simon (outcast) find themselves serving detention after school for having phones in their backpacks. On this day, Simon doesn’t make it out alive. The police rule his death a murder and the remaining four quickly become suspects. Simon had planned to post juicy gossip on each of them the next day, giving all of them motive to kill him. As the story unravels, the reader learns each person’s secret and who is lying to the others. How far will they go to protect their secrets and who killed Simon?

In a cast full of the stereo-typical students, this YA mystery thriller has been compared to Pretty Little Liars meets Breakfast Club.  Told in the first person point of view, each character speaks for themselves and is given equal emphasis, allowing the reader to see the characters with more depth.

This murder case will draw readers in until the very end. The author tells the story of high school students we all know or have been and shows that everyone experiences life differently yet just the same. We all have hopes and dreams, fears and secrets. McManus gives us characters that are relatable while opening our eyes and minds to how our actions can affect those we encounter. This story would be wonderful as a springboard for discussions on relationships, bullying, and how to deal with the pressures of everyday high school life.

Ginger Kirchmyer is a National Board Certified Teacher and the librarian at DuPont Hadley Middle Prep in Nashville, TN; she taught English in the classroom for 18 years before becoming a school librarian. In 2014 she proudly earned her MLIS from the University of Alabama. She currently serves as the TASLTalks Editor. She manages her own library website www.technobrary.org and posts her own blog as well.
Suzanne Costner is the Library Media Specialist at Fairview Elementary School in Maryville, TN; she was a classroom teacher for 20 years before moving into the library in 2008. Suzanne is a reviewer for School Library Journal and blogs about new titles at http://fveslibrary.blogspot.com/. She serves as lead on her school’s STEAM PLC, coordinator for the Aerospace Connections in Education program and the Hour of Code, and sponsor of the robotics club. She also works with aerospace groups like the C.A.P. to update and create STEM materials for use by other educators and has been named an Outstanding Educator by Humanities Tennessee.
Jenifer Grady is the Executive Director of Tenn-Share. She is grateful for book distributors who recommend young adult fiction as her daughter will be a young adult in the near future. Jenifer reads/listens to a lot of southern fiction.
Missy Locke is the Library Media Specialist at Richland School in Lynnville, TN serving grades 6-12. She is also the yearbook sponsor and coordinator of the Raider Renaissance program that rewards high school students who excel academically each semester. In her 4th year as a library media specialist, she continues to seek out ways to bring the love of reading to all of her students. Within TASL she serves on the Book Review committee reviewing titles for both middle and high school levels.



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