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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Read time- 8 hrs 



 (R) Recommended (High School Audience)
(C) Content- Profane/vulgar language, sexual references

National Alliance for Mental Health Hotlines
Call the NAMI Helpline 800-950-NAMI (6264)
M-F, 10 AM - 6 PM ET

Did They Really Read the Book?

Parents don't actually cover down on their high schooler's book reports, right?! ..Because it would strip the student of the opportunity to demonstrate responsibility, positive work ethics, and accountability for self...right?!

So, in lieu of the formal bullet point summary, here are the main threads:

  • This book captures the struggles of a smart, young woman named Aza, who suffers from a serious mental illness. It chronicles the various ways in which her illness ruthlessly consumes her and prevents her from maintaining meaningful relationships with those around her.
    • Aza is pre-occupied with  the though of contracting C. diff bacteria and has since the age of 11, habitually dug her fingernail in the pad of an adjacent finger to split open a callused wound to check for infection, it begins to heal, then she splits it back open fearing early stages of lethal infection.
    • Later she kisses Davis, and is wrecked with the though of his germs changing the composition of her microbiome- she develops a habit of drinking hand sanitizer to kill the germs
    • A car accident lacerates her liver and while in the hospital where C. diff is thought to be most prolific, she is caught by her mother cupping mouthful of foam sanitizer.
  • The story takes place in Indianapolis
    • According to the book, Indianapolis was founded on the banks of the White River for the access the waterway would facilitate for trading (except that the White River is almost too shallow for kayak)
  • Aza and her best friend Daisy devise a plan to find a local Billionaire who went missing on the eve of a legal indictment against his company
    •  $100k reward offered
    • Aza was previously friends with the Billionaire's son (Davis) and initially rekindles their friendship to find new clues
      • Aza and Davis develop feelings for one another and because Davis is used to the false pretenses of most relationships, he gifts Aza $100K to determine her motives for being with him
      • She splits it with Daisy 50/50 and continues to grow closer to Davis
  • Davis and his 13 y/o brother, Noah, have grounds keepers and service providers to care for them
  • For as long as Davis' Dad isn't found dead, his assets continue to support his kids, but upon his death everything is left to his pet Tuatara 
    • a distinct species with lineage traced back to the dinosaurs- It lives for 150 years and (in the book) is thought to hold the secret of aging in its DNA.
  • Daisy and Aza piece together clues that locate Davis' Dad (dead and decaying) in the unfinished tunnel project he was commissioned to build-Aza tells Davis, who anonymously tips the police towards the ultimate discovery.

[VOCAB (Oxford)]

pedantic (adjective -having the characteristics of a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.

suffuse (verb) -gradually spread through or over

Other Notes

Mental Health Resources

The National Alliance for Mental Illness provide a list of resources for anyone who needs help or wants to offer help.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
    • If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7 who will help identify options and information about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.
  • Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)
    • Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)
    • Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

Language/Sexual References

I could have easily been standing in line to buy a movie ticket or walking down the isle of my favorite late-night shopping retreat and heard the same quality conversation between two people... Turtles All the Way Down has a great deal of profanity- and for a high school audience, the language choice gives a natural authenticity to the story; it sounds real... and when you're riding along-side Aza as she's spiraling out of control, it feels real too.

Daisy receives unsolicited "dick pics" and discusses with Aza her desire to lose her virginity
Three major take-away's for me (...the unabashed parent)
Given the context, it would be a missed parental opportunity in my house, not to talk about the following:
  1. safe sex
  2. sexual harassment
  3. child exploitation 
    1. sharing intimate pictures
    2.  how those pictures circulate
    3. implications in adulthood of choices made as teen


Equally as prevalent too, were really good one-liners and  quotes...
"...with science, you don't get answers, you just get better questions..." 
This was my favorite, alluding to the inability to describe something because there existed no word to label it.
“... English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache...” - Virginia Woolf

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Read time- 3 hrs 



(R) Recommended
(C) Content- Guns, Violence, Hate Crimes, Racism

This is a powerful story in its own right, but for the weight of the racial-violence and social issues between the pages, it's important for the young reader to have a trusted guide. (See Other Notes)

Did They Really Read the Book?

  • Story is told from Jerome's Point of View (PoV)
  • Jerome
    •  lives in a multi-generational home w/ Grandmother as the respected matriarch
    • is a good student, quiet, and caring big brother to his sister (Kim)
  • A new student (Carlos) moves from San Antonio and is introduced to Jerome's class
    • Jerome reluctantly befriends him
      • Jerome felt that when you're someone's friend, you're someone's alliance when conflict breaks out...and he didn't want the obligation
  • Jerome and Carlos eat lunch that first day together, behind locked stall doors, in the upstairs school bathroom
    • 3 bullies kick open the stall door and beat up Carlos
    • Carlos gets up and pulls a gun from his waistband, threatening the bullies
      • Jerome is scared at the sight of the gun and regrets his decision to be friends with Carlos
    • In private, Carlos reveals it's a fake plastic gun and at the end of the day gives it to Jerome to take home and role play Zombie hunter
  • A 911 call dispatches two police officers to the park where Jerome is playing with the plastic gun
    • Jerome is startled at the sound of a fast approaching car and starts to run away
    • Approaching the scene and still in his car, one officer shoots Jerome (who's running away)
    • Neither officer nor partner, now standing over Jerome's body, administer life saving treatment
      • Jerome dies before the ambulance arrives
  • Jerome (Dead) grieves for himself, struggles with his death, and its impact on his family
    • He's a ghost boy"
  • Jerome sees the Officer's daughter, Sarah, at the preliminary hearing and she sees him
    • Jerome talks to her- has contempt in his narrative for her innocence and privilege
    • Sarah feels torn and uncertain, questions the honesty behind her Dad's misjudgment, and wonders how she can help
  • Jerome also sees another "ghost boy" with Sarah
    • Later learns his name is Emmett Till 
      • An African American teenager from Chicago, who in 1955, was ***GRAPHIC*** lynched for his (misrepresented*) interaction with a white women.
  • Court ultimately ruled insufficient evidence to pursue a legal case against Sarah's Dad
    • Sarah finds her avenue to advocate for change by standing up a social-justice website and teaching others about disparate legal outcomes between races
  • Jerome finds peace with his death, with Sarah, and her Dad
    • but leaves to linger the understanding that his death, those deaths that have followed his, and those deaths still to be counted, demonstrate our collective weakness

There were two moments at the end of the book that brought Yours Truly to tears...(and that's ok...)

  1.  Carlos asking Jerome (Dead) for forgiveness is an emotional exchange. It's the kind of interaction between two boys that's nearly muted in kid's literature.  
  2. Sarah's attempt to rekindle a fading relationship with her Dad is described so delicately that you find yourself trying to look away out of respect--as if an unintended observer, during an intimate moment of family healing.


There are four discussions that seem imperative to address with my little readers: Civil Rights, Gun Safety, Social Disparity, Cultural Insights.

Civil Rights

Emmett's death (and his family's intention to have us all bear witness with an open casket) gave life to the Civil Rights Movement in a visceral way that spanned the Mason Dixon line (figurative reference to the cultural divide)

Jerome's death is descriptive and full of sensory triggers-it's remorseful and tragic.

The account of Emmett's death in the book is relentless and factually gruesome; it's so unsettling and the brutality so unfathomable by today's standards, that I wonder if an 8 yr old should be introduced the physical limitations of a human body under torture as were recounted by the author.

Gun Safety

Fake and plastic guns still have real implications.

My yahoos were introduced to a gun safety campaign a while back called Eddie Eagle. "Stop, Don't Touch, Run Away, Tell an Grown Up..." The awareness program is for younger kids, K-3rd Grade, but keep in mind that the books is also written at the 3rd grade level 
My emphasis is that even toy guns don't belong at school. Peer pressure is another item of discussion since Carlos insisted Jerome take the gun to play with. Again, all four step of Eddie Eagle "Stop, Don't Touch, Run Away, Tell an Grown Up..." would have prevented Jerome from at least having possession of the gun.

Social Disparity

However real or fictitious the story line, these kinds of schools and circumstance exist.

Jerome's school was tough; he feared for his life going to/from school, worried about gangs, drive-by's, drug dealers, and was fearful of police officers.  However real or fictitious the story may have been, those kinds of schools and circumstance exist.  My personal discussion with the kiddos is a question of where safety and opportunity are rights or a privileges.

Cultural Insight

Our successes are substantiated and propagated in other's perception of our situation

Scholars have published ethnographic papers on perceived symbols of status and it's so interesting to hear Jerome (and the Author who birthed him) call out several perceived characteristics of status when describing Sarah's privilege and circumstance: a big bedroom, book shelf  as "decoration", a two-car garage, having a front and back yard, sidewalks with no cracks, streets with lights...
It's a meaningful observation to emphasize with my kids... Do people without sidewalks/streetlamps recognize--or acknowledge--their disposition? It transitions well into a conversation about the broken window theory 



Bob Dylan's song,  Death of Emmett Till, is skillfully crafted, poignant, and hopeful for change.

"This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man

That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan.
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give,
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live."
 -Bob Dylan


A recently publish book by Historian, Timothy Tyson, offers new accounts from the accuser, Carolyn Brady that make this horrific story all the more tragic and senseless.


Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz



Read time- 7-8 hrs
(RwC)- Recommended with Caution
(C)- Content -Peer Bullying, Fighting, Spying, Theft, Moderate Detail of Violence, PopCulture Language

This is Fiction- Similar to the twists and turns of The Hardy Boys or The Box Car Children.

Historical inaccuracies according to The Historical Novel Society

Did They Really Read the Book?

Good Vocab Words (Oxford)

zealot --noun --a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals

proboscis --noun --the nose of a mammal or an elongated sucking mouthpart that is typically tubular and flexible. (used to described the tubular anti-air gun)

Recurring Themes

  • Nationalism
  • Personal sacrifice for greater good
  •  deception/misrepresentation
Can your reader talk about these events? (3 mini-sagas...)

=====================Saga 1====================
  • Projekt 1065  is the code name for a new Nazi Fighter Jet project
  • Michael's Father is the Irish Ambassador to Germany and stationed in Berlin at the height of WW2.  
  • Michael and his family are also undercover informants/spies for the Allied Forces 
    • Sent to Germay to uncover a Nazi assassination plan on an allied scientist working on the Manhattan Project 
  • Michael is part of Hitler's Youth 
    • On mission, Michael is the first to find a recently downed RAF pilot (Simon) and makes it his goal to return Simon home
      • Simon  suffered a sprained ankle and wounded arm in the crash
      • Simon was on a recon mission looking for evidence of  Projekt 1065
    =====================Saga 2====================
    • Michael learns that the dad of another in Hitler's Youth, (Fritz), works on the Projekt 1065  and has blueprints
      • Simon helps Michael hone his photographic memory in order to memorize Projekt 1065 blueprints
      • Series of events happen hours before Michael was supposed to escort Simon to his secret drop-off location to return home 
        1.  Allied Air Raids force Michael's Hitler Youth Squad to man the guns
          1. Michael and his team shoot down a Bomber
          2. Michael sabotages the aim settings to prevent another Allied casualty and is confronted by a witness who saw him 
          3. **Graphic** The witness intends to kill Michael for his treason, but is suddenly ripped apart from falling shrapnel 
        2. The Edelweiss Army (a resistance youth-group) ambush Michael and his team while they're in shock from losing their comrade.
      ==================Saga 3====================
      • Michael pieces together previous conversations, while talking to his parents, to reveal the following:
        • The Allied Scientist is attending a science summit in Switzerland to recruit international help
        • The Hitler Youth are going to attend the summit posing as science enthusiasts in order to kill the scientist
      • Michael needs to earn a spot on the assassination trip and does so, by turning in Simon and his parents to the Nazi authorities.
        • Simon chooses to sacrifice himself to save the scientist
        • Michael's family fled the night before ahead of Michael's confessions to the SS
      • Michael finds the scientist at the conference and goes through a series of events to save him
        • Alerts Swiss authorities of bomb on premises
        • Fights his comrades after they confront him
        • Finds the scientist again and tries to escape via gondola car down the mountain
        • Learns that Fritz has the Bomb on top of their gondola car
        • Fritz drops the bomb case trying to save Michael from falling off the car
        • Explosion triggers and avalanche and Fritz dies
      • Michael goes to the Irish Embassy with the scientist and is reunited with his parents
        • Debriefed and works with agents to redraw Project 1065 blueprints
        • Finally, given new assignment in Washington, DC

        Final Notes

        Parental Word of Caution- 

        [This is a kid's version of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk....]

        Projekt 1065 glorifies physical altercations and fighting for dominance and hierarchy. So much so, that it warrants caution with impressionable minds-  You could find your kids fighting, boxing, or punching things as the fight scenes in the book were descriptive, high-adrenaline, and successful in garnering praise and recognition to the victor.

        The main character also is also encouraged to spy, sneak, snoop, and steal.  In context, war-time espionage gave (and gives) us a leg up against an adversary and affords us inside knowledge on plans, operations, etc.  Remove that behavior from its context of a WW2 setting though, and it's the kind of heroic influence that can leads to trouble if left on unguided.

        Read the Authors Afterword

        It helps to place the book on the entertainment-academic scale. The most historically accurate attribute of the book is the setting itself, the acknowledgement of Hitler's Youth, and the understanding that  Hitler's Youth participated in various offensive-defensive campaigns. Ireland too, was truly presumed neutral, but covertly gathered intelligence for Allies- and that's where Michael fits in...

        If Your Kiddos Liked the Book

        The author's recommendations and reference soure was Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow 

        However, if it's the plot they enjoy, then The Hardy Boys  or The Boxcar Children (age-group dependent) have a similar pace!


        If it's the spying they enjoy, Simon, the RAF pilot, told Michael to read this spy novel: Kim by Rudyard Kippling:


        Upcoming Book Reviews!

        Kid's Book Reviews Coming Soon!

        • Word of Mouse by James Patterson/Chris Grabenstein
        • The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
        • Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
        • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
        • Pottymouth and Stoopid by James Patterson/Chris Grabenstein
        • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
        • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
        • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
        • Crenshaw by Kathrine Applegate
        • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
        • Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
        • Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley
        • Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz


        Oh, the places we'll go!

        Purpose-driven Kid's Book Reviews

        Welcome to Dad Read It First! where I pre-read the books that eventually land in the hands of my 3 kids in an effort to re-enforce morals, ethics, and cultural standards as they come across them.

        I'm a parental "sherpa", I guess- helping my kids to react for themselves during the Joplin Tornado in I Survived or trying to stomach and rationalize survivor accounts of the the sho'a (Holocaust) in The Devil's Arithmetic.    

        For you, I want to share bite-size reviews (2-3 times a month).  It costs nothing...great for all things, and versatile enough to apply liberally! Here's what I'm bringing to the table:

        I'll review a mix of books from 2/3rd grade - 8/9th grade...Primarily fiction, but maybe some non-fiction, too. 

        You will find plenty of conversation starters that you can share with your yahoos and even notable book report attributes that you can lean on when a short-notice, school project deadline is a sunrise away! 

        I  have singular intentions of keeping this blog focused on kid and young adult books...Not a political platform, no personal soapboxes, no ranting, no whining - Promise!

        Other Specifics

        Accelerated Reader Stats

        You'll find the Accelerate Reader (AR) stats linked directly to each book!  Classrooms often take AR quizzes to earn points for class parties, so you have the eligible points per test to reference, too.  And even some libraries organize their kid sections according to this reading scale so you can quickly locate the right level book for your kids.  If your kid's teacher uses a different reading scale in their classroom (and that's ok!), the AR site can help you translate- (With feedback though, I can append other scales too!)

        Accelerated Reader Bookfinder

        Reading Quizzes

        I'll also link the Teachers Pay Teachers sites for each book that I review. If you're looking for reading comprehension quizzes to "ruin" the long summer break or need home school material to quiz your growing readers, this site is a great marketplace.  No affiliation or incentives, just a huge fan! (And Thank you, Teachers!!)

        Book Report Spot Check

        There's also a section in each/most/some of my reviews (it's a nascent idea, forgive the early under-commitment) that I call, "Did your kiddos really read it...?". 

         Still working with the content and length to find the right blend, but if you want a quick rundown the plot, new vocab words, or maybe some starter questions to get your kiddos talking about their book, this will be a good place to start.  Plus... if I do it right, you won't have to read your kid's book report selection (the night before it's due) to know that they nailed it! 


        I love food!... Food and "book chat" pair so well, I think! From time to time, I might share a favorite recipe that fits the book on display!  Think Robin Sloan's, Sourdough...coupled with the best buttermilk sourdough pancake recipe this side of the 1930's. 

        Again, Welcome and Enjoy!


        The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

        • (R) Recommended
        • (Zzz) Short Chapters 
        • Short reading time- 3-4 hrs 
        • Several references to animal abuse/deaths in captivity

        Did They Really Read the Book?

        The kiddos will most certainly root for the animals to escape from captivity and you'll know they actually read the book if they can tell you most of the following details:
        • Theme: animals don’t belong in cages- (Ivan initially calls his cage a domain)
        • Notable Characters:
          • Ivan is a proud but reserved, 27y/o Silverback Gorilla...and an artist
            • always lived alone
            • paints things found in his cage using crayons and finger paints 
            • paintings sold for money in the gift shop "with or without a frame"
            • sleeps with a stray dog named Bob
          • Julia (also an artist) is the human daughter of the only custodian on-site at the big-top 
            • does art with Ivan while her dad works to pay mom's medical bills
            • routinely deciphers Ivan's paintings (a Black Beetle)
          • Stella is Ivan's elephant companion 
            • performs 3 x day/365 days /year- subjected to physical abuse when non-compliant
            • Tells the story of a zoo and changes Ivan's perception of captivity
            • becomes the surrogate for a newly acquired baby elephant (named Ruby)
        • Plot details:
          • Ivan promises Stella that he'll watch after Ruby- make a better life for her in a zoo
          • Stella dies of a neglected foot infection
          • Ivan paints a billboard-size zoo mural that Julia pieces together, deciphers w/ her Dad
          • Publicity of Ivan's mural attracted enough attention to uncover poor animal conditions
          • The big-top animals are shipped off to local zoo and shelters for adoption
          • Ivan gets his troop and a wide open space that overlooks Ruby's habitat
          • Ivan reflects on his promise to the Stella and feels satisfied 
        Stella also tells a story about Jambo the Gorilla--who protected an injured child that fell in his zoo pen--definitely worth the 2-5 minute clip to enrich the contextual quality of the story.

        Final Notes

          If you have deeply empathic kids who feel for animals or perhaps embrace the Wild Kratts mantra “..animals belong free and in the wild...”—this book will offer several well-guided moments for personal thought and reflection on the use of animals for human entertainment.

        The author wrote in the afterword that a majority of the book was of her own imagination but that Ivan was seeded from the story of a real gorilla that was really in captivity.

        This felt like a kid’s spin-off of one of my favorite adult books--Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.  It’s about the transition of society away from the hunter-gatherer towards an agricultural system….as told by a telepathic gorilla…Don't let the telepathy scare you away-- It's a captivating and wonderfully though-provoking story.  Definitely recommended if you also like Guns, Germs, Steel by Jared Diamond or The Rise and Fall of the of Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte.  


        The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

        AR Stats

        Reading Quizzes

        • (R) Recommended
        • Short reading time- 3 hrs 
        • (L) Language

        Did They Really Read the Book?


        conflagration (noun)   --an extensive fire which destroys a great deal of land or property.

        • Background: 

          • The Chicago fire occurred over a 3 day period Oct 8-10, 1871
          • Nearly 100K people were made homeless (The Army set up 50K tents to support)
          • 120 human remains recovered, 300 presumed cremated

        • Plot details:

          • Chicago had previously suffered from an enduring drought and was bone dry
          • "The city was meant to burn"
            • build of wood structures, wooden sidewalks, wooden pathways, with wooden architectural ornamentation, and tar roofing material
          • The Great Fire started in the barn of the O'Leary Family and spread immediately
            • cause speculated, but unknown
          • Missteps throughout the emergency response AND failed checks/balances gave time to the fire
            • weary citizens and responders dismissed the call to sound alarms for the Great Fire because they assumed it was the previous night's fire still smoldering
            • delayed 1st and 2nd official alarms due to human error
              • inaccurate account of fire location
          • Reshaped Architectural design and preferred material-choice
            • Complete ban on wood in the city
            • Introduction to Steel

          Final Notes

          This historical non-fiction reads at the 7th grade level- one instance of the word d@mn, (used in an account to describe the fire). 
          It offers a glimpse of disparate social class-structures, the finer points of city planning, interesting aspects of fire science, and an example of how we rationalize collective failures by placing blame in the wake of a disaster. 

           If you have younger kids with an interest in the historical account of the Chicago Fire, the I Survived series is always riveting (review coming soon).

          Extra Resources

          National Geographic has article other historical details and the  Chicago History Museum wrote a short piece on the beloved Fire Chief that perished in the Great Fire.