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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Lillian is Poet X

Children of Blood and Bone vs.  Poet X

Last round was beyond easy to vote.   A remake of Arnold movie vs. Far From the Tree.  Too easy.  But this round was altogether different.

We had two new authors, both with such voice and compelling stories to tell.  Tomi Adeyemi even commented on Elizabeth Acevedo's book saying that the book will touch so many lives and make people who feel hidden away, feel seen.  This is what made us vote for Poet X.

Children of Blood and Bone was such an adventure.  We all loved reading it...maybe a zombie pick?  We were able to get into the head of each character because of how Adeyemi set up each character's story separately.  So we could get to know each character and understanding their motivations before plunging them into chaos where their paths would intersect.  This book has all the qualities you want from a YA fantasy.  It has your villain, heroes and heroines.  The alternating perspectives is a risky move, but Adeyemi pulls it off.  Nothing negative to say here.

Poet X is just different.  Yes, there have been stories before about coming of age. But X's voice is unlike anyone we’ve heard before.   She is compelling.  What she spoke of resonates.   She reminded us of what it's like to be a young woman in a world crowded with complicated rules.  This poem is just heartbreaking.  There is no cliche ending here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Train I Ride vs Long Way Down

Train I Ride by Paul Mosier
OH this book!  I laughed, I cried, I cried again.  What a beautifully written story!  I appreciated the way the secondary characters were developed over the story and how it is the small moments in life that have the biggest impact.
This was a great book and I would highly recommend it for my grade 5 class.  It was a touching story that many kids could relate to.  Ryder’s courage was inspiring and her story brought me to tears.  It was an easy read and kids would enjoy it.  The ending left the reader wanting more and wondering what her life would be like after the train ride.   The endless possibilities of what her life will be like could lead to great open discussions or further writing assignments. After I finished reading the book, I was hoping that a sequel would be made.
 The book would appeal to both Division 2 and Division 3 students. 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
How can these books be paired together?  I love the way Jason Reynolds writes about tough issues accessibly and will appeal to all types of readers.  What happened at the end??  Did he finish what he started to do? 
We all enjoyed this book, however all felt it is aimed for Div 3 and higher.  The hidden messages may be a little advanced for most readers in Div 2 and possibly Div 3.  I feel students would miss some of the important parts in the story.  That being said it was a great book, with a great message.  The unanswered ending was also a very engaging way to end the story.  This would be a great book for advanced readers.  The circle of life and consequences of death was an excellent message in the book.  I also enjoyed the skillful way the book took place in an  elevator ride which happened within a couple minutes of time passing.

Such a hard decision, but Ellerslie votes for Train I Ride

2 Votes Long Way Down, 1 Vote Train I Ride

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Train I Ride by Paul Mosier

Cristina and Jeff:
I feel very glad that I picked up Long Way Down to read without having any prior information about the book beforehand. It was a surprise to find the unique and blunt format, and found myself re-reading pages aloud to my unsuspecting husband, and even in those short lines, he was very intrigued and read it cover to cover once I was finished. Kids need something to make them stop in their tracks every so often. It is not an ambitious read, so it is accessible to any of my students, which I appreciate. Jeff and I spoke at length about Train I Ride, and came to the conclusion that although it is an excellent book, and I’d be up for reviving it later as a Zombie Pick, Long Way Down deserves to be pushed forward as an important and engaging text and a must-have in any middle school classroom.

DLFS Picks Long Way Down by a long, long mile.

Stacie: I enjoyed reading both of these books this round. Long Way Down made me stop and think afterwards. It took me a few minutes to fully understand the ending and its significance. I really liked the message the author was trying to get across to the reader. It was a very quick read due to the format the book was written in. I would recommend this book to adults and high school students but likely not to junior high students. My vote this round goes to Train I Ride. I would recommend this book to junior high students. I think grade 8 girls would especially enjoy this read. This book introduces us to Rydr, a 13 year old girl who is traveling from California to Chicago to live with a new relative. We slowly learn more about Rydr and the difficult experiences she has endured. I think she is a very relatable character for many teenagers.

The Poet X
I have to admit that I’ve never read a book of poetry other than what I’ve used with my Grade Fives. For this reason I was a little hesitant about the book and wasn’t sure if I’d like it. I actually loved The Poet X and read it within the day. After a “heavy” read with Children of Blood and Bone I was hoping for something a bit lighter. I wouldn’t say this was a light read (it addresses some important issues such as gender stereotypes, questioning one’s faith, homophobia and finding your voice) but it was an engaging read. It took a bit of time, and some page skimming, but The Poet X captivated my interest in a way that I was not expecting. I loved reading how Xiomara found her voice by writing and then eventually performing her own poetry. I found myself connecting with the main character and actually cried at the end (I won’t say why for those who haven’t read it). I was not a fan of the romance between Xiomara and Aman but I enjoyed that X had someone in her corner other than Twin. Our team votes for The Poet X.
At first I did not enjoy the format of this book, but soon realized how this could be used with some of my struggling readers. I have found it difficult to find low-vocab/high-interest books for my jr high students, and feel this novel is something my struggling readers might enjoy. Even though some text was written in a foreign language (Spanish?), the story was interesting and kept my attention. Coming from a family of immigrants, I found I could relate to the overly-restrictive nature of the main character's upbringing. (Karen)

Children of Blood and Bone
Feeling rather embarrassed that I didn’t love this!
After various raves and reviews about this novel, I was excited to read it. The title, the novel cover and the reviews all appeal to the excitement that one would hope for in the plot. The summary leads you to think it’ll be a great read, but yet, I only made it to page 30. I’m relieved I didn’t make it any further after hearing my team and their reviews!
Nellie Carlson voted against this one and quoting the email I received “ Blood and Bone was dark and generally not a genre that we enjoyed.”
I agree as does Rachel, as the length is the first deterrent, although I’d teach students not to judge a book this way, I found very little in the first few pages that made me want to persevere. The main character (can’t even recall her name) might have won me over by her rebellious ways but it just didn’t hook me. I’m going to put it down to the genre, I have a hard time with the fantasy genre!
This book was not at all what I thought it would be. The main character's over use of sarcasm left me feeling less than sympathetic. I found the whole book to be dark and not enjoyable to read. (Karen)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Darius is not Great, But Pretty OK

Yeah, so there was not a lot of drama in coming to a conclusion about what should move on for our little West side group, and from what I’m hearing from the most connected man in the world (Hello, Mr. Smilanich!) all of our larger group also felt that Darius The Great Is Not Okay is the book to go forward into the next round. And I’m Ok with that, but here’s the thing: I’m just OK with that. I didn’t love this book and I didn’t really dislike Saints and Misfits, so I’m having a little trouble working up the necessary pique or passion that I usually try to channel in these things.

They were both generally interesting novels with narrators who I wanted to learn more about, even as they - sometimes subtly and sometimes didactically- taught me some interesting things about their complex social and cultural lives. The teen angst runs pretty deep in both novels and there are times when both characters can grate a bit, not only because of their heartfelt expressions of anguish (and what self-respecting teen novel doesn’t have a bit of that?) but also through their failure to see the other people in their lives as fully functioning entities, rather than just role players in their dramas. I know, that’s probably asking a lot as we’re not typically operating at peak empathy in those challenging teen years, but one of the reasons that I think Khorram’s novel emerges as the victor here is that Darius actually ultimately moves past this kind of insular world view, prompted, yes, by a literal trip abroad. He doesn’t just gain self understanding, he does so by ultimately embracing a more fully realized vision of those around him, most notably, his dad, but also the other members of his family, and even relatively peripheral characters like Chip.

In contrast, I’m not sure Janna - who undoubtedly learns some important things about herself and finds her voice in the face of trauma - really sees the other people in her life - including some interesting characters (I’m thinking a novel narrated by Sausan would be highly entertaining) - as little more than functionaries in service of her journey to self-discovery. Again, maybe that asking a lot from a book that - while it deals with a range of challenging and important topics - is ultimately a pretty breezy read, and I mean that in a positive way: I think there are a lot of kids who would enjoy the story arc and the ongoing multi-faceted “drama” of it all. Darius The Great is Not Okay is not without some teen drama as well, but ultimately, it has a little more depth and nuance. I think they are both solid novels,from young writers with something to say, with not insubstantial (if not overwhelming) writing chops that would be good additions to your school library. If you had to pick one, though, we’d recommend Darius The Great is Not Okay.

Darius the Great is better than okay

 Darius is a tea and Klingon loving teenager who makes his first trip to Iran with his family to visit his grandparents.  Darius meets Sohrab who instantly makes Darius feel welcome.  Through kindness and respect the two boys build a strong friendship.  This book reminds us that connecting with our past can help us gain confidence for the future.
In this novel, Janna categorizes people into three groups: 
Saints - people who are shifting the world to a better place
Misfits - those who do not seem to belong
Monsters - people who appear to be saints but are definitely not

As Janna struggles to navigate her teen world she continues to realize that saints can disappear before you are ready for them to go and that monsters are hard to battle.

Although, S.K. Ali allows readers to empathize and cheer for Janna, it is the compelling writing of Adib Chorram that captures the reader's attention.  My vote to continue for the next round is Darius The Great Is Not Okay.

Submitted by Maureen

Sweet and Simple versus Deep and Dark

Image result for the goat anne fleming                                         Image result for the marrow thieves
The Goat
The Goat is a cute story about people coming together to help each other. It's sweet and simple. It seems like there might have been deep symbolism at play with a goat named Goat. a child named Kid, and a dog named Cat, but we didn't figure it out. It was the holidays though.

Though the story is nice, we didn't love it. In fact, Dianne "kind of thought it was the stupidest book ever". There are too many issues for such a short book; it touched on them and moved on. Though the two main characters are children, much of it seems to be from an adult perspective. Many of the issues are adult too: a survivor of a stroke, angry and defeated by a lack of recovery, an adult mourning the loss of his father and his marriage, a playwright and actress paralyzed by self-doubt, a grandmother being obsessively protective of her grandchild following his parents' death in the World Trade Centre. 9-11 itself is hard for our students to grasp. They weren't alive when it happened.

On the other hand, we liked the focus on anxiety and extreme shyness. We thought many kids would identify and benefit from seeing themselves in a story. We had some fun seeing things from the goat's point of view. Unfortunately, we don't think many students will make it past a slow starting first chapter with a lot of characters to keep track of.

The Marrow Thieves
The Marrow Thieves  was a little slow to start, but the second half definitely made up for that. We got to know characters as they shared their back stories from their own perspectives. We were impressed with how the author blended  love stories with an action based plot.

In addition to the portrayal of strong Indigenous characters who are not stuck in history, we have positive portrayals of the LGBTQ, not as a plot point, but as a natural presence. The mentor's partner just happens to be same sex.

The story made us question and reflect on Canada's history. It also has us thinking about the future: the direction we're going, how we're going wrong, and where we might end up. So much potential for discussion with students.

Hurray for Canadian Metis and Indigenous authors!

Alisha, Dianne, Megan and Renee, Ottewell School