Retro Student Reviews by Jillian Heise and Her Students

When I asked Donalyn Miller how old was considered retro for a Retro Book Review, and she responded, “18 months,” I was surprised (as were a few other people standing next to me at MRA). But then I started to think a more about it. In today’s society and the pace at which knowledge and information are gained and shared, retro maybe doesn’t seem so old anymore. Typically I think the term would harken back to an older (possibly less complicated?) time, but perhaps, as often happens with words, that definition is changing and evolving. In my classroom library I have over 1,300 books for students to choose from. Many of those are some of the newest or most recent titles, some even advanced copies that students can read before a book is published, but there are some gems hidden in there. My students (and often I) tend to gravitate toward the sparkliest, newest, and most exciting of these, but how many good books would we miss if we never went back to unearth some of the “retro” titles? How many recommendations or award winners or just plain TBR pile books are older that we haven’t gotten to yet because new recommendations and awards and piles take their place? Too many to count. However, sometimes it’s really nice to look at that overflowing bookshelf and be reminded of a title that was recommended by a friend, or a student, or a publication, that I really wanted to read, and remember that feeling of/reason for wanting to read that book. So let’s not forget about those “retro” books. Let’s not let them remain hidden in that never-ending TBR pile of forgotteness, let’s find them and read. Who’s with me? I know some of my students are.

Here are the gems some of my students have recently discovered on my bookshelves. My students write quick responses after they read a book to authentically respond and share their thoughts, feeling, opinions, reactions, recommendations, connections, and ideas about a book while fresh in their heads. We’re lucky to get some great recommendations on titles that may have been missed, and they learn how to think critically about their response to a book and articulate it for someone else (isn’t that what we all do with books?). However, I recently realized that I want them to have a broader audience in mind beyond our classroom, so I’ve been collecting some of their quick responses for my book blog. When looking for a “retro” book to post about, I realized that I had several student responses/reviews of books that perhaps shouldn’t be missed. So, without further rambling (sorry – it can’t be helped when I start talking books), I share with you a few 8th grade student-written “retro” reviews.

CRANK by Ellen Hopkins (October 5, 2004)

The book that I have recently read was the CRANK novel by Ellen Hopkins. The reason why I picked that book was because the front cover looked artistic.  Also because I heard from some people that it was unique, and I like unique books. CRANK has a lot of emotions that go around.  For me I could not stop reading; I could not put the book down because it was so good.  Many crazy things happened in the book that will make your jaw drop. CRANK is a book that has many realistic problems that can happen to people in reality. I would rate it 5 stars because it’s a very interesting book and I feel a lot of people would enjoy reading it.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angelberger (March 1, 2010)

The book The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is one of the best books I read this year. I would give this a book four out of five stars. The theme is you can’t judge people by how they look or act because you never know they might be helpful to you. My favorite person in this book is Origami Yoda because he gives good or even great advice to people that ask him questions. My least favorite person is Harvey because he doesn’t believe in Yoda. I would recommend it 6th and maybe 7th because it is about 6th graders. But this book is really good and is one of the best books I read this year with Th1rteen R3asons Why (October 18, 2007).

I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña (October 12, 2010)

The book I recently finished was I Will Save You by Matt De La Pena. I would rate this book five stars. I started to read this book because my wonderful teacher recommended me to read another book by Matt because the first book I read by him I really enjoyed. After finishing the book I was glad that she told me to read it because it turned out to be a very good book and I really enjoyed it like the last book I read that was written by him, Ball Don’t Lie (March 13, 2007). In my opinion, Matt de la Peña is a very good author and writes good books that many people could relate to in different ways. The book left me surprised in some parts. It was really sweet but dramatic at the same time.  I plan to read another book by him soon and hope to end it with a good feeling and same impression of the other books I finished by him.

Jillian Heise is a lover of shenanigans – both the word itself and the author-related antics.  She teaches 7th and 8th grade Language Arts at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee, which is a good name for the school, because it’s a school for Native American Indian children in Milwaukee. Presumably, she there professes on a daily basis her love for her brothers (both biological and bonus), fictional boys (of the Noah Shaw and Four variety), literature and the Oxford comma. I mean “[comma] and the Oxford comma.” When presented with the task of finding a favorite thing, she will often find herself in a conundrum as picking favorites leaves too many awesome options out. This applies to books, students, countries, words…pretty much everything. She has a favorite brother, though. No doubt. Follow Jillian at @heisereads on Twitter and check out her amazing blog at Right now. Go do that. Then come back and comment on her fantastic post.
*Jillian’s Note: This bio was ghostwritten by Brian Wyzlic, my sister classroom teacher, bonus brother, and writer of entertaining Nerdy bios. [I will never give up my Oxford comma.]