Top 10 (or 11) #summerthrowdown Reads

Brian’s Note: This week marks the end of the second round of the #summerthrowdown challenge. To celebrate, each of the four organizers has invited 4 teachers and librarians to blog this week about their favorite reads from the summer. That’s a total of 16 guest posters! Be sure to check out their blogs to get the full effect: Heise Reads & RecommendsThe Brain Lair, and Library Fanatic. Check back here throughout the week for more fun!

Today’s post here on Wyz Reads comes to us from Jennifer Fountain.

When the call went out to sign up for the teachers vs. librarians #summerthrowdown competition, I was super excited to join in and participate. I follow both Brian and Jillian on Twitter, and I love seeing their interactions when their sister-classrooms have #throwdown challenges during the school year. While I don’t really need motivation to read, I knew that this would be a fun challenge to start the summer.

I read books from so many sources during #summerthrowdown: some were my books from my classroom library, some were from my school library, some were from the public library, and some were books that were sent from Twitter friends on ARC Tours. (Ir)Regardless* of the source, here are 10 books I read during round 1 that I can’t wait to share with my students this school year!

Clicking the cover of the book will take you to the Goodreads page where you can add it to your TBR!

While the story is “about” basketball, that’s just a surface level aspect of this book. Basketball : Boy21 :: football : Friday Night Lights tv show…the sport is just a vessel for telling a story that is truly about relationships. I’ll get students (especially boys) to buy in because of the basketball, but they’ll love the story for the characters, just like I did. Source: classroom library.

This series is a great new dystopian series that will appeal to boys and girls. The protagonist is Deuce, a strong heroine who grew in an underground Enclave after Topside became inhabitable. She has to battle Freaks (zombie-ish creatures) and faces the unimaginable when she and her hunting partner, Fade, are banished from the compound. This is one of my favorite new series (the series is called Razorland), and I’m hoping to get some of my students hooked as well! Source: school library.

Thanks to Kathy from The Brain Lair (and one of the “hosts” of the #summerthrowdown challenges!), I was able to read book 2 in the Razorland series. Sometimes the second book in a series can feel…stagnant? Like, it’s there, but not really doing anything for the story? Not Outpost. Characters grew and developed into even more complex (and sometimes sympathetic) characters. I have a couple of passages from Outpost that I’m going to share as examples of great “show not tell” writing. Source: ARC tour.

I read the whole Babymouse series (minus Babymouse for President which came out during round 2) during round 1 of #summerthrowdown. Babymouse is such a fun, quick read that appeals to people of all ages. I can’t wait to introduce this graphic novel series to my students! Source: public library.


Sonya Sones is fabulous. Before this summer, Ellen Hopkins was really the only verse author that I’d read. I always try to get my students to read her books because I know she tells real stories that they can relate to. However, my students are all at-risk students who come to me as dormant readers (love that term my Donalyn Miller!), and the sheer SIZE of a Hopkins novel…well, it freaks them out. I tell them, “Don’t worry! It reads FAST,” but they don’t believe me. Now that I’ve got some Sonya Sones under my belt, I have smaller, more bite-sized verse novels that my students can start with so the larger Hopkins books don’t seem so terrifying. Source: school library.

So, if you read my blog, you know I’m a sucker for books told with alternating POV. I love it. Love. It. Legend (and the sequel Prodigy, which I read during round 2) are both told from alternating POV, and it is done beautifully. You know so much more about the different classes within the dystopian world due to the two narrators being from two completely characters. You also come to love each character more, which is always great when you have wonderful characters like Day and June. Another series that I’m hooked on! Source: school library.

What Happens Next is a perfect pairing with Speak and Just Listen. Cassidy, or Sid, is date-raped by “Dax” (a man posing as a college student) while on a school ski trip. The book explores “what happens next” when Sid’s life is forever changed by this encounter. I really loved Sid’s voice in the book, and Corey was the perfect bad-boy-reputation/good-boy-inside character. I can’t wait to get this contemporary book because I know my girls will love it! Source: ARC Tour.

OMG, I love the cover of this book! It looks pretty amazing at surface level; however, when you look at the cover after reading, it is even more amazing! Each piece of the cover fits together in the story. I loved Legend and Enclave because each heroine is strong and highly trained. The Forsaken stuck out to me because the protagonist, Alenna, has to grow and learn on her feet. There’s a love interest, but it’s her friend on the island, Gadya, who Alenna relies on throughout the book. My dystopian shelf is going to be bursting at the seams! Source: ARC Tour.

This book scared me. Literally. If there is a super-volcano that shuts down the country, I’m VERY unprepared!! Hopefully I’ll find a Darla (who can literally do anything) like Alex does! My students are always obsessed with the end of the world and all that. I can’t wait for them to read this book (or Life As We Knew It which I read in round 2) to see what life would be like after a huge natural disaster! Source: public library.

This is such a powerful and emotional story about a son and his struggle with his mother’s cancer and looming death. I’ve had quite a few students over the years who have had family members who are sick and/or dying. This will be the perfect book to share with these students as they struggle with their emotions during such a difficult time. Source: public library e-book.

I will see my new students on August 28th, and I can’t wait to share these books and get them into the hands of my students. As I share with them my reading community that I’ve built through Twitter, I hope that they are as excited as I am about the reading community we will build in our classes throughout this school year!

*The English teacher in my knows this isn’t a word, but I love when people use it in actual conversation.

Jennifer Fountain is a high school English teacher in Houston, Texas. She tweets at @jennann516 and blogs over at Fountain Reflections. Brian thinks she is just the worst type of person for using the “word” irregardless in this post.


My Top 5 Summer Throw Down Books

Brian’s Note: This week marks the end of the second round of the #summerthrowdown challenge. To celebrate, each of the four organizers has invited 4 teachers and librarians to blog this week about their favorite reads from the summer. That’s a total of 16 guest posters! Be sure to check out their blogs to get the full effect: Heise Reads & RecommendsThe Brain Lair, and Library Fanatic. Check back here throughout the week for more fun!

Today’s post here on Wyz Reads comes to us from Niki Ohs Barnes.

Or should it be called… “books that changed my life while I was trying to read the pants off a bunch of librarians”? What was I thinking? Hello!! Librarians read for a living! Have you looked at Mr. Schu’s book count lately on Goodreads? Lucky for me, he was not participating. But the teachers still lost the first round to the librarians. Did I mention librarians love to read? But then there was the second round and everything changed. Go Team Teacher! Anyway, here are 10 books that will change your life…and I’m not exaggerating just so you’ll read them. So what are you waiting for?! Open your Goodreads account or go the old fashioned route and grab a pencil and paper and write these bad boys down.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

Okay, all you really need to know about this book I can tell you in five words: Better than The Hunger Games. I started off #summerthrowdown reading The Hunger Games and I loved it. In fact, I really felt bad for the book that would have to go after this series. I thought to myself -there is no one I will ever crush on harder than Peeta. I mean he is the boy with the bread for goodness sakes. Little did I know what was in store for me. And the ladies that have read Divergent know what I’m talking about. Divergent was my favorite YA series this summer. And I will give you one word why- Four. I think he is officially my first book boyfriend. We all picture different amazingly hunky boys in our head when we picture Four (mine was a blue eyed Adam Levine by the way). So I’m telling you- if you are a woman of any age- read this book just to meet Four. He will rekindle your inner teenager. Now in case for some odd reason you are not sold yet. This book has everything: people jumping from trains, amazing, pulse pounding action, factions (that remind me of the houses in Harry Potter) and a kick butt female lead character named Beatrice. Which makes me wonder, who do you think would win if Katniss and Beatrice took each other on?

I give Divergent 5 hunky stars out of 5 hunky stars.

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Is this book going to make you cry? Yes! Is this book going to make you laugh? Yes! I did not read a more beautiful, heart wrenching and funny book than this one all summer. You will literally fall in love with the two main characters Hazel and Gus. And there is a lot of talk about the dreaded C word (cancer). You have been warned!

I give The Fault in Our Stars 5 boxes of Kleenex out of 5 boxes of Kleenex…you are going to need them.

3. One For The Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Apparently I love heart warming, tear inducing books about sassy, street smart main characters and the amazing people who love them. Who knew?  Karly is that funny, smart, and sassy character. She ends up with her foster family the Murphys after a brutal incident with her mother and father and law.  The Murphys are a sweet and caring family that Karly has a hard time embracing. The question is will she stay with the Murphys or go back with the mom who betrayed her. Well, you will just have to read the book to find out. So what are you waiting for? Add it to your “Books to Read” list now!

I give One For The Murphys 5 sassy, street smart stars out of 5 sassy, street smart stars!

4. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

I could just quote this book all day. Every line is my favorite and it begs to be reread along with Hate That Cat. If you ask really nicely- Mr. Schu might just read you a line or two to get you hooked. Unless you are living under a children’s lit rock then you have probably heard of Sharon Creech. Oops. I was the one living under that rock. I finally just read her books this summer. If it’s not too late for me…than it’s not too late for you. Run out and get this book now. Read it silently to yourself then rush out to read it to a group of children. I don’t care if you are a teacher or not. Find a random group of children and read it to them. They will love you for it.

I give Love That Dog 5 loud passionate barks out of 5 loud passionate barks.

5. Gregor The Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Yes. It is that Suzanne Collins. I really had no choice after I didn’t pick The Hunger Games as one of my top 5 books, now did I? I loved this fantasy gem that you must read especially if you love Harry Potter. Gregor is a boy who can perform magic, is mean with a wand and fights off other evil wizards. Actually, NONE of that is true. But we are nearing the end of my post. So I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. But Gregor is brave like Harry Potter. And you should see what he can do with a can of Root Beer. I don’t think even the great Harry Potter is that ingenious. If you love damp, dark places with lots of rats, spiders and cockroaches then this is the book for you. You mean you don’t love creepy crawly creatures? Me neither. But I still loved this book.

I give Gregor The Overlander 5 creepy crawly creatures out of 5 creepy crawly creatures.

Just one more thing: GET ON TWITTER! I mean it. It is not just a place for celebrities to Tweet about themselves and for you to pretend you care. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has changed me as a reader and a teacher. It is an amazing community of wonderful educators, authors and librarians. If you love to read…you will love Twitter. So look me up @NikiOhsBarnes and I will tell you who to follow to be a part of such awesome groups as the Summer Throw Down and Nerdy Book Club. Happy Reading!

Niki Ohs Barnes is a 2nd grade teacher in Michigan. She is also a proud (library) card carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club.

Best #summerthrowdown Read

Brian’s Note: This week marks the end of the second round of the #summerthrowdown challenge. To celebrate, each of the four organizers has invited 4 teachers and librarians to blog this week about their favorite reads from the summer. That’s a total of 16 guest posters! Be sure to check out their blogs to get the full effect: Heise Reads & RecommendsThe Brain Lair, and Library Fanatic. Check back here throughout the week for more fun!

Today’s post here on Wyz Reads comes to us from Shannon Clark.

I took part in 2 #summerthrowdown challenges this summer. We read books, books, and more books. It was the teachers against the librarians. That’s a lot of reading! 🙂

I read so many good books I can’t even begin to tell you about all of them- I would have to take a leave of absence from work to write thispost! I’m thinking about taking a leave of absence anyway so I can keep on reading. 🙂

When I told Brian I would write a guest post this week I must have lost my mind temporarily since we start back to school on Monday! This has to be the craziest and busiest time of the year to be a teacher. You would think after 8 years of teaching that it would be easier. Nope. 🙂

So this is going to be short. And sweet. 🙂

My number one favorite book of all time that I read this summer is (drumroll please):

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

It’s written from the point of view of a 9 year old boy during the Holocaust who’s father works closely with Hitler. He and his family have to move because of his father’s job. He sets out exploring one day and meets a friend. Who lives on the other side of the fence. Of a concentration camp.

I’m not going to describe anything else, but I do want to say that this book probably impacted me more than anything I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot! It is truly powerful.

I have decided to use it as a read aloud with my 6th graders since we will study WWII and the Holocaust. I can’t wait for the discussions that will take place because of this story!

Oh yeah, GO #teamteacher!!!!!!!!!

Happy Reading!

Shannon Clark is a 5th & 6th grade english/history teacher in Alabama. She tweets at @shannonclark7 and blogs over at I Run Read Teach.

My Top Ten Summer Throw Down Reads

Brian’s Note: Today marks the end of the second round of the #summerthrowdown challenge. Each of the four organizers has invited 4 teachers and librarians to blog this week about their favorite reads from the summer. That’s a total of 16 guest posters! Be sure to check out their blogs to get the full effect: Heise Reads & Recommends, The Brain Lair, and Library Fanatic. Check back here throughout the week for more fun!

Today’s post here on Wyz Reads comes to us from Crys Hodgens.

This summer I was pleased to discover #SummerThrowDown. What a great way to inspire teachers and librarians to read during the summer. As if we don’t already. But still – it was a great way to inspire us to a friendly competition, cheer one another on, and share what we are reading.

When I joined I thought I would be about to sit in my big, comfy chair and read from dusk to dawn all summer. And it started out that way too. But life always has a way of intervening, so the reading time I thought I had was cut into about a fourth of what I wanted, even with my competitive streak screaming from inside. But, I read a lot of great books, and I am pleased to share a handful of my favorite reads.

Here are my Top Ten Summer Throw Down Reads (in no particular order):

1. A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
A typical Clements school tale that almost inspired me to take a camping trip. ALMOST. But I enjoyed taking the trip with Clements’ characters. He has a way of making readers feel as if they too are in the moment.

2. Once by Anna Carey
I am so in love with this series, and this sequel did NOT disappoint. Imagine if the plague came back. How would we survive – and how would we re-populate the world? I read this in two sittings, which is impressive with how busy my summer was.

3. Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
I love witchy tales, and I thoroughly enjoyed Burgis’ sequel. I love the magical world she has created as well as Kat, who has quickly become one of my favorite witchy characters.

4. Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal
Loved every morsel of this book. I could not get enough of it – and if you teach Shakespeare or are thinking about it, you should add this to your reading pile ASAP. If you hate Shakespeare, you should add this to your reading pile. Really, everyone should add this to their reading pile. Period.

5. The Classroom by Robin Mellom
A clever idea for a novel, Mellom has a great cast of characters. This documentary-style novel was easy and fun to read. You will feel for the main character as he tries to muster through the first day of middle school sans his best friend, who has decided that they both must find a date for the dance before the end of the school day. A must-read for the “outcast” in your life.

6. The Grooming of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Oh Alice. I love her character, but I am starting to question her friendships. Of course, we pick our friends and love them no matter what, right? At least that’s true for Alice. This is one of my favorites from the series.

7. Alice on the Outside by P. R. Naylor
Another Alice book – Alice forever! Never thought of Alice on the outside of anything because she is always working hard at being herself. That’s why I adore her.

8. Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
Usually not my cup of tea, but I loved this book. My husband read it and loved it too. That means you should add it to your reading list because the hubby can be a hard sell for YA lit.

9. Bewitching by Alex Flinn
Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. One of my favorite reads this year! If you read Beastly, then you will recognize the main character, Kindra. Loved reading her story.

10. ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
What a cute zombie Pilgrim story. No really, I promise. Very reminiscent of The Zombie Chasers series. This is age-appropriate and has convinced me to see the movie.

Crys Hodgens is a high school English teacher, aspiring librarian, avid gum chewer and exerciser, and reader. When she is not doing these things she can be found in the floor playing with her puppies Katniss and Knightley, grading essays, plotting to take over the world, or rooting for #TeamTeacher. You can find her on Twitter @thehodgenator and on her blog at Book ‘Em!

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

For whatever reason, books depicting harrowing drug use among teenagers have always and probably will always appeal to me. Crank is certainly one of those books.

We follow the life of teenager Kristina (alter ego Bree) as she finds herself going down a path she’d rather not go. Her parents are divorced, and she goes to visit her dad for a few weeks. Her dad doesn’t exactly walk the straightest of lines. While she’s there, she meets a boy: Adam. Adam’s no Boy Scout, either (actually, I don’t like that expression, but I’m using it anyway. Deal.).  Soon, Kristina finds herself using crank (meth). She calls it the monster. And that’s exactly what it is.

The book then goes to tell her story. Her ups. Her downs. Her struggles. Her changes in appetite, attitude, and friends. Her desire to be with boys. Her desire to be with the monster.

There are a couple things I really like about this book. One: it’s first-person. It has to be. That alone is how we can really get in the mind of this girl. We really see the way her family cares for her, but it’s tainted through Kristina/Bree’s vantage point. This is a great study in unreliable narration at times. Two: it’s a novel in verse. With such an emotionally-charged plot (drugs will do that), the poetry really helps with this. And it’s well-written poetry.

There are, though, some things I don’t really like about it. Well, one thing in particular. It didn’t seem real to me. It didn’t seem to go far enough into what this addiction would be like. It might be real (and is, in fact, loosely based on a true story), but it just didn’t do enough for me. Maybe it’s because I’m desensitized or something. But I wanted more from this book as far as what the drug did to her. I wanted it to be worse than it was, I suppose.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in such a book, but definitely high school age and up. In addition to the explicit drug use, there is quite a bit of language and some other highly sensitive scenes that I think would be too much for a younger audience.

My rating: 3 out of 5 fish.

The Waiting Sky by Lara Zielin

Do issue books bother you? Do you find yourself wishing they weren’t so in-your-face with things? We get it. Cancer sucks. Or yes, I see now that drugs are bad. I didn’t know that before. I’m so glad there’s a book on it now. I don’t mean to pick on issue books — they have their place. But I feel that they tend to be over-the-top and way too dramatic.

Well, guess what. The Waiting Sky is an issue book.

And I loved it.

We start out our story in the eye of the storm (and I use that metaphor on purpose). 17-year old Jane (not Janey) is remembering her mom’s words, pleading with her to come back home. Meanwhile, she is hunting down a tornado with her brother Ethan, and the rest of his tornado chasing team. The comparison between her mom and the tornado may come across as a bit heavy-handed (see over-the-top and dramatic from above), but it does work as a good extended metaphor.

You see, Jane doesn’t live in Oklahoma with her brother, chasing down tornadoes. She’s visiting him from her home in Minnesota, where she lives with her mom. Her alcoholic mom. Her alcoholic mom who recently drove Jane and her best friend, Cat, home from the mall. Drunk. And they got in an accident. A fairly serious accident. They drove away, not even knowing if anyone else involved was alive.

So now she finds herself in Oklahoma. Cat wants her to be there. Ethan wants her to be there. Jane wants to be with her mom. This is why I love this book. This book is about alcoholism. But it’s not about how terrible the disease is. It’s not about the dangers of alcohol and how it can destroy the mind and body if abused. Leave that to the PSAs. This book is about what alcoholism does to those who love those who have it. And it’s pretty spot-on.

Full disclosure time. Someone quite close to me is an alcoholic in recovery. I could not be happier with where this person is right now. But when things were bad, it was awful. Not just for this person, but for the close friends and family. All I wanted to do was be there and give this person whatever it was that was needed. But you know what was needed? For me to step away. For me not to know, at any given moment, if this person was sober or drunk — or even alive or dead. That tore me apart. This person needed to get better on their own, though, or else it was meaningless. I became edgy around alcohol, and couldn’t imagine how people could drink the way they did. I have healed, but it sucked. It’s almost worse now, looking back on it, than it was during that time, because I was fairly numb to it all.

Well, this is where Jane is. She wants to do nothing but be there for her mom. She wants to help pay the bills, even though she knows that a lot of that money is spent at the bar. She believes that’s at least better than her mom being evicted. And how could anybody else know what was the best thing for her to do? And my goodness, how could Ethan ever have a beer? As if leaving home to go to Oklahoma wasn’t bad enough, that’s like a slap in the face.

This book deals with all of that. It talks about Al-Anon (quick, show of hands: who knows what Al-Anon is?). It talks about dependency (though not with that term). It is about Jane searching for strength to make difficult choices — choices she doesn’t even know she has to make.

I must stop the review now. This is way too long. But if you’re looking for a book that deals with how alcoholism affects those around the alcoholic, this is the book for you.

My rating (perhaps a bit biased because the subject matter is so close to me):
5 out of 5 fish. 



P.S. Lara reveals a pretty big YA meme secret today on her blog.