Sunday, March 17, 2019

ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas

Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
pub date: February 5, 2019

Flap copy:
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip-hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri's got massive shoes to fill. But it's hard to get your come up when you're labeled a hoodlum at school and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn't just want to make it--she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip-hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you, and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn't always free.

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Bri is an aspiring rapper. Her father was also a rapper, a rapper who died way too young. She lives in a tough world--our world--and poverty and racism are forces that confront her every day. Drugs and gun violence have already taken their toll on her family, and the risk of them doing more harm is always there. Yet Bri still dreams and works toward her dream--in an imperfect, human way. This is extra hard when people make unfair assumptions about her because of the color of her skin and where she's from. 

Thomas is an incredibly skilled writer with an amazing voice, and her characters are outstanding. She writes powerfully about racism, modern culture, family, friendships, hardships, and--ultimately--hope. That last bit, hope, is important to me as a reader and a writer, especially in books for children and teens.

I recommend this thought-provoking, moving book.

Have you read On the Come Up?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
pub date: August 30, 2016

Finalist, National Book Awards 2016 for Young People's Literature

Flap copy:
Running. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Crenshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race--and wins--the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he tries to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up with him?

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Ghost's dad is in jail for a terrible something (no spoilers here!) that happened three years ago. Ghost was in fourth grade at the time, and it still haunts him. His mother works long hours so she can improve their lives, but this leaves Ghost bored and with time on his hands. When he comes across a track team practicing at the park, an opportunity for something entirely new to Ghost arises--but it comes with a whole new set of challenges.

There is so much to appreciate in Ghost, the first book in Jason Reynolds's Track Series. The layers of scars Ghost has from the night his father was arrested, the details of living with less money--it all feels real. Ghost is an endearing, wonderfully-flawed character. I love the voice and the relationships in this book, and I especially love the hope in it.

Your turn! Have you read any of Jason Reynolds's Track Series? What are you reading now?

Friday, March 8, 2019


There's a new baby at our house.

We were going to wait to get another dog because Thistle... We miss him so much. He was so very special, and he can never be replaced.

The thing is, the kids grew up, and the house got quiet. A few weeks ago, we saw a small greyhound who looked a lot like a whippet, and Jim and I got to talking about when we might be ready. The next day, I went to Starbucks and met a whippet puppy who melted my heart. Then I found out she had brothers.

Long story, but we adopted a 4 1/2-month-old puppy. He came pre-named. His name? Simon. We thought about changing it, but how could we? He already knows his name. Besides, Simon is a family name, and Simon is now family.

I think Thistle would be okay with that, too.

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If you want to follow Simon on Instagram: