All posts by Mari Venturino

About Mari Venturino


2018.76 – Children of Blood and Bone

I absolutely LOVED Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi! It’s one of those books I saw floating around on the Twitters, and instantly added it to my Amazon cart. Zero regrets.

Just the cover alone is a work of art. It’s just gorgeous. And a main character of color on the cover?! Sold! How do I get this in poster-size for my classroom?

Magic once permeated Orïsha, but the king killed all the maji, including Zélie’s mother–she may be able to restore magic to Orïsha, with a little help from some friends. I adore Zélie, the main character, for her zeal and determination. She’s a dynamic and likable main character, and is both inquisitive and relatable.

The Orïsha are West African gods, with extensive mythology and stories. This isn’t something I know much about, and I still could use some more research. For starters, check out this Crash Course video. (Anyone have recommendations for books, videos, etc. to learn more?)

Diving a little deeper into Children of Blood and Bone, there is a distinct undertone of racism and prejudice. “Over generations, love of the maji turned into fear. Fear turned into hate. Hate transformed into violence, a desire to wipe the maji away” (page 15). The symbol of their magic is white hair, an instantly recognizable feature, and thus easy to discriminate against.

Meeting Tomi Adeyemi at the IB Library!

The contrast between Zélie and the prince, Inan, illustrates the absurdity of racism and hate. He has a privileged palace life, while her mother was killed with the rest of the maji. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it really does provide a relatable example and discussion springboard to discuss how institutionalized racism perpetuates hate and inequity. I need to plan in a second read deep dive, and just focus on that aspect of the story.

The best part of reading this book was listening to Tomi Adeyemi speak at the Imperial Beach Library. She shared her heart for the book, a little about her journey, and encouraged all of us to work hard for our dreams. I may also be quite partial to her because she’s a San Diegan.

“Our favorite things don’t become good at once.” – Tomi Adeyemi

She was SO encouraging, especially to the kids who asked her questions about being a writer. I adore this quote, because it’s such an important reminder that we all start out as beginners. I know someone is pure gold when hearing them talk makes me want to be a better version of myself. Thank you for being so kind-hearted and patient, our kids need more role models like you!

Overall, I give this book a zillion stars! I already preordered the sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance (March 5, 2019)!

2018.67 – Where the Watermelons Grow

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin was a thoughtful MG/YA book! Della Kelly is a 12-year-old in Maryville, North Carolina — she lives on her family’s farm with her daddy, mama, and baby sister.

Four years ago, her mama was hospitalized for months due to schizophrenia. When she finds her mother sitting at the table in the middle of the night, digging watermelon seeds from slices of watermelon. She is worried her mama is relapsing, and she sets out to do everything to prevent to help ease the stress.

Lucky for Della, she knows the Bee Lady’s honey can cure just about anything. So, why wont it work for mama? Unfortunately, the Bee Lady tells her that healing mama may have more to do with Della than mama.

Throughout the story, the way Della handles her mother’s illness, family responsibilities, farm stresses, and friendship are relatable. She is instantly loveable, with a great mix of compassion, fear, and spunk.

Not a spoiler: yes the watermelons grow down by the bay!

This is one I think many of my kids would also enjoy reading.

2018.62 – Dear Rachel Maddow

I can’t remember where or how I first heard of this book, I’m guessing it was on Twitter. It looked intriguing, so I got on the holds list from the library, and patiently waited for a copy to be available.

It’s only appropriate that I write this book blog post while watching the one and only, Rachel Maddow.

Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner did not disappoint! I anticipated a more angsty and cutesy book about a troubled girl writing fangirl letters to her hero, Rachel Maddow. This book is pleasantly much deeper and thought-provoking than I expected.

Brynn, a high school junior whose life fell apart after her brother died, broke up with her first girlfriend, and is largely ignored by her mother and horrible stepfather, uses her draft folder as a sort of journal. This originally starts as a school assignment in her remedial classes, where she is asked to write an email to her hero.

Then Brynn is confronted with a moral dilemma. One student representative will be allowed to have a voice among the administration in the selection of a new school superintendent. Brynn’s archnemesis, Adam, and ex-girlfriend, Sarah, believe only Honors students are worthy of the selection committee seat. Brynn feels all students deserve a voice. When she runs for the position, the knives are out. So she begins to ask herself: What Would Rachel Maddow Do?” (via Amazon description.)

Brynn’s story is so real and painful. Sometimes, I feel that middle school and high school kids are written…sorta out of touch. Like, do they really think and talk like this. Not in this book! Brynn feels like a slightly older version of one of my students, in the way she thinks and acts.

While I am not entirely interested in politics, this book made me grasp how much power is held by the few (reality, the rich white few), and how these people will make decisions in their best interest or based on where the money is coming from. I hear about it, and get it in concept, but then I really saw this happen a few times in this book.

I highly recommend this book! I love that it is written entirely in emails, and found it engaging, thoughtful, and hopeful!

Now, I’m quite curious how Rachel Maddow reacted to this book…

2018.59 – Long Way Down

My first Jason Reynolds book was last March, when I read Ghost. I hate to admit that I’ve had All American Boys on my physical to-read shelf for three years now, and I still haven’t read it. Does that happen to anyone else? A book you know you need/want to read is staring at you from the top shelf? It’ll happen soon, because I have greatly enjoyed Jason Reynolds’s voice and style.

Long Way Down takes places in the 60 seconds it takes Will to travel from the seventh floor, where he lives, to the ground floor. He was planning to revenge his brother’s murder. But, as he travels down, he meets someone from his life who gives him a missing puzzle piece to his brother’s murder.

It’s heartbreaking, eye-opening, and beautifully told. The language is simple, and I know that even my struggling readers would be able to read this. The way the dialogue dips and dives across the page makes it a completely different reading experience.

Seriously, look at all these awards!

  • A Newbery Honor Book
  • A Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • A Printz Honor Book
  • A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner for Young Adult Literature
  • Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award
  • An Edgar Award Winner for Best Young Adult Fiction
  • Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner
  • An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017
  • A Vulture Best YA Book of 2017
  • A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2017

(Thanks for the list, Amazon)

What’s better than enjoying a book? Buying a copy so kids can enjoy it too! My friend Alex just moved up to Oregon, and has to restart her classroom library. She created an Amazon wishlist, and I bought a few books to help fill her shelves–this was one of them!

Happy reading 🙂

2018 Q2 Reading Updates

Back at the end of March, I reflected on the books I’ve read in the first 3 months of 2018 (read my blog post). It’s been 3 more months, so time for another update!

I enjoy blogging about the books I read. I don’t blog about every book I read, just based on time and energy, but I try to at least hit the ones that I particularly enjoy. It’s a good reflection practice, and I think it’s fun when people (and authors!! omg they have!) read my blog posts.

If you enjoy what you read, make sure you follow my blog for emails when there’s a new post 🙂

So, how’s the reading going?

I have read 57 books so far this year, and 29 books from April 1 to July 10

  • 26 audiobooks = 126.225 hours of books (I listen on 2x speed, accounted for in this data)
  • 31 books = 14 ebooks + 17 books = 8978 pages

My goal is to always have my number of books greater than or equal to the number of audiobooks. And, I’m definitely on track to finish 100 books this year.

How’s the summer reading going?

Surprisingly, I haven’t been reading as much this summer as I expected. I did a lot of airplane traveling in June; airplanes put me to sleep pretty quickly, so there wasn’t as much reading time as I hoped.

And, I’ve been trying to get my book, Fueled by Coffee and Love: The Refill put together, edited, and ready for publishing–a totally different type of reading! So, once I get the proof, I’ll count that toward my total.

Favorite Books from Q2

These favorites are in no particular order. The links are to previous blog posts, if you’d like to read more. I lean toward Young Adult (YA) fiction, because I find such a depth and complexity in the stories and characters, as they’re learning to navigate their worlds and faced with tough choices.

Updated Book Graphs

I really enjoy collecting data on what I read. It’s fun to watch my trends and charts, and insanely gratifying to enter a completed book onto my spreadsheet. Because nerds will be nerds!

chart (2)
Book breakdown per month. July is tiny, because it’s still going on. 
chart (1)
Book type breakdown. I always aim to have audiobooks < 50%
As I mentioned before, I tend to lean toward Young Adult (YA) lit. 

Anyone else collect book data? If so, what types of data do you collect?

Recommend me a book!

I’m always taking book recommendations! Fill out this form to recommend me a book!

2018.57 – Legendary

I look back to the blog post I wrote about Caraval in February 2017, and I can’t help but laugh. Everything I feel toward Caraval is mirrored in Legendary!

This is another gem by Stephanie Garber. Who, in a total fangirl Facebook moment, I found out is friends with one of my friends! Pardon me while I do a little giddy happy dance 😉

I just loved Caraval when I read it, and I devoured it so quickly! When I found out there was a sequel, I preordered it instantly. The hardcover book arrived on the release date, just before my June whirlwind of airplane travels. I’m learning how to pack light, so now I only with my Kindle. Sadly, Legendary had to be put to the side until I could give it the time and attention it deserves. I also had Legendary on hold from the library before it was released (May 29, 2018), but so did half a bajillion other people, so it wasn’t my turn–I was still 11th on the waitlist of 8 copies before I cancelled my hold this morning.

So what did I think? Undeniably, I love it.

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.” (Amazon description)

Legendary is just as dark and mysterious as Caraval. This one is narrated by Tella, Scarlett’s sister, and takes us on a wild ride filled with costly deals, deep secrets, and unsuspected betrayal. This book is unpredictable, and keeps twisting and turning just when you think there are answers. The vivid descriptions and dynamic characters drew me in immediately.

Ollie knows you’ll love Legendary too!

The book hangover is strong right now. I am still looking up, wondering what is real and what is all part of the game. Is there even a way to tell the difference?!

I can’t wait until the 3rd book in the series, Finale, comes out in 2019.

PS. If you’re into audiobooks, then definitely listen to this one. My most favoritest audiobook narrator, Rebecca Soler (she did the whole Lunar Chronicles series), reads this one! Even though I haven’t listened to it, but I know it’s good!

2018.55 – I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

After quite a while on the holds list, it was finally my turn to read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. This book was recommended to me by my friend Rosy Burke! Thank you Rosy 🙂 

Julia (pronounced hoo-lia, as in Spanish!) is a high school student living in Chicago with her parents and perfect and obedient older sister, Olga. After her sister is tragically hit and killed by a semi-truck, Julia struggles with her mother’s depression and her mother magnifying her shortcomings in Olga’s absence.

Julia is falling apart, and no one takes the time to notice her. In the process, she also begins to learn more about her sister. Was Olga really as perfect as everyone thought?

Within the narrative is the contrast between social classes. Julia is poor (or, low-income, as a few characters label her), and ventures into downtown Chicago numerous times where she either can’t afford to eat/play, or she’s with Connor, who can afford and pays.

Even more astounding is the narrative of being split between two countries. In our current political climate, the US-Mexico border is a tense and heartbreaking subject. I love how Julia puts it:

“ ‘Be careful. Please. The border…The fucking border.’ I feel a wildness spreading through me. ‘It’s nothing but a giant wound, a big gash between the two countries. 

Border Field State Park, San Diego, CA

Why does it have to be like that? I don’t understand. It’s just some random, stupid line. How can anyone tell people where they can and can’t go?’ ” (page 280).

Living in San Diego and teaching 4 miles from the border, we have a different type of relationship with the border. The San Ysidro crossing is the busiest border crossing in the world, and our community frequently passes between the two countries. Many of my students have immediate family members on both sides of the border. For perspective, the morning news gives us the weather, traffic reports, surf reports, and border wait times. This doesn’t diminish what Julia says, but emphasize the power of this arbitrary and very political line.

“Kikito” by French artist JR, just east of Tecate/San Diego. On display in September 2017.

Parts of this book made an even bigger impact because I read the majority of it while in Chicago for the ISTE conference. I went to the Chicago Art Institute, one of Julia’s favorite places. While I don’t know much about art, I can appreciate why she loves this place!

This book is beautifully written, and filled with so many real moments about family, friendship, and growing up. I highly recommend it!