Category Archives: YA books


“Maybe the hardest thing about moving overseas was being in a place where no one but your own family had any memory of you. It was like putting yourself back together with little pieces.”

It would be very difficult for any 14 year old to be uprooted by her family and moved overseas, but for Liyana Abboud, a very American teenager whose father is Palestinian, moving to Jerusalem from St Louis completely changed her world.

From the Publisher:

What does Jerusalem hold for Liyana? A grandmother, a Sitti, she has never met, for one. A history much bigger than she is. Visits to the West Bank village where her aunts and uncles live. Mischief. Old stone streets that wind through time and trouble. Opening doors, dark jail cells, a new feeling for peace, and Omer…the intriguing stranger whose kisses replace the one she lost when she moved across the ocean.

This is a lovely story of what it means to suddenly be immersed in another culture just at a time when you are beginning to define who you are and what you believe in.  It’s a powerful story of self-discovery, of family, and of what it means to be part of the bigger picture of history.

I have long enjoyed and appreciated Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful poetry. She has put a lot of that beautiful language into this little book, and told a story that is very close to her heart.  I love the way Liyana’s extended family reaches out to her and helps her through her culture shock and helps her understand her own heritage.  I particularly love the relationship she has with her Sitti (her grandmother).

Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye, is a quick but thoughtful read. I highly recommend this little book.

The Endless Steppe

The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, was one of those books that sat in my sixth grade classroom library for years before I read it. I gave my sixth grade library to a friend recently, a new teacher just starting out, but I set this book aside, and I am happy to report that I finally read it. I’m so glad I did!  It is a lovely little book, a memoir of Hautzig and her family during the Holocaust. She and her family survived because they were exiled to Siberia. Most of her other relatives that stayed in her beloved city of Vilna, Poland, did not survive.  But as you can imagine, life in Siberia was harsh and survival was difficult.

“We spent nearly six years in Siberia,” Mrs. Hautzig wrote in “Remember Who You Are: Stories About Being Jewish,” a 1990 collection of childhood reflections. “I went to school there, made friends, learned how to survive no matter what life brought.”

This book, and Esther Hautzig, left a powerful impression on me.  It’s a beautifully written story, and she was a beautiful, compassionate person. It is a story of the strength of love and family, of hope, and of the resilience of the human spirit.

The world lost Esther Hautzig last November. There were some lovely tributes paid her at that time. You can click on the links below to read two of them.

When You Reach Me

My first Kindle read:  the newly announced Newbery Award Winning book, When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead!  What a great book to start off my love affair with my new Kindle.  I couldn’t stop reading it, and was very excited that this very creative and engaging book won the Newbery medal.  It was well-deserved.

I didn’t know anything at all about this book before I read it, so it was terrific to simply experience it.  It’s very unusual and I found myself loving the way it was written.  It also incorporates a book that I know many of you love as much as I do:  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  It’s part mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, magical realism, all rolled into one great story. It makes me wish I was teaching 6th grade again, so I could read it aloud to my students, who would love it.  But that would only be after I read them A Wrinkle in Time so they could fully appreciate the connections between the two books.

Now I completely understand why people were so happy last week when the Newbery Award was announced.

From the publisher:

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Brooklyn Bridge

Karen Hesse’s latest book, Brooklyn Bridge, is delightful. And the audiobook version, narrated by Fred Berman (with a wonderful Brooklyn accent), is the perfect way to experience this book. I loved listening to it this week as I finished my Christmas errands and preparations.

About the story from Children’s Literature Network:

It’s the summer of 1903 in Brooklyn and all fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom wants is to experience the thrill, the grandeur, and the electricity of the new amusement park at Coney Island. But that doesn’t seem likely. Ever since his parents — Russian immigrants — invented the stuffed Teddy Bear five months ago, Joseph’s life has turned upside down. No longer do the Michtom’s gather family and friends around the kitchen table to talk. No longer is Joseph at leisure to play stickball with the guys. Now, Joseph works. And complains. And falls in love. And argues with Mama and Papa. And falls out of love. And hopes. Joseph hopes he’ll see Coney Island soon. He hopes that everything will turn right-side up again. He hopes his luck hasn’t run out — because you never know.

This heartwarming family story won the 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers. Karen Hesse did an excellent job with her research into the time period, the immigrant experience, and the Michtom family (they really did invent the Teddy Bear and started the company that became the Ideal Toy Company).  After finishing the book, I listened to a podcast of the author talking about how she came to write the book and the research she did for it. She’s a wonderful storyteller, and I enjoyed learning more about her writing process. If you have time, it’s worth a listen.

I’m declaring this book to be one of my two top favorite audiobooks of the year, and a very enjoyable read for the entire family.

Odd and the Frost Giants

After my last few posts, I feel that I need to start this post by quoting Monty Python… “And now for something completely different..!”

It’s been a cold weekend in the Seattle area, and we’ve looked out the window on a beautiful, frosty landscape each morning.  At the library yesterday, I found Neil Gaiman’s, Odd and the Frost Giants, and today I read it in one sitting and loved it! It’s the perfect read for a frosty morning!  It really is one that could become a classic, and would be wonderful to read aloud as a family, or to a group of school kids (my 6th graders would have loved it!).  It’s filled with fun and humor, of course, and is my new favorite Neil Gaiman book…for the moment.

Natalie Bober


Natalie S. Bober has written some of my favorite biographies. My Mom and I both love her biographies of Abigail Adams and of Thomas Jefferson. At the library recently, I found her biography, Marc Chagall, Painter of Dreams, and as I read it, I looked up photographs of the works mentioned in the book. What a lovely way to get to know this great artist!

Natalie Bober on writing biographies:

Great people inspire others to find the greatness within themselves. It is for this reason that I write biographies. There is an urgent need today for role models relevant to the teenage reader. By sharing fine examples of heroes and heroines they might wish to emulate, biographers can provide for those young readers uncertain of their place in society a beacon of light, an anchor in a rough sea. They can dramatize for them the possibilities for human choice, and help them to better understand their own lives. Young people must be helped to recognize that people the world over are basically the same. Indeed, the greatness of our subjects is brought home to our readers when they feel them to be more human — more like themselves. Regardless of time or place, people’s needs, desires, and emotions are alike. We must help our readers to see the universals implicit in all lives: that all great people were once young, with the same fears, doubts, and concerns that young people have today. They achieved. But they achieved by faith in themselves, persistence, and hard work.

The Revenge of the Forty-Seven Samurai

Revenge Samurai

The Revenge of the Forty-Seven Samurai, by Erik Christian Haugaard, was a great choice for Dolce Bellezza’s  Japanese Literature Challenge.  It’s a book I had in my 6th grade library for many years, and numerous students read it,  I had it on my own TBR list for a long time, but am happy to say I finally picked it up and decided it was time …  and I enjoyed it!

From the Publisher:

In time when the Shogun ruled Japan, two hundred samurai suffered a grave insult—their master met an unjust death. Forty-seven of them were courageous enough to avenge him, for in those days there was a saying: “One cannot live under the same sky with the murderer of one’s father or one’s lord.”

A lowly servant to one of the brave samurai is the boy Jiro, who calls himself a “fly on the wall.” Chosen as his master’s unlikely spy during the planning of the great revenge, Jiro must learn when to talk and when to listen, or at any moment he could lose his head to a samurai testing the sharpness of his sword.

As Jiro plays his small part in the elaborate plan of the forty-seven samurai, he searches for his own identity in the barbaric society of feudal Japan.


The story of the forty-seven ronin, who avenged the death of their master, is a national legend in Japan.  There are many fictionalized versions of the incident, in books and movies, and they all celebrate the samurai code of honor: bushido.

From the web site: “Discover the Tale of the 47 Ronin


One of the most important thing for westerners to fully appreciate the story of the 47 Ronin, is to understand the psychological, philosophical and spiritual foundations of the warrior class in ancient Japan: Bushido.


In Feudal Japan, Samurai devoted their lives to Bushido, a strict, unwritten code of living, teaching moral principles and values like loyalty, courage, honor and self-discipline.

This book is a nice retelling of the story. Its strength is that it is told through the eyes of Jiro, a fourteen year old boy whom young readers can really identify with, and that made this fascinating story particularly understandable for them.




Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, won the Newbery Medal in 2005. It is a sad and beautiful story of the lives of a Japanese American family in the early 1950s, told through the eyes of Katie, the second daughter.  It is about the family’s struggle to retain a sense of dignity despite poverty and prejudice, but it is also about Katie’s growth from innocence to maturity as her beloved older sister suffers from some unknown (to Katie) illness and gradually declines.  This is a very moving story, beautifully told.

Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!


There are times when I really miss teaching 6th grade. This week I listened to an audiobook that made me miss 6th grade intensely! The book was the 2008 Newbery Award-winning book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Stories from a Medieval Village.

Teaching 6th grade is a lot of fun because of the way six graders can think and process things, and because the curriculum of that grade level is terrific. This book would have made a great addition to our Medieval History unit, which was one of the highlights of our 6th grade year.

MSlibraryThe author of the book, Laura Amy Schlitz, who is a school librarian in Baltimore, explained that she wrote this book so her students studying the Middle Ages would have something to perform.  Set on an English manor in 1255, the book is written as a series of short monologues from various villagers, each individual story revealing what life was like during those times. In between the stories, Schlitz gives background information on some of the ideas discussed and that helps the reader better understand Medieval thinking and attitudes.  It’s a very creative book and a fun way to learn about history!

Remembering Theodore Taylor


Today is Theodore Taylor’s birthday, and he is an author I remember with great fondness. I used his book, The Cay, as a novel study each year that I taught sixth grade (16 years). It’s a very interesting experience to read a book that many times, but each time I read it with my students, it was as fresh and wonderful as the first time. I grew to love the book more and more over the years, and I grew to love Theodore Taylor for being the kind of person that could write a book that had such a profoundly positive impact on my students year after year. It was always a favorite for each group of students, and it was a wonderful book to experience with them .

He wrote it in 1968 and dedicated it:

“To Dr. King’s dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand.”

It is a book about war (it takes place in 1942), about prejudice, and about survival. It deals with emotional truths, and with growing up. It is a story of relationships and how they change us. And it is a book written to introduce young people to some of our most profound ideas. It truly is a classic, and if you haven’t read it, you should.


The Dark is Rising…


It’s a busy week for me, but I thought I’d take a minute and share my current reading project and my new knitting project.  I’m listening to the audiobook versions of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence.  I really enjoyed Over Sea, Under Stone last week, and when I finished it I immediately started on the next book, The Dark is Rising. It’s quite different from Over Sea, Under Stone … much darker and with only one of the characters from that book … but I enjoyed it very much.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I listen to audiobooks whenever I’m in the car, no matter how short the ride, so my neighbors may have been wondering why I’m just sitting in the car in the driveway, instead of getting out and carrying the groceries into the house.  They can’t see that I’m waiting for a chapter to end, or for a particularly good part of the adventure to come to a natural break.  

I also listen to audiobooks while I knit (if the pattern isn’t too complicated). So here’s my new project, which I may have to call my “Dark is Rising Scarf.” I’ve been on a scarf-knitting binge since the first of the year, and have enjoyed knitting four different scarves for family and friends.  This new one is for me! I love the color, love the feel of the yarn (Berroco “Bonsai”), and love knitting on it while listening to such a good story!  

New knitting project...

New knitting project...



At the end of the school day, I head out to my car and immediately start listening to my current audiobook. I don’t live very far from school, so there’s not a lot of listening time, but I listen every time I get in the car … and before too long, I finish another book.

This week I’ve been listening to Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and by the time I arrive home, I’ve completely decompressed from the day’s intensity. I am finding it absolutely delightful to spend a short while every day in Cornwall!