Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Season of You and Me

Volume Nineteen in the Books That Matter Series

The Season of You and Me is a young adult love story. Two teenagers meet on a beach, one in a car and the other with her bike. Their encounter is brief but then they meet up again at the same summer camp where they will both be working. Sounds like a classic boy meets girl romance. Only, the girl is spending the summer at her father's bed & breakfast,  trying to escape a bad break-up back home. And the guy, he is paralyzed.

Bryan, a former surfer, had an accident a year and a half ago that left him in a wheelchair and he is just getting back to work at the summer camp. Parents have concerns about whether he will be up for the physical demands of camp but Bryan doesn't let that stop him. He refuses to let anything hold him back, except when it comes to surfing. Despite the encouragement of his friends, Bryan has not surfed since the accident and doesn't want to talk about making the adjustments that would be needed to make it happen.

Cassidy 's boyfriend has cheated on her and her answer is to flee for the summer. Leaving her mom and Nan, Cassidy moves in with her father, step-mother, and half-brother.  When school starts again, her ex-boyfriend will be away at college and she won't have to see him again. Running sounds like the perfect plan...until it isn't.

The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine is an alternating point of view novel of two teenagers falling in love and helping one another heal from the things that hurt and scare them the most. It is certainly a book that matters.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Volume Eighteen in the Books that Matter Series

Junior year is tough: what with schoolwork, friendships, family, and extracurricular activities. No one knows this better than Simon Spier who is trying to juggle school, his diverse group of co-ed friends, his interesting family, and the demands of the upcoming drama production. But Simon has more than just all of this going on. He is being blackmailed by Martin Addison, one of the theater students who has read Simon's personal email when he forgets to log out at school. Martin wants to date one of Simon's friends. In exchange, he won't tell anyone Simon's secret. Simon Spier is gay. And Martin has screenshots of Simon's personal emails to prove it. If he doesn't help Martin, soon his correspondences with another gay student, who uses the name Blue in his emails, might become public. And neither Simon nor Blue have come out yet.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is thought-provoking, funny in parts, and poignant throughout. Simon is likable and it is easy to feel sorry for him as events spin out of his control. Author, Becky Albertalli, does an amazing job with her characters. Each one has a unique voice and style that is true to teenagers.

This young adult novel is the story of a gay teenager in Georgia, not ready to out himself to the public. And why should he? Because as it is stated in the email correspondence between Simon and Blue, why is that everyone isn't expected to come out-- whether straight, gay, or bi? It is the Homo Sapiens Agenda against Simon. And that is precisely why Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a book that matters.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out of My Mind

Volume Seventeen in the Books That Matter Series

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is surprising in many ways. It is told from the point of view of Melody, a fifth grade girl with cerebral palsy who is unable to talk, walk, or care for herself.

However, Melody has a photographic memory and an exquisite vocabulary. Only, everything is trapped inside of her, yearning to get out.

Melody endures many people in her life who can't see past her diagnosis but she has some amazing individuals who know her true abilities. When a communication board shows its limitations, Melody discovers the Medi-Talker, a device that allows her words to be heard. Once she has that, she is able to participate in inclusion classes and prove her superior intelligence when she joins a quiz team.

Melody faces many obstacles in this book, and the ending was a complete surprise that moved me to tears several times. This is Melody's story and Out of My Mind is a book that matters.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Don't Touch

Volume Sixteen in the Books That Matter Series

Sixteen-year-old Caddie Finn is scared. She has just changed schools, having been accepted to an arts academy so she can study acting. She has been reunited with a former friend and her father has recently moved away. These might be some of her reasons for being worried but her true fear is that someone might touch her. Caddie fears that any skin contact might cause negative things to happen. Don't Touch explores the inner workings of a teenager dealing with OCD and anxiety.

Caddie is easy to relate to. Like all teenagers, she wants to find a place where she fits in, to have friends, and to be in love, but her fears are keeping her from all of these things. Author, Rachel M. Wilson, has created a believable character who readers will connect with. She uses Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, to parallel Caddie's own journey. As Caddie prepares to play Ophelia in the school play, she finds herself wondering what makes her similar and different from the character she is portraying. It also brings her closer to Peter, the guy she has a crush on, who is playing Hamlet. With her feelings intensifying for Peter but not wanting to be touched, Caddie finds it hard to keep control with her mantra, "Don't touch."

Ms. Wilson's author note at the end of the novel explains her own battle with OCD, answers questions readers may have, and offers important phone numbers and websites where people can go for help. Thank you, Rachel M. Wilson, for writing this novel and shining a spotlight on the struggles that come with OCD and anxiety. Don't Touch is a book that matters.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Leaving a Mark

Volume Fifteen in the Books That Matter Series

Just recently, I received the book, Leaving a Mark, by Nicole DeRosa Cannella and Dorian "D-Strong" Murray. For those of you who don't know, Dorian was eight years old, dreamed of becoming famous around the world, and had cancer. Dorian fought his battle for half his life, diagnosed at the age of four. Nicole DeRosa Cannella started writing this story after her sister was diagnosed with cancer but she teamed up with Dorian after she heard of him and his efforts to become famous. Sadly, Dorian passed away before Leaving a Mark was released but it certainly fits its title. It is a picture book that helps children who have cancer and their families, something Dorian did throughout his battle.

Tim Hodge captures the spirit, energy, and determination of young cancer patients in his vibrant illustrations. The story is age appropriate to even young children facing this fight. It covers the entire journey and shows the positives that may come out of it as well, like the friendships made along the way. Dorian's mom wrote the afterword and gives an important message to families facing this fight with their children. Dorian was only eight years old and he inspired so many with his courage, smile, and faith. Leaving a Mark continues his mission.

If you are looking for ways to help pediatric cancer patients and their families, this book lists several organizations where you can donate including: St. Jude Children's Hospital, Dana Farber Boston Children's Hospital (Jimmy Fund), and Hasbro Children's Hospital (The Tomorrow Fund).

Thank you Dorian, Nicole, and Tim for making this book to help others. And thank you to Dorian's family for sharing his story with the world. Leaving a Mark is a book that matters.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Always Remember

Volume Fourteen in the Books That Matter Series

Up until now, I have focused on middle grade and young adult novels for my books that matter series. Picture books, however, can be, and perhaps are, the most likely candidate for such an honor. If a picture book is good, it could shape a child's whole view on reading and help them become an adult who appreciates books. Picture books are simply books that matter. But the true treasure is to find a picture book that addresses a serious issue in an easy, light, and understandable way while still showing the depth and complexity of the issue. Always Remember by Cece Meng (illustrated by Jago) is just such a book.

Once again, this book found me at a time when I needed it. I didn't even know it was out there. I was browsing for some books and there it was: the only copy on the table. The illustration of the turtle on the front drew me in. I flipped to the book's description and didn't even finish reading it before I was at the register buying the book. The topic of this book was one that is hard for most people: grieving. When someone close passes away, it is a difficult thing to deal with. Everyone's grieving process is unique even if psychology tells us there is a pattern to it. And yet, worse than our own grief is how to explain loss to children. This book takes elegant ocean illustrations and simple, straight-forward, and beautiful words to tell the story of how the sea animals remember Old Turtle after his passing. It is a must have for parents, educators, writers, and illustrators. It masterfully shows children how to recall the times they have shared with someone while also showing them what kind of acts will be remembered.

At a time, when I needed it most, this book found me. Always Remember is a book that matters.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Maybe A Fox

Volume Thirteen in the Books That Matters Series

"What happens after you die?"
-Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (authors of Maybe A Fox)

This is the question that sisters, Sylvie and Jules, ask themselves.

"Maybe you turn into wind.
Maybe you turn into stars.
Maybe you go to another world."
-Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (authors of Maybe A Fox)

These are a few of the possible answers Sylvie and Jules come up with. And this is why Maybe A Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee is a book that matters.

With so many beliefs on what happens after someone dies, this middle grade book touches beautifully on where a spirit might go, especially if some unfinished business needs to be resolved before moving on.

Having faced some difficult losses, this is a book I needed to read. I have said it before but sometimes books have a way of finding a reader at exactly the appropriate time. While visiting a new local independent bookstore on Sunday afternoon, I found Maybe A Fox on the shelf. I had not heard anything about it (a strange occurrence for me). The cover drew me in with a beautiful image of a fox and subtle pictures in the words. I read the description and immediately decided to buy it. This book called to me, almost as if it knew I needed to find it. And I did need to find it.

Thank you, Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee, for writing this book and making it a book that matters.