Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You

Over vacation, I read Tim Dorsey’s Atomic Lobster. I would never have read this book if not for my husband. He confesses he judges books by the covers, and at the recent AAUW booksale bag sale day, he grabbed this book (among many others). It looked like a fun vacation read.

So he read it for the first part of vacation last week, and I read it for the second part. He kept giggling, reading lines aloud, and generally making noises of approval as he read it. My husband and I don’t normally read the same books, so not only was I intrigued by his reaction, I wanted to have a common book we could talk about. I’m glad we did, because in the week since we’ve read it, we talked about what we liked and disliked in it, we’ve discovered Dorsey’s other books, and we’ve used the characters as reference points.

In many ways, Dorsey’s fiction reminds me of Dave Barry’s fiction: hapless characters enter into conflict, coincidence and hilarity ensue. (If you haven’t read Insane City, Big Trouble, or Tricky Business, check those out.) There are three character arcs in the book: the G-Force, a bunch of grannies who discover cruise ships are less expensive than retirement homes (if you stay away from drinks and gambling); Jim Davenport and his wife (he’s non-confrontational to a fault); and Serge Storms, a serial killer who seems to have a good heart. The situations are hilarious, but I’ll warn you, there’s lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll–this is not a book you’ll give to your students to read.

While I would not have normally picked up this book on my own, the experience of reading the same book as my husband was priceless. So here’s your first reading challenge of the summer: read a book someone else chooses for you. Hopefully it will be a book that person has read, so you can discuss it together.

Happy Reading!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Summer was here again. Summer, summer, summer. I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out it me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.”

Now that’s how you start a book! If you need a summer read, why not start with one, that also begins in summer? I had no less than three students recommend this book to me in the last week of school. Thus, when I went to the bookstore to buy my first read of the summer, I picked up a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Honestly, I don’t know how in the world I hadn’t read this book yet.

With Ari’s voice, Sáenz’s writing, the short chapters, the engaging content–I didn’t put the book down once I picked it up. I read it almost all in one sitting.  It tells the story of a friendship between two boys. It tells the story two loving families. It tells the story many of us might have wanted to read when we were young. Ari and Dante negotiate their teenage selves and various identities: racial, sexual, and overall human identity. I don’t want to spoil any of the major events in the book, but I will tell you I loved that Ari’s mother is a teacher. And at one point, Ari talks to her about her job. The exchange just made me smile, nod, and realize just how remarkable Sáenz is, that he could pinpoint our work so succinctly:

“What are you thinking?”
“You like teaching?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Even when your students don’t care?”
“I’ll tell you a secret. I’m not responsibly for whether my students care or don’t care. That care has to come from them–not me.”
“Where does that leave you?”
“No matter what, Ari, my job is to care.”

This book is a must-read (or a re-read). It won the Lambda Literary Award, the Printz Honor Award, and the Stonewall Book Award.  And if you want to listen to the audiobook, Lin-Manuel Miranda reads it aloud! The good news if you read this and loved it, is that there’s a sequel in the making, so there will be more from Ari & Dante.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA


Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.

Written by: Dr. Jolene Borgese

Role: Mentor of Daecia Smith throughout the grant period

I am uncomfortable writing or talking about the different shades of skin color. But the young African American girls in Daecia Smith’s book club were not. Daecia is a senior at Temple University, majoring in secondary English. She is student teaching this semester at a high academic performing school in Philadelphia.

The afternoon I joined them at the elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their book club I asked them two open ended questions: “How’s the club going?” and “How do you like the book you’re reading?” Like a fire storm, these 11 year old girls all spoke to me at once – eager to tell me about the book and the characters. Aiming to be the one I heard, their responses became louder and more animated but they were all talking about the bullying going on in the novel, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and how it was all the about the lighter skinned character versus the darker skinned character. Without any inhibitions or fear of being politically incorrect they spoke to me candidly about the shades of being Black.

The teacher in me wanted to connect to these free spirited little girls so I shared with them what I knew about shades of skin color. I recounted quickly as to not lose their interest – “I am of Italian American descent and Italian skin color depends on what part of Italy you are from. The southern part of Italy is very close to Africa so if you are Sicilian- which I am part of – your skin is darker. Some of my sisters are very fair but my father, brother and I have darker skin.” They weren’t interested or cared. I got it. I was this white lady talking about getting a tan. I never got the chance to tell them that my mother sometimes wore pantyhose to the beach because her legs were so white.

The girls spoke with such confidence about shades of color that I asked them if they knew of this happening to people they knew or even themselves. With all of their heads nodding “yes” I realized why this was so important to them. Daecia gathered their attention back when she asked them to start reading. Having more girls than books they happily shared books and helped whoever was reading with words they couldn’t pronounce. They all followed along and listened carefully as their club members read.

Daecia would stop and asked them questions periodically about what they were reading. It seemed more like a conversation than comprehension questions because this was obviously important to them. They read for about 30 minutes never inattentive or disengaged. Reading the right book – the book that means something to the reader- was the key. It was obvious they saw themselves in the characters they were reading about.

At the end of the hour they cleaned up their snack wrappers (Daecia had provided snacks for them), collected the novels and journals. The girls put on their coats and headed out the classroom door. One little girl stopped and turned to Daecia and asked, “What are we reading next?” Daecia was exhausted from student teaching all day, and the extra hour she put in with these little girls, but she still managed a smile.

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass ​
By Sarah Kauffman

The Selection is my favorite book series. With all the romance and drama, what teenage ​ girl wouldn’t love this book. It is about America Singer, just a regular sixteen year old girl living in a future society where, after World War three, the world is split up into castes: Ones being Royals, and Eights being the lowest in the system, the homeless. America is a five, which consists of entertainers like Musicians and Artists. When America is selected to be part of a contest called The Selection to find the Prince of her country, Illéa’s new wife, her life is forever changed.

America is unlike the other 35 girls selected, she doesn’t even want to become royalty. She likes her life the way it is, with her family, her jobs singing with her mom, and most importantly, her secret boyfriend, Aspen, who is a caste below her. But when America meets Prince Maxon, her whole perception of the fancy, stuck up prince, is gone. Instead she sees him for who he really is, funny, sweet, and kind. Will America choose Maxon and try to win the contest to become a princess, or marry her secret love back at her home, Aspen?

I love this book for so many reasons. I’m not a fast reader, but I read the first three books in this series in five days, which for me, is very quick. I guarantee the dramatic love triangle between Aspen, America, and Maxon will make you laugh, cry, and scream at the book, all in the same chapter. The stink eyes and cat fights between the other competitors in the contest is another one of the many reasons you’ll never want to put down this book. I would recommend this series to most teenage girls, and honestly anyone who’s looking for a book with a big dose of drama. I re-read this book all the time, and it never gets old. I rate in 5 out of 5 stars.

Sarah Kauffman is a seventh grader at Delta Middle school. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and theatre.

Book Review: The Selection by Kiara Cass

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book about a boy named Clay. One day to Clay’s surprise, a box is delivered to his door. A box from Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush. It has to be a joke… Hannah Baker committed suicide two weeks earlier. It’s not a joke. The box contains a mix of tapes recorded by Hannah. The tapes tell why she took her life, and they have been sent to the people who are responsible. What did Clay do? What action resulted in the end of Hannah Baker’s life? All he has to do is listen to the tapes.

I nearly finished this book at the bookstore before even buying it. I couldn’t bear to put it down. Somehow I was sitting right there next to Hannah, somehow I was watching the story unravel before my very eyes.

Jay Asher wrote the book so that it goes back-and-forth between Clay’s life, and Hannah’s voice over the tapes. This method seems to leave an echo of Hannah throughout the whole story without her even being there. It makes her a stronger character and makes a stronger story.
A wonderful thing about this book is that it allows you to see not only how people affected Hannah, but how Hannah affected people. Hannah’s life isn’t the only one that takes a drastic change. Think about being in High School and finding out you were the reason for a death. A somewhat unconscious murderer. How would that change your life? Would it help you to grow as a person, or would it leave a dent inside of you? The book allows you to see how characters react to the tapes, whether it’s blaming the other perpetrators or feeling that they themselves are a killer, either way, nobody takes it lightly.

Thirteen Reasons Why is definitely not a happy book. It leaves you with a strange feeling whenever you read it, an uncomfortable feeling. I expected that while reading this book all I would feel was sorrow for Hannah. That’s not what happened. I found that I kept asking myself the same question, “Could Hannah’s suicide be a bad move on her part?” I wonder if Hannah could have stepped back and asked herself if it was worth it? Life can only get better when you’re a teenager. That thought made me feel bad for every person who received that box, even if what they did was unforgivable.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a beautiful, emotional, breathtaking novel. It couldn’t have been written better. I definitely recommend this book, and I think that everyone should eventually read it. This book is very good, but the subject is quite mature, and the way the book is written may become slightly confusing. I think this book would be good for teenagers ages 13+ (even though I’m 12), and should be given a parent’s permission. But if you have the okay, the I don’t know what you’re waiting for… Go, read it!

Miranda Marks is a student at Delta in State College, PA.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief — a book that’ll make you laugh, cry and make you throw it across the room all at once. I love this book though because it makes me feel emotions – sad, happy and mad. I also found myself confused at some points because of a character’s mistake or choice of words. I’ve never read a book that has torn my emotions in three parts like this book has. For me, when a storyline evokes so many strong emotions in me, I’m captivated and hooked!

The Book Thief is about a young girl named Liesel who moves to Germany to join her new foster parents. The first chapter in this book is probably one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read. The reader discovers, shockingly, that the book is narrated by Death. This was the first foreshadowing in the book:

“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact. You are going to die.”

Death reveals more and more about Liesel in each chapter. The reader learns that Liesel cannot read, although at a funeral within the first few chapters she steals a book from the Grave Digger. She meets her foster parents Rosa and Hans, and Hans immediately takes her under his wing. She also meets Rudy, who is my favorite character, who becomes her Best Friend and partner in crime. She and Rudy begin to steal books from book burnings – shocking, right? Imagine the government controlling what books are permitted to be read; otherwise, they are banned and burned.

Throughout all of the book there is intense suspense as the reader wonders if Rudy and Liesel will get caught. The reader also learns about different complications in Liesel’s family regarding Max, a son of Hans’ life saver from war. Max is Jewish, and during Hitler’s dictatorship, Jewish people were targeted and removed from society.

I think this novel is heart wrenching, and I swear it almost killed me at the end. When I was finished, I began to appreciate this book. Although it is very sad, I recognized that not all stories can have happy endings. It taught me to take each minute and each second to heart because you don’t know what day will be your last. Love your family, friends and even enemies because you only have so much time on this earth. Death may be kind to you like it was to Liesel, but it may catch you by surprise.

This book reminds me that in the past and even today, people have taken and are continuing to take great risks to their own lives to help others whose lives are in danger for no logical or humane reason. I would rate this book a 10/10 – it is one of my all – time favorite books. It really catches the hardships and terrible deeds that took place in WW2.

Abbey Humphreys is in 8th grader at Delta Middle School. In her free time Abbey likes to play saxophone, read and write.

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun By Jandy Nelson

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun By Jandy Nelson

Two reviews:


When I first picked up I’ll Give You The Sun, I thought, Well, I’ll probably like it because the rest of my friends did. But, it was so much more than that. All the while I couldn’t keep this thought out of my head: How can someone’s life be so full of color? This book will take you to a land of ghosts and superstitions just to slam you right back down to reality. Not one page of writing was bland, as each word had meaning that tied the entire thing together.

Twins Noah and Jude did not only grow up together, they would do everything together, from trading off the world to each other to breathing in sync. Until they turned thirteen. Jude then went from Noah’s twin to the blond girl that every guy wanted. Not to mention her daredevil style that took her to dive off of one of the highest cliffs in the area or her sudden need to wear the fashionably loudest cloths possible. Noah was quite the opposite. He’s artsy and quiet, but his art could paint a tapestry of loud.

Their mom wanted them to enter in an elite art school. Of course Noah was going to get in, everyone was sure. It’s Jude that they’re worried about.

Now, the scene shifts and you find Jude, sixteen, in the elite art school complaining internally about how the ghost of her mother topples over all of her clay sculptures. She’s a quiet girl now, and wears things like sweatshirts and sweatpants to make her invisible to all.

Noah is going to their local public school, is on the cross country running team, and now is popular, having not given a thought to his dear sketchbooks in around three years. It seems as if their personalities have swapped. From alternating perspectives–Noah (13) to Jude (16)–we see the story unfold beautifully.

I couldn’t possibly explain everything about I’ll Give You The Sun that left me spellbound, because then there wouldn’t be anything left to read. Coming from someone who wouldn’t have considered themselves a reader of realistic fiction before reading this book, that’s a lot. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Even if you aren’t one for romance, ghosts, realistic fiction, or anything particularly moving, I urge you to give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

Lena Logan Adams, 13, is a seventh grader at Delta Middle Level.















I chose to review I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson this book because it has great imagery, awesome metaphors, and a very moving plot.

I’ll give you the Sun is about two twins, Jude and Noah, who were very, very close when they were young. They were both artists and they liked to have competitions to see who was better. Noah drew and Jude sculpted. As the years go on though, the two kids drift apart. Jude makes other friends, but Noah doesn’t. Until he meets the new neighbor across the street.

The book is divided into two parts. Noah’s point of view, when he’s 13-14, and Jude’s point of view, when she’s 16. In Jude’s parts, their mom is dead. Jude cut off all her hair, and is living by a bible that her grandmother wrote filled with completely random ideas about life. Like, “To avoid serious injury, keep an onion in your pocket”. She seeks out the help from Guillermo Garcia, a famous sculptor, and meets someone else along the way as well. Both of whom change her life for the better.

I absolutely loved I’ll give you the Sun. The imagery sucks you into the story and never lets you go. When I read the book, I was there with all the characters. Feeling their pain. Feeling their happiness.

“The end of the world begins with rain. September washes away, then October. By November, even Dad can’t stay can’t stay on top of it, which means it’s pretty much raining inside the house as well as outside the house.”

This paragraph is from Noah’s point of view. Jandy Nelson does an amazing job at expressing how each character is feeling. Whenever Noah’s sad he talks about rain or darkness or fire. When he’s happy, he talks about light or something equally as cheerful.

There are so many metaphors in this book. They’re like glue to the story. “My sister’s a lollipop一everyone loves lollipops. And my head’s been replaced by a cabbage.” In two sentences, Nelson expresses everything Noah’s thinking in that moment. His sister is perfect and everyone loves her. And he thinks that he’s so unappealing. “I blow up the entire country. No one freaking notices.” Without me telling you, you could probably guess what this is expressing. This is also from Noah’s POV.

There is no easy way to explain how the plot draws you in. It’s a combination of the thought process of teens, the of losing a mom, and the metaphors. There are more things that moved me, but these three are very prominent. There is a certain way that teens think that is so hard to copy down on paper. But I think that Jandy Nelson found a way to have her characters be realistic and interesting. Expressing the unreasonable anger, the instant judgement, and the drama of teens. That is not an easy task.

Losing a mom is always sad in stories. It was even sadder in I’ll Give you the Sun because we know she’s dead in the second chapter during Jude’s POV, but we really don’t get to know her until much later during Noah’s POV. It is also hard because Noah was so close to her.

I would suggest this book to anybody. It has some mature content, so probably for a slightly older age group. It’s classified as realistic fiction, but it has some elements of fantasy. I think anybody would enjoy it.

Eliza Hancock is an eighth grade student at Delta Middle. She plays the piano and loves to read in her free time.


Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun By Jandy Nelson