Back to school love

 

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Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson (2016)

Opening line: “Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.”

This was the perfect book to read as I went back to school for multiple reasons. First, it reminded me how much of a difference a good teacher can make in the lives of his or her students, and second, how much I love 6th graders.

Told from the perspective of three 6th grade boys, this chronicles a secret mission they embark upon to honor their favorite teacher. A week ago, Ms. Bixby explained to her students that she wouldn’t be finishing the year with them. Having been recently diagnosed with ductal adenocarcinoma, Ms. Bixby and her doctors have decided she needs to focus more on her treatment. The class will have two final weeks with Ms. Bixby and then they will have a final farewell party on her last Friday. But only one week has gone by when their principal meets them in their classroom one morning, explaining that Ms. Bixby had to leave early. She won’t be back for the rest of the year. The class is devastate, none more so than Topher, Brand, and Steve.

And so, the friends decide they will bring Ms. Bixby’s party to her. They learn that she is being moved from their local hospital to a better hospital in Boston on Saturday morning, so their last chance is Friday, which means they will have to skip school to make it happen.

The background of each of the boys’ stories is revealed along the way, showing why Ms. Bixby is so important to each of them individually. Even though the three are best friends, there are things they’ve been hiding from each other, secrets that might pull them apart. But one thing they can definitely all agree on: Ms. Bixby deserves the perfect send off. And they are going to give it to her.

Filled with laughs and heartaches, this story is a must read for teachers, reminding us why we do what we do. Kids will love it too, with the honesty of the 6th grade friendships and family relationships.

Full of heart, 2 stars.

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The Mountain calls.

61fvtvw74elThe Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart (2015)

Opening Line: “The mountain was calling me.”

I mean, I get it. One of the best things about my new living situation is that when I turn a corner I might get surprised by a sudden mountain view. And the mountain this opening line is specifically about, Mt. Rainier, is particularly noteworthy. I vividly remember the time my family went on perhaps the greatest roadtrip vacation ever, along the northern west coast, and had been at Mt. Rainier National Park all day without seeing the actual mountain because of clouds, and then, on our way out, we came around a bend and THERE IT WAS IN ALL ITS MAGICAL GLORY.

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I mean, you see those “mountains” down at the bottom? That’s what we thought were the mountains before this bad boy came into view.

So, I get it. The mountain calls to me too. Not that I’m going to try to climb it, like Mark does in The Honest Truth.

Mark is a normal kid. As normal as a kid who has been through multiple cancer treatments, beating the odds, can be. But now the cancer is back. And Mark is out of options.

More than anything, Mark wants to follow his grandfather’s dreams of climbing Mt. Rainier, but he knows his parents will never let him with his current diagnosis. And so, he sets off on his own, with just his beloved dog Beau, telling no one — with the exception of leaving a secret haiku for his best friend Jess.

While Jess struggles with whether to tell Mark’s parents where she’s pretty sure he went, Mark journeys across state lines with little Beau. Despite his well-orchestrated plans, things go awry, and the trip is much more difficult than Mark imagined. Still, his determination will stop at nothing to reach the summit.

This story is raw and honest and the reader feels the desperation Mark feels along the way. If you have readers like I do that “want something that’s going to make me cry”, suggest this. You will never feel sorry for Mark, but you will definitely feel for him (and bff Jess, unsure of what she should do to save her friend).

All heart, this one. 2 stars.

 

Not your typical monster story

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness; Illustrated by Jim Kay (2011)

Opening line: “The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

One of the 6th grade teachers came up to me at the beginning of the year and said, “Emily, have you read A Monster Calls?” When I shook my head, she almost groaned, saying, “Oh, you need to.”

It’s hard to dispute a recommendation like that. Especially when she loans me one of her three copies.

Every night for months Conor O’Malley has woken up from a horrifying nightmare, one he refuses to talk about to anyone. On one such night, he wakes up to find a monster outside his bedroom window. And not the monster from his nightmare. This monster looks more like the yew tree from the hill in his backyard.

Despite the monster’s truly terrifying appearance, Conor finds that he’s not all that scary, partially because this monster’s most significant activity is storytelling. Each time he visits Conor, the monster tells him a story. This seems like a complete waste of time to Conor, who has bigger things to worry about, most considerably his mother’s health. She has stopped responding to treatments and seems to be hanging on by the simple belief that she’ll get better. But Conor’s not so sure.

Combined with breathtaking and haunting illustrations, Patrick Ness and Jim Kay take us into Conor’s nightmare, one drenched with honesty and desperation, and guided by the somehow gentle hand of a monster.

3 stars

Andrew’s chapter titles are WAY better than my post titles. Proof.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews (2012)

I don’t know what it is about my spring reading habits, but so far this season I’ve read two YA novels that are simultaneously about a girl dying of cancer and laugh-out-loud funny (Mr. Green’s The Fault in Our Stars being the first one, of course).

Greg Gaines is entering his senior year of high school, otherwise known as his fourth year of attempting to be invisible in the eyes of the student body. His low-key friendliness and self-deprecating humor have allowed him to ease through the school hallways without attracting much attention. Instead of joining any clubs or teams, he directs and stars in super-secret remakes of his favorite films with his short, angry partner-in-crime, Earl. Things are running smoothly, until, of course, Greg’s mom forces him to hang out with a girl from school who is dying. And how does an awkward teenage boy react to that situation? Needless to say, not well.

Greg narrates this tale of his downward-spiraling senior year interspersed with lists, script dialogue (there’s a word for that in film-lingo, isn’t there? Clearly I’m a film dunce), asides to the reader, and lots of bad language (which I find particularly amusing).

Here’s what made this book so great: It felt more real than anything I’ve read in a long time. I mean, I loved TFiOS as much as the next book blogger, but… it had the magical fiction glow. You know. The perfect lines, the honorable intentions, the nice bow ending. Me and Earl, on the other hand, didn’t…. glow, per se. In fact, in many places Greg acknowledges what would have happened in the “fictional” version of this story and points out that those things did not happen in this story. Instead, Greg says the stupid things. He has opinions and reactions that are far from honorable. And the ending lacks a bow. It’s fresh, invigorating, and WILL make you laugh.

Also, every page that includes Earl is a good one. Thank goodness he’s on many of them.

2.5 stars, mostly for Earl. Favorite debut so far.