Written by Jennifer Boren, Julie Caudle, Kathryn Derrick, Audree Keele, and Julie Dahlhauser
We are ready to kick off 2019 with more great reviews. There is no better time to cuddle up under a warm blanket with a new book than the bleak and dreary days of January. TASLTalks publishes quarterly book reviews focussed on helping YOU get to know some of the reading trends in depth.
Each quarter, we provide one review at each level: elementary, middle grades, and high school. The titles reviewed are chosen by our team leaders: Jennifer Boren, Julie Caudle, and Julie Dahlhauser. Either they or one of their team members write the review to provide more information than the spreadsheet can give.
Enjoy this quarter’s featured TASL Book Reviews below:
Written by: Katie Derrick
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown. Little, Brown and Company, 2018.
In this sequel to The Wild Robot, the friendly robot Roz must use what she learned on the remote island she washed up on to now survive in a different type of hostile environment – civilization. Trapped on the Shareef family farm, Roz longs to return to the island where her friends and son, Brightbill, live. With the help of some old and new friends, both human and animal, she plans her escape from the farm. But will this kind-hearted robot have what it takes to make the treacherous journey across city, ocean and wilderness to return to her family?
With lessons on kindness and acceptance abounding, this book is a wonderful addition to any elementary or middle grades library. The various animals and situations Roz finds herself in offer multiple opportunities for character education discussions. For example, Roz explains to her maker that the way she was finally able to be accepted on the island was because no matter what the animals did to her, she always responded with kindness. Reminiscent of The Wild Robot, this sequel reminds the reader that family is not necessarily just those that share the same last name as you. Family is made up of those who care for and about you, no matter whether you look alike or not. In this derisive time, The Wild Robot Escapes offers a breath of fresh air.
Katie Derrick is the librarian at WA Wright Elementary School in Mount Juliet, TN. She is in her 13th year of teaching, the last 5 of which have been as a librarian at both the middle school and elementary level. Prior to becoming a librarian she was a high school science teacher and was awarded the TSTA science teacher of the year in 2006. She serves on the yearbook committee as well as being one of the “go-to” people for any technology issues at the school. When asked what she is reading, the reply will almost always be a children’s or young adult title!
Written by Audree Keele
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Jerome, a 12-year-old African American boy living in a tough Chicago neighborhood, has a loving family but is bullied and isolated at school. When Carlos, a new boy from San Antonio, gives him a toy gun to play with, Jerome is thrilled to have a friend. But a policeman mistakes the toy for a real weapon and shoots and kills Jerome. Unable to move on and find rest, Jerome’s spirit joins those of other “Ghost Boys,” including Emmett Till, in an effort to help the living change the way young African American males are perceived in society as threatening. Jerome is able to communicate with Sarah, the daughter of the policeman who shot him, and he convinces her to help her father confront his own biases.
The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time to portray Jerome’s “life” both before and after his death, and stark double-page spreads featuring the words “ALIVE” or “DEAD” signal the transitions. Though the tone is serious and most of the story is quite dark, the language is accessible and appropriate to its lower middle grade audience. Rhodes includes a brief author’s note with information about Emmett Till and the Day of the Dead holiday celebrated in the story, as well as suggested discussion questions. On the whole, GHOST BOYS is more successful as a classroom novel to spark discussion of the important topics surrounding perceptions of young African American males than as an engaging narrative that young students will pick up on their own.
Audree Keele is the librarian for students grades 5-8 at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville.
Written by Julie Dahlhauser
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Henry Holt, 2018.
Zelie Adebola saw her mother killed by the ruthless agents of King Saran as he tried to eradicate magic from the kingdom of Orisha. She, too, is one of the outlawed maji with white hair and earth-based powers. She has secretly been practicing martial arts without much hope of regaining justice, but then she unexpectedly encounters the king’s daughter, Amari, who has escaped from the palace and wants to help restore magic. The two girls, along with Zelie’s brother Tzain, go on a quest to unite three magic relics, depose the evil king, and restore Orisha to peace and harmony. Meanwhile, Amari’s brother, the prince Inan, is fighting hard to deny his own magical identity, support his ruthless father, and destroy the three rebels.
This is classic fantasy with a refreshingly Afrocentric grounding. The Kingdom of Orisha, with a capital city of Lagos, is loosely correlated with West Africa. The setting, the characters, the magical concepts, are all built from elements of African cultures. Children of Blood and Boneis already a critically-acclaimed bestseller and will be a blockbuster movie. It promotes pride in Black culture and aesthetics in the same way the Black Panther movie did. It’s a beautiful, exciting, groundbreaking book that belongs in every high school collection.
Julie Dahlhauser was a school librarian for 18 years and has just started working with the state public library system. She is a musician and fiber artist who is expecting her first grandchild this summer. She reads constantly and just recently realized that there are people who don't.
If you would like to see other books reviewed by TASL members, here is a link to the spreadsheet to see the newest titles added. This spreadsheet has a beginning list of book titles and short reviews created by other TASL members. The purpose of the spreadsheet is to provide 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.
Share your thoughts about this resource in the comments below or by emailing us to get you connected. You can email Jennifer at email@example.com or Julie Caudle at firstname.lastname@example.org.