Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

“‘Because every day in my journal I write down the best thing that’s happened to me.  Today, it’s you.’

When Johanna said that, I felt light, warm in that spot just above my stomach where it usually feels clenched and tight.

Before Johanna, I had never been the highlight of anyone’s day.”

Finn plans on speaking to only twelve people over the course of the summer.  He finds his life is simpler that way, when he doesn’t have to negotiate the intricacies of human interaction.  He prefers the company of his dog; who, by the way, might possibly have super-canine genius powers.  As in, he might be writing notes to Finn.  The first one: “You’re not as ugly as you think.”

Then, Johanna moves in next door, and obliterates Finn’s Contract of Noncommunication.  Even though breast cancer has destroyed her body, she has enough spirit to transform the neighborhood.  She hires Finn to create a garden in his own yard.  Finn and his closest friend become hustlers, hitting up construction workers and the inhabitants of the nearby nursing home for pledge money, money to support Johanna in her cancer triathlon project.  Suddenly, there are parties.  People are talking to each other again. It is a beautiful thing to see.

I always say that it’s rare and surprising when a book makes me cry, but I’m starting to suspect that it isn’t the truth anymore.  I 1) either choose books that make me cry or 2) am simply prone to crying.  Either way, this story did it, too-from the second the dog wrote his first note.  Finn’s story is short, simply told, and reminds us of the importance of being kind to each other.  You’ll love how the awkwardness of being fourteen is combined with the gravity of cancer and how a life-threatening disease doesn’t destroy Johanna’s giant, soft heart. I’d love to see this book in a classroom.

Gary Paulsen is the deserving recipient of the Margaret Edwards award, an honor presented to authors celebrating their lifelong achievement and contributions to the literary world.

Happy Reading!

Paulsen, Gary. Notes From the Dog. Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2009. 132 pp.  Ages 12-15.




Monster by Walter Dean Myers

“Miss O’Brien looked at me-I didn’t see her looking at me but I knew she was.  She wanted to know who I was.  Who was Steve Harmon?  I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was, who the real Steve Harmon was.

That was what I was thinking, about what was in my heart and what that made me.  I’m just not a bad person.  I know that in my heart I am not a bad person.”

Hi from library school in Montreal, friends! Look what I have for you: a fast read, an incredible story, written by an author you should definitely get to know, if you don’t already. You are going to go crazy about this one!

Steve Harmon got mixed up in some bad business.  Felony business.  He’s a 16-year-old who grew up in Harlem, and he agreed to be the lookout for a friend who was planning to rob a drugstore.  The robbery went south, the owner was shot and killed, and Steve finds himself looking at 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted.   The story follows his trial, from his own perspective.  He talks about prison, and his deepest fear: everyone looks at his brown face and hears about the crime, and thinks he is a monster.  Deep inside, he’s afraid that everyone might be right.

See all those shiny medals on the cover?  Those are the biggies: Printz, National Book Award Finalist,  and Coretta Scott King award.  Plus, Walter Dean Myers has been awarded the Margaret Edwards Award, the one given to honor lifetime achievement.  That’s only handed out to one author, once a year.  Big stuff, guys!  Of course, there are amazing books and authors that go unrewarded out there, too, but the awards are a great guide if you’re not sure what you want to read.

So, awards aside, the beauty of this book is its gritty story, simpler language, and unconventional format (a pastiche of journal entries and film script).  The format makes it especially appealing to ELLs, or older students who may need a really good hook and a fast-paced read, as well as anyone not looking for a straight-up, novel-style read. ( However, while it may be a quick read, Myers definitely does not sacrifice emotional impact or plot.) I finished it over the course of a week, but that was because I was interrupted by an international move, and after the furniture-assembling, apartment-cleaning, grocery-st0re-finding-missions, and hours-long Skype phone calls, all I could do was read for a few minutes and fall asleep with my cheek smashed into the pages.  Thanks for being patient-I really did want to get this finished and share it with you!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website :

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 281 pp (but it reads quickly!). Ages 13 and up.