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Book review: Roam

Book review: Roam by C. H. Armstrong

Publication date: February 5, 2019
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In spite of the serious nature of homeless families, this is a warm fuzzy, feel good, happy ending kind of story. With a new boyfriend too good to be true and an instant flock of new friends, teenage Abby allows her homelessness to color her daily life (but who could blame her?). None of the people in her new school know that her family's "house" is a van or a church basement, and Abby tries desperately to keep it that way. The difficulty Abby has keeping her secret is exasperated by her new neighborhood -- an uber-rich area near the Mayo Clinic -- a jealous ex-girlfriend, and a homecoming dance.
With a fairy tale, full-of-forgiveness ending, readers might feel the story tied together too neatly, but it was refreshing to read a story where there really was a plausible ending. Well, believable if the readers accept a school where teachers and counselors are helpful and caring, where the hottest guy in school is also always a gentleman, where everyone accepts the out-of-the-closet gay kid, and where people still want to date the class bitch. 
I chose to believe, and I had a great time doing so. Because of this, I am able to give the story 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐. The story was tight and left me with no questions. I thought the characters were well drawn out, and the plot flowed naturally. I recommend this book for anyone who sees silver linings and is able to put aside skepticism.
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Book Review: One Second

Book Review:
Any Second by Kevin Emerson
Pub. date: November 20, 2018
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5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Review!
I cannot wait to get this book for my high school's library!

My students are taught to be an upstander instead of a bystander. In Any Second, Maya did this... and beyond. Kevin Emerson wrote a story that is both unique and scarily possible, which is what makes it such a compelling read.

Emerson did a great job with the pace of the storytelling and the points at which the narrator's focus switched between Maya and Eli. There was also enough detail to create mental pictures without being grossed-out to the point at which the story's narrative could have been overshadowed by the horror of the circumstances. There was enough to make the reader squirm without having to be told the minutia of Eli's torture and captivity.

The author created an atmosphere that allowed the reader to be drawn into Maya's and Eli's decision making. As a reader I was being told things each character couldn't know, and since I had no way of telling them, I had tension, sympathy, relief, anxiety, and hope right along with them.

The main characters had consistently true personalities, which helped this reader connect with the plot and action. The minor characters never felt extraneous and were used well to move the story forward. One Second will appeal to many different kinds of readers and could be recommended to readers of realistic fiction as well as of action/adventure or suspense fiction.

[The only negative critique -- a hiccup I encountered -- is in chapter 17, where Eli contemplates "how some commentators said Eli's disappearance would have been a bigger deal if he'd been white." Emerson has already made the book uber-inclusive (ex., religion, sexual orientation, gender roles, class, etc.), so this one line struck me as intrusive to the flow of the story, an extraneous or obvious attempt to highlight what the author had already made clear about Eli's ethnicity when discussing Eli's names.]

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Book Review: Influence

Influenceby Sara Shepard; Lilia BuckinghamPub Date: 05 Jan 2021Glad I stuck with it! Went from an almost DNF to 3 stars to 4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐. Might have been my disinterest, disdain, or dread of the effect social media has on this generation of teens that initially had me turned off, but as the plot developed, there was a real story behind all of the 'influencing' going on. [Get your cringe ready for an "in my day" story... when I was a teen, we were only worried if our business got out there if the teacher intercepted a note we passed in class or a parent picked up the extension of the phone while we were on the line.]I read the beginning trying to deny or dismiss the reality that so many teens hope they'll be the next Internet sensation and monetize their notoriety. I didn't just want to be reading about the wannabes and cliques. By persisting, I was gifted with a well-crafted story that highlighted the not-so-glamorous side of teen Internet fame as well as the public perks. I'm sure Sara Shepard's fandom will be hooked on Influence as much as they are on Pretty Little Liars. Even readers unfamiliar with the Pretty Little Liars series (insert blush and finger-pointing here) will become engrossed as the author deftly crafted false leads as to whom the murderer could have been. I liked flip-flopping my choice of criminal as the story progressed.There's something for everyone in the book: physical and mental illnesses, friendships and back-stabbing, romances and break-ups, straight and gay, good home lives and dysfunctional families, and race-fluid characters. parties and murder. This will be a great addition to my HS library.Posted by Pseudandry at 7/29/2020 08:37:00 AM
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Book Review: Body Swap

Book Review

Body Swap by Sylvia McNicoll

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Publication date: 09 Oct 2018

I think that Sylvia McNicoll and Dundurn are selling themselves short: This is not just a YA Middle School novel. While it's appropriate for middle schoolers (i.e., no cursing), I'm sure it would be appealing to high schoolers and adults, too. It reminded me of a seamless mash-up of the stories behind Cocoon, Big, and Lovely Bones (the book, not the movie). Magical realism at its best.

At first I was confused by both the swapping of bodies and the alternating chapters. It took me a while to make the mental switches back-and-forth while I read. I do wonder if some readers will find the double switching confusing. I thought that might detract from my enjoyment of the story, but I got used to the seesawing.  I'm glad I did.

The characters were believable and played both of their parts really well. Their duality offered the introspection we often can only assume occurs within characters; McNicoll allowed the reader inside of the characters' heads, which allowed the readers to contemplate what their own reactions might have been under similar circumstances. This provided a very powerful way to get absorbed into a story.

McNicoll provided a means of exploring one's own preconceived notions (in this case about ageism) without being preachy, which is hugely important for our YA readers. I'm looking forward to getting Body Swap for my high school library and will recommend it for my middle school library, as well. 

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The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="The Boston Girl" src="" /></a><a href="">The Boston Girl</a> by <a href="">Anita Diamant</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
I read/listened to this audiobook as part of the Hub Challenge (Amelia Bllomer YA, Top 10 List) and oh was it good. I could not stop listening to actress, Linda Lavin's beautiful retelling of her life as Addie Baum to her granddaughter. I learned so much about the 1900's in Boston as Addie was born and raised by immigrant parents from Russia who argue incessantly, the turbulence of the times with illness, death & war and the strong personality of Addie and her sister while her oldest sister has a very sensitive constitution. Addie's view of the world is humorous, honest, and forward thinking. I so enjoyed this vibrant novel; highly recommended!
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How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff Pub Date: 10 Nov 2020 read courtesy of Put five different competitive high schoolers together to see who can survive hypothetical apocalyptic disasters, and you get five unique interesting challenges. Falkoff crafted an entertaining story that expertly incorporated five different characterizations into the survival scenarios. I found some fairly profound truths in this story that resonated with me: (1) "I hated that I tended to assume people were straight unless they indicated otherwise." (2) "Funny how different it felt, having a crush versus liking someone who liked you back. I'd had butterflies with Hunter, but they'd made me feel a little bit sick. Wyatt made me feel nothing but happy." (3) "We'd been so fixated on managing big-picture problems that we hadn't yet learned how to deal with the day-to-day complexities of being ourselves..." Unfortunately, the author used some standard YA story formulas that I tend to dislike. For example the characters don't tell others how they feel but then expect others to be mind readers and act a certain way. In addition, this author actually comes out and has a character articulate another overused plot line "...where we need to help ourselves because the adults weren't going to be of much use." Throughout the book, the lead character Amina frequently claims she doesn't know her friends as well as they know her. The purpose of this characterization is so she can eventually prove she does end up knowing one her friends better than her other friends do. The repetitive self-deprecation, however, is annoyingly tedious. Nonetheless, I like the ending in which the characters learn to be " ...less concerned with what we put in our go-bags and more about how to use cooperation and empathy to prevent the things we were so scared of from happening." I only wish that Falkoff had listened to her own advice. Why was it necessary for her to call out 'Republican' vs. 'Democrat' in a doomsday scenario in which a Republican was so "unpopular" that he got elected for a third and fourth term? Since the good messages outweigh the trite precepts, I will enjoy putting this book into the hands of my high schoolers.

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Book Review: Girl on the Run

Girl on the Run
by Abigail Johnson
Pub Date: 06 Oct 2020 
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LOVED IT! Is there such a thing as a 6 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐review? 
Fast paced and tight, I read this book in an afternoon. I was engaged by the characters and the plot. I enjoyed being able to anticipate where things were going or where they had come from. I sometimes get frustrated trying to follow a thriller's flow of information, and I sometimes think the authors do it on purpose for some kind of gotcha. Abigail Johnson didn't confuse me, purposefully or not. She allowed the readers to explore both with the characters and to make suppositions on their own without making the readers feel duped or slow-witted.
Recommend this book to readers who like Amazon's Hanna.
As an aside, it did help that I grew up and worked near the story's setting; although, the geography itself could have been anywhere with regards to the story. It was just fun for me to read of places I know: Bridgeton, Cheltenham, Perkasie, Elkins Park, etc. 
I can't wait to put this in to my high school readers' hands.
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Faceless by Alyssa Sheimel

FacelessFaceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this novel as part of #yabookchat twitter discussion. When we meet Maisie, she is enjoying a morning run, loves being on the track team, loves her boyfriend, Chirag and best friend, Ellen. As she finishes her run, she stops to enjoy the morning when a lightning storm hits, and that is all she remembers until she wakes in a hospital and part of her face is gone. Together with her parents she accepts getting a face transplant; the many pills and routines that will become part of her life FOREVER. It is during this time, summer and school is out, that I really started not liking Maisie. She did/did not want to see her boyfriend (who she thought about ALL the time) and best friend. She withdrew further and further, became insolent, angry, and lashed out at her parents and friends. It is was only in the final part of the book (I thought it should have happened much sooner) that Maisie joins a therapy support group- BOY did she need it; that she finally started coming around, figuring things out (lots of discussion) with her support friends, then slowly with her best friend and even slower with her ex-boyfriend and I really thought Maisie was a good person once again like she was at the beginning of the book. Teens will love this book, but I wished Maisie had sought out help MUCH sooner, thankfully she had tight, loyal friends.

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Time Travel for Love and Profit
by Sarah Lariviere
Pub Date: 13 Oct 2020  
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I love Sarah Lariviere's writing style. So much so, that I'd label this novel "humor" before I'd call it "fantasy." It's definitely scifi, though, and I appreciate that the author didn't mess with my mind too much trying to keep the time shifts straight. That alone makes this an accessible, entertaining story. This story really has something for anyone: humor, science fiction, time travel, friendships, bildungsroman, parents, romance... 
The author's metaphors throughout the book are excellent; they beautifully enhance the story Lariviere's telling. The humor was subtle instead of guffaw-inducing, so I really enjoyed it. (Like Nephele in 2nd grade forgiving her college level math tutor for not always getting the math right.)  And sometimes it's irreverent "Toast is eternal."
What I don't know from the electronic preview reader's copy I received is if the book shows the 'Chicago, 1955' picture. As a school librarian, I, of course, had to look it up. Seeing the photograph adds so much to understanding and relating to the story and to Nephele.
I don't know if I'd do what Nephele did, but that's the beauty of the story: it lends itself to allowing the readers to discuss with themselves (or others) what they would do in Nephele's circumstance. This book would be appropriate for middle or high school readers. 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="Challenger Deep" src="" /></a><a href="">Challenger Deep</a> by <a href="">Neal Shusterman</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
I listened to this spectacular audiobook as part of The Hub Challenge and for a virtual book chat with the #2jennsbookclub. Having read the book first on my kindle, it was a real treat to listen to Michael Curran-Dorsano's narration! He had the timing, the voices, and Caden's thoughts down in his flawless delivery! Caden's descent into schizophrenia came alive with the spot on narration and the dive of Caden to Challenger Deep, his day by day recovery and self-realization about his illness will have teens and adults wanting to read & learn more.
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A Silent Voice Vol. 1 by Yoshitoki Oima

A Silent Voice, Vol. 1 (A Silent Voice, #1)A Silent Voice, Vol. 1 by Yoshitoki Ooima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this manga as part of the Hub Challenge; I normally read graphic novels & love them, but I have to admit, I found it difficult at times to follow this book on bullying. The black & white illustrations were good but there was not much dialogue and I couldn't get enough information on the characters, thoughts and movement forward of the story line. I am going to read the next 2 in the series since they are also on The Hub Challenge and will let you know what I think.

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Book Review: Nowhere on Earth by Nick Lake

Pub Date: 26 May 2020 

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One word: derivative.

First, though, this book didn't know what it wanted to be. It felt easy to read, but right off the bat (chapter 1, paragraph 1) the author threw in "big words," which could easily turn off the reluctant reader who might have otherwise found this a highly accessible book.

Second, I honestly do not know if my high schoolers like reading stories where the teenage protagonist  (Emily) is smarter than the adults, but I personally dislike that as a plot method. Yes, teenagers mostly do think they are smarter than their parents, but to make that the premise of a book, as if the teen is a superhero and the parents are clueless, gets old.

OK, back to "derivative." Quite early in the story I felt like I was reading E.T., the Extra-terrestrial. This feeling resurfaced often. Then the Men in Black reference was repeated (and repeated) throughout the book. Then the plane crash was like Hatchet. I even got a hint of Star Wars with a line that sounded like, "These are not the droids you are looking for." Then a little bit of Star Trek was thrown in with their "prime directive"; Aidan couldn't interfere with the Earth's history. I hit my limit when Aidan's departure mimicked E.T.'s "I'll be right here" and I pictured the author thinking, "Queue E.T.s glowing finger." That wasn't the last unoriginal reference, though; the goodbye scene with Emily and Aidan turned into the intro from The Big Bang Theory.

I found the author's descriptions of Emily's father to be inconsistent in that his personality didn't match his character in the end. Throughout she describe him as "all military precision and attention," "Emily's dad had many useful things in his backpack - that was his style...," "...her dad, sticking to the logic of the story," "She was still averting her eyes. Her dad would see her lies in an instant, if he looked into them," "...her dad said needlessly, and Emily realized something else: this was how he dealt with stress. By trying to understand, to analyze," and "That was Emily's dad: no need to discuss what kind of message, or how, or anything irrelevant like that. Pure focus on the plan." Then at the end,

There was an awkward silence, and then they laughed. They tried not to talk too much about the time after the plane crash - he parents told themselves a story abut it, that they'd been in a rush to get to civilization, but Emily could tell they only partially believed it, and that the best way for them to reconcile the events with the kind of people they understood themselves to be was to not think about it.

To be fair, there were some positives. The author obviously took a great deal of thought into making Aidan's character's abilities consistent and plausible. That's a real plus, since the story wouldn't have worked at all without this being tight and dependable. I was also pleasantly surprised at how clever the author had Emily be at the end with the man in the gray suit, playing like she knew as much as her parents did about the events that occurred.

However, I think the author did more thinking about how he could mix ET with Agent J or Spock than he did about making an original and absorbing story. <2 stars>

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Things I'd Rather Do Than Die
by Christine Hurley Deriso

Pub Date: 18 Sep 2018

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I recently reviewed Christine Hurley Deriso's All the Wrong Chords, which I loved. I really wanted to like Things I'd Rather Do Than Die as much, but alas, I give it 4 instead of 5 ⭐. I also read Deriso's Acknowledgment section of this novel, and I'm glad she took the advice of her editor; having the main characters tell their tale in alternating scenarios made this story more thoughtful than if it had been a one-sided story. Stereotypes of jocks, brains, Jesus freaks, popularity, race and ethnicity, financial status, family structures, and illnesses became something about which I wanted to contemplate rather than be swayed. I can picture my teen readers discussing this story.

However, it was those amount of topics Deriso tried to squeeze into this one novel that caused my rating to lose a potential star. Maybe teens with slightly shorter attention spans won't mind the topic hopping, but I found it a bit distracting. I think it will affect my ability to discuss and recommend the book to my students. Other than being able to remember the basic plot, it's the nuances that might be lost to what I usually try to relate with enthusiasm.

On the other hand, Deriso handled all of the sensitive topics well. She allowed the characters to present their different points-of-view just like 'real' teens would. Kudos to that!!

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Book Review: What I Want You to See

What I Want You to See

by Catherine Linka

Pub Date: 04 Feb 2020

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As a YA School Librarian, I try to read books from the perspective of my students. Although I've given this story a 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for its story, I can only see it being a 3 ⭐⭐⭐ for my high school students. I loved the story and the style of writing, but I'm just not sure it's the type of story my students would enjoy. It's hard to say what about it does this: perhaps part writing style, part narrow character/plot appeal. The ability of a reader to relate to the world of an artist might affect how receptive the reader will be to this story. If it weren't for an art teacher in my current school who works with encaustics (hot wax painting), I might have been more lost in the story. 

Personally, I liked the writing style; although, it did take a bit of getting used to; but once I did, I flew through the rest of the story. It isn't a "great literature" style, more like both sophisticated and terse at the same time. The juxtaposition of style matches the main character's, Sabine's, duality, a teenager who has to grow into adulthood alone.

Linka fleshed out believable characters with realistic dialogue. Her characters don't feel cookie cutter or stereotypical. She didn't have to exaggerate or embellish and thereby kept her characters true to themselves. Linka also accomplished something I find that quite a few of the authors I read have a problem doing: she provided a satisfying and not forced ending to the story.

I appreciated the internal dialogues Sabine has with herself regarding morality. She ended up doing something that was morally correct and personally difficult. I found myself questioning myself as to what I might have done and when I might have done it. I can ask no more from an author than this: I was engaged in the story!

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Book Review: Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

Book Review: Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

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publish date: May 8, 2018

Sarah Crossan brought me into a world I don't think I'll ever encounter in my own life, but she brought me into it nonetheless. Great job helping me to be a part of someone else's life, especially when I'd have no understanding otherwise.

What it is like having your older brother on death row, having a family that can barely take care of itself, having the seesaw conviction of unconditional love with others telling you to forget about your brother... mix in a great [unexpected] plot twist... creates a story full of sympathy, doubt, and life.

I really enjoyed Crossan's writing style; it helped with the rhythm of the story and with the personalities of the characters. Not quite prose paragraphs and not quite verse novel, the format added motion and emotion to the narrative.

I read this right before I read, The Hate U Give, and Moonrise is it's own unique tale, not derivative or redundant, and it provides a great addition to the repertoire of life stories I never would encounter without the aide of Angie Thomas or Sarah Crossan

I can see this book working for a YA book club, especially because of the moral issues tackled: death sentence, race, poverty, family, and addiction.

I'm looking forward to having this book in my high school library.

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ShadowShaper by Daniel Jose Older

ShadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as part of The Top 10 Best Fiction of Young Adults for the Hub Challenge and I finished in 2 days. Sierra Santiago's voice, personality, spirit grabbed me from page 1- she is from Brooklyn, a muralist, and she is noticing the murals around Bed-Stuy are changing, get less distinct, and she even sees one tear drop out of a person's eye on the mural! What is up? Daniel Jose Older has written a book that is diverse, funny, magical, mystical, and urban - from Sierra's family, friends and community- the reader is treated to a book that tells a story about a teen protagonist you will not soon forget. Not only do we have Sierra's world of painting and friends but the reader is treated to magic, evil monsters, shadowshaping, and a girl who will stop at nothing to figure it all out. Highly recommended!

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Book Review: Oasis by Katya de Becerra

Book Review:

Oasis by Katya de Becerra

Pub Date: 07 Jan 2020

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I so wanted to like this as much as I started out liking it. It really pulled me in quickly. I can see how it was initially described as Lost mixed with Twilight Zone, but I guess I was hoping for more Twilight Zone mixed with Lost. I personally enjoy more scifi than fantasy, and Oasis was definitely more fantasy than scifi.

Confession: At first I thought the "diversity thing" was over the top, but I quickly understood the setting was absolutely appropriate for scholars from all over to participate in an archaeological dig. I was glad to find the mix of characters was not just a ploy for inclusiveness. I did have a bit of a struggle with some of the characterization (Would a 13 year old boy run to greet an older teenager girl and hug her? What about a brooding, moody, slightly older assistant would appeal so strongly to a teenage girl?) On the other hand, I give de Becerra props for being able to provide two different personalities to each character depending on the plot influences.

From what follows you might get the feeling I really didn't like the book, but I did. I just liked the beginning and where I thought the dig plot was going more than I did where it ended up. So what follows in this review are things that detracted from my fuller enjoyment of the book:

  • I get the teen hormone thing, but the kissing did seem to appear at random (or inopportune) times. I guess that's how it is with teens. I know the kissing was the plot device to imbue the main character with self-consciousness and doubt, but it seemed to belie her strength and wisdom as a strong female character.
  • In one scene, the brooding, moody character tells the main character, "It'll be all right," after she says she has doubts about their situation. It reminded me of the insurance commercial where the frightened teens agree to run into the chainsaw shack instead of escaping into the running car. A bit too obvious that danger lurked ahead.
  • Another short scene was full of psychobabbly, new-agey philosophy. I wondered at the time I was reading it if teens like that mumbo-jumbo and would buy into it.
  • For me the depth of the stolen tablet's insight into the characters was lessened by the fully developed characterization of the main players previously by the main character. I just thought the part where the tablet "made things clearer for its host" really just reiterated the things that main character had already revealed about her friends.
  • When the characters each experienced the tablet in different ways, why was Rowen's depiction one of a tree? Nothing else in the story implied that vision, so it felt random to me.
  • Is it me, or was it too obvious for the author to use the terms "alternate reality" and "parallel universe" toward the end of the story. Did that need to be spelled out so blatantly? And what about the use of "alien threat"? That TOTALLY changed what the dark essence was for me and took me even further out of what I had come to find comfort in while trying to stay engrossed with the story. An alien threat is a very specific choice of words that restricts the reader's imagination.

The book had a really strong beginning; I'll give it that. I was compelled to read it, and then I was compelled to read it to see if it dug its way out of the hole it fell into. If you're a fantasy fan, it did. If you're a scifi fan, it stayed buried.

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Many educators, particularly those focused on having culturally responsive and inclusive classrooms, understand the value of being a “warm demander” for their students.  This term, originally coined in 1975 by Judith Kleinfeld, describes how teachers can hold their students to high expectations in a structured environment while still conveying a deep and sincere belief in, and care for, those students.  

More recently, teachers and coaches have described warm demanders as educators who, in the words of author Lisa Delpit, "expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment." If you are a teacher who is unfamiliar with this term, I strongly recommend making the effort to learn more about it, whether you work with underserved or highly privileged youth. 

This article is not focused on our students, however.  It is focused on you, the educator.  The purpose of this article is to invite YOU to extend the same level of warmth and unconditional positive regard to yourself.

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Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="Boy Nobody (The Unknown Assassin, #1)" src="" /></a><a href="">Boy Nobody</a> by <a href="">Allen Zadoff</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
I had this on my TBR shelf but with April as mystery month with my twitter book club #yearofya, I pushed it forward and boy am I glad I did! Talk about a thriller; you have a teen assassin who completes his missions (get in quickly, don't be noticed, befriend the target, kill, & leave unnoticed) for The Program which has a very very dark side. "Boy Nobody" gets his information in coded texts & calls from Mom and Dad and the latest is to kill the mayor of NY. But this mission is unusual, he has only 5 days to complete it and with this come questions about his life both before and during his time with The Program. Zadoff created a very believable teen assassin, the chapters, the boy's thoughts and words are all short & clipped creating a very tense atmosphere with each page. I am looking forward to more in this series!
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