Smackdown Books 2019

Piecing Me Together
We Are Okay
Hello, Universe
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
The Marrow Thieves
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
The Poet X
Children of Blood and Bone
Far from the Tree
Long Way Down
The Goat
Amina's Voice
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
The First Rule of Punk
24 Hours in Nowhere
The Astonishing Color of After
Obsessed: : A Memoir of My Life with OCD
Train I Ride

Thursday, May 16, 2019


We're All Aboard the 57 Bus

We can't remember a year where all of the books in the final were our favorite reads of the Smackdown season.  It was a tough decision because each book was a book that we had put forward in the competition.  So to come down to the end and have all of our picks was both satisfying and frustrating.  Far From the Tree was such a moving story, but in the end, we thought the ending was wrapped up a little too neat.  Don't get us wrong, we like a happy ending, but with each book grounded in the everyday world, Far From the Tree was the one that didn't ring true.  

Poet X was another story that hit home.  Grabbed at the heartstrings and pulled us in all different directions.  The ending was more believable than that of Far From The Tree.  Our character's story came to a realistic and happy conclusion.  Some of the poetry found in Poet X spoke to us and our own stories, which is why we put it in second place.

The 57 Bus, wow.  How did it even get voted out in the first place!  We were suspect of the book, considering it was a Zombie Pick, but each of us finished it in ONE sitting.  Tristin started it off by reading the entire book sitting in the Honda waiting room.  She came to school the next day, reeling from the story.  Lindsay read it next, sitting on the couch for a few hours pouring over the story of Richard and Sasha.  Keltie read it last and came away feeling hopeless about the state of our world.  Without a doubt, it is our winner.  It's rare to find a nonfiction piece that isn't biased and hits your heart at the same time.  It was so difficult to read the book because we wanted each individual to have a happy ending.  But life, despite what Sasha wanted, didn't give another chance to Richard.  It was difficult to read.  A pit formed in our stomachs and we questioned the world we live in.  

Isn't that what literature needs to be?  Make us uncomfortable?  Make us question and think?  To teach us that in a fractured world there is goodness to be found?  That our society can be reborn through kids like these.  That our futures hold hope if we just listened to our youth.  If a book can give us questions, truths, and hope, it is not only a book we want on our bookshelves but one we will champion.

We Are All Winners!

Thank you to all who came out to our mini BLACK WEDNESDAY BUT FOR BOOKS to celebrate our 9th year of Smacking. Though most of you chose to smack in the comfort of your own schools conversations around teachers, students and books were full of opinions and different tastes as they should be.

Every year is a reminder of how much great YA and middle year material is out there and how we must bring choice to our classrooms. What a reader likes is varied and all reading experiences are made better with conversation.

Congratulations to The 57 Bus as it garnered enough votes to take the crown this year...hopefully no vengeful dragon is coming for Dashka Slater.

Early next school year you will hear from us again to invite you to the TEN LITTLE YEARS edition of the MIGHTY SMACKDOWN.

May your Summer be full of reading opportunities, even if it means lying to everyone about a chore, leaving the house and reading in your car. That mighty seem like a very specific plan because it is and it works.

Dia and Arlene

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The 57 Bus For The Win

My final vote this year is going to The 57 Bus. I liked that things became more positive throughout the story. It wasn't a story that stayed sad and negative for the entire duration. I would be more willing to recommend this book to junior high students over Poet X and Far From The Tree. I also think it would make for an interesting book study for any GSA or SOGI groups in our schools. I was more intrigued by the characters in The 57 Bus and the plot than with the other two novels.

                                                                Image result for the 57 bus

4 More Votes for 57 Bus

This was an interesting finale for us at Hillcrest. We all went into the final round picking Poet X for the win. After reading 57 Bus our minds and hearts were changed. The themes of tolerance and forgiveness continue to resonate with us and along with the well-written non-fiction text, make this a book we will recommend to many students.

Poet X for the win but it's hard to not vote 57 Bus through too!

Krystal- I am voting Poet X through as I think the appeal will be similar to Crossover making poetry accessible to our students. The story is sweet and they will connect with Xiomara Batista ('X') and the struggles she faces in her identity as well as coping with family and community values that are not aligned with her own. 

Before I sign off on The 57 Bus, I feel I need to justify why I'm not voting for it! I loved the authors fair treatment of both sides of the story while developing and explaining the crime. I found it interesting and educational and feel like Sasha's story has had a profound impact on my understanding of LGBTTQQIAAP (sorry If I've not used the most current acronym) culture and definitions. I feel that the novel also gave some great insight into youth crime and the impact/ injustice/ treatment  of minority groups within the justice system. (Although in America, is Canada that different statistically?)
So... the appeal was there for me, an adult! I think as far as learning about the crime, teens would love to read the story but the appeal would only go so far and they would then be lost as the remainder of the novel reads statistically and fact based. 
I've really had to ponder the value of the novel and the appeal to the audience I am voting books through for. Unfortunately, I don't think this one will reach as many as I truly wish it would.  

The Bus For the Win

All three of these books were beautiful and had something special to share.  However, my vote is for Bus 57 because I loved the writing and the way it reflected the experiences of the people it was about. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

SBS is All Aboard The 57 Bus

Well, it was a final round full of surprises. I was happy to see three books that I really liked end up neck and neck at the finish line; that’s what makes the Smackdown so mighty (well, in addition to Arlene and Dia). I was somewhat shocked that I actually finished my last book – The 57 Bus – almost three weeks ago, instead of my more usual 1:00 a.m. on the day the blog post is due. But most of all, I think we were all a bit shocked that there was a book that had the moxie to topple Poet X – a book we all loved – and that book was The 57 Bus.

I think it was three or four summers ago that I had a particularly fruitful summer of reading and came across two books – Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson and Unfair by Adam Benafardo -that have profoundly influenced my world view. I mention this because I thought of both of these books as I was reading The 57 Bus and not just because all three feature a clear eyed critique of a broken justice system, but also because they also share an abiding insistence on seeing hope through kindness and thoughtfulness. Bryan Stephenson’s mantra is this: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The 57 Bus shares this ethos and extends it: each of us is more than the worst thing that ever happened to us.

I vaguely recall reading about the singular event at the heart of this narrative years ago, and while it provides the starting point for Sasha and Richard’s interwoven stories, it is a testament to Slater’s writing that we don’t spend a lot of time immersed in that terrible moment. She paints a portrait of each of the protagonists that is rich and nuanced and given emotional depth through the people that love each of them. When I think of books I want to pass on to the young people in my life, I seem to lean towards the emotional connection I imagine them having with the text, but I also – and trust, I try my best to avoid those didactic, one note “lesson” books– try to think about what a kid can learn from the experience of reading. Like Poet X and Far from the Tree, I think there is something profound – and profoundly accessible – in The 57 Bus and I can’t think of any kids who wouldn’t connect with –and benefit from – reading this book.