Out of the Dust



Billie Jo is an inspiring young girl in this free verse novel by Karen Hesse. Out of the Dust is set in the dust bowl of Oklahoma during the middle of the Great Depression.

Billie Jo loses her mother and new born brother and damages her own hands because of a kerosene fire incident. She used to love to play the piano any chance she got and even dreamed of going to school to study music. After she hurt her hands and lost her family, besides her silent father, Billie Jo lets her dreams dry up just like their crops.

The free verse is a very colloquial and matter-of-fact style; however, it’s apparent that Hesse choses her words very carefully, and she is left with some very beautiful lines.

As I was reading my heart really did rise and fall with the characters of the story for the hope of rain and the end of all of the dust.

I suggest a big glass of water with this one!


Yummy- The Last Days of a Southside Shorty


This graphic novel tells the true story of n 11-year-old boy and gang member in Chicago in 1994.

Was Robert “Yummy” Sandifer a victim or a cold-blooded killer?

I loved hearing everyone ‘s opinions and theories both in Yummy’s neighborhood and “experts” on television:

“I blame his parents! They made him into a monster;” “Just looking for attention;” “He’s just lost;” “He’s a thug plain an’ simple.”

It’s hard to decide whether Yummy deserves our sympathy or our apathy. He was young and lost, looking for a place to belong, but he also took an innocent girl’s life. Those are the facts.

This graphic novel explores poverty, gangs, abused children, foster care and all of the systems used to address (or ignore) these issues…




I found Rules by Cynthia Lord to be very believable and very relatable even though I have never had a person with a disability involved in my daily life. The interview with Cynthia at the end of the book really made me appreciate the story that much more because she has a son with autism.

This is one subject that I feel like you have to have firsthand experience with in order to write about it truthfully.

Catherine seems selfish but she is twelve years old and just wants a normal life for once. At this age image and other people’s opinions about her seem like the most important. So when Ryan and Kristi judge her because of her brother David’s disabilities, she finds it unfair. I find her character very believable because I know when I was at that age I had the same priorities. However, I did not have the same responsibilities so I can empathize with her.

I think this is a must read for young adults to “help readers feel less afraid and more understanding towards people with disabilities in their own communities and schools.”


LunaThis book was definitely outside of my usual reading comfort zone. It isn’t that I don’t support this life choice or have empathy for someone like the character Liam/Luna, in fact I was a flower-girl at my “uncle’s” wedding to a beautiful MTF bride, but it’s not the genre I typically pick up. That being said I loved this book. It’s not only about questioning identity or accepting that someone you thought you knew was actually someone else the entire time. It’s about family, it’s about growing up, it’s about being courageous and taking the initiative to be who you’ve always wanted to be, whether that’s a different gender or the girl who actually gets the guy.

Of course I cried during it because it made me think of my own brother. Not that he’s transgender, but even if he were I would protect him and support him, just like Regan did for Liam. There’s no love like the one between a brother and sister.

I definitely recommend this book and I’m so glad it was recommended to me!

Ghost World

ghost-world-comicThis graphic novel was definitely not for me. I didn’t really see much of  a point to it. I hated how the two friends talked to each other and how Enid acts. The girls associate with a lot of sick individuals and their minds are always aloof to anything important. Until Enid is considering going to college and even that seems like a joke to them. I just found the whole graphic novel to be too strange. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood to read this one, but I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone.


But many people must disagree with me because this story by Daniel Clowes is “Now a major motion picture.” IMDb gives the 2011 film a 7.5 rating and an 88/100 Metascore. The movie stars Steve Buscemi, Thora Birch, and even Scarlett Johansson…

I must be missing something… or it just wasn’t my jam.

YA Readers: Where’s the Hunger?

Book Love

In Penny Kittle’s Book Love, she shares with us her personal experience as a teacher with individual readers or should I say non-readers. She says they were “Nice students, not defiant, just not interested.” Why?

  1. These students were not reading at their level
  2.  The material they were reading was not entertaining to them
  3. The books they were assigned were “written by adults for adults”
  4. They don’t have time

“If school reading is like boot camp, we’ll lose readers.”

It’s not that the typically assigned classic novels aren’t important, but if a student is not ready for reading of that complexity they will get nothing from it and furthermore they won’t do anything with it. Hence the no reading…

Where is the Hunger? We must cultivate it.

Teenagers want to read – If we let them.

If a young adult got to read what they wanted to read, at their level, they would make time for it. And eventually they will advance levels at their own pace to challenge themselves and to engage more with what they are reading.

Penny Kittle wants to build stamina in her students so they CAN read the classics when it is the right time.

“What our students read in school is important; What they read the rest of their lives is more important.”

Don’t forget the Mid-Grade!

After listening to the MPRnews interview with “Sex and Violence” author Carrie Mesrobian on the issue of adult content in young adult literature, we discussed it in our Adolescent Literature class and brought up some blog-worthy topics.


A concern that came up in Carrie’s interview is whether adult themes such as sex and violence in YA literature would seem more plausible or glamorous to teens because it is in a fictitious depiction. And a conclusion that most of us came to is that fiction novels written for a young adult audience is a safe and easy way to introduce some of these real-life issues to teens and to open up any questions or discussion they might have. It’s a sort of “what not to do” help book rather than  an adult just saying “Don’t do drugs; they’re bad for you.”

Some parents that called into the interview with questions or comments for Carrie mentioned their concern for their fourth-grader reading at a mature level and being introduced to this kind of content too early. This is where Middle-Grade novels come into play. Somehow we forget that there isn’t only the choice of children’s literature or young adult literature, and that there is a middle ground between them. We are talking about good quality literature for a child’s development AND reading level! Newbery Medal Winners are a great place to find books of this kind.

Newbery Medal

Another aspect of this debate that we brought up is something that Carrie mentioned as well… if kids are in the point of their lives where sex and violence is something they want to take part in, chances are they aren’t reading about it, they’re out doing it! And if a child isn’t developmentally ready for a book with this gritty content, they will put it down.

Listen to the interview yourself. What’s your opinion?