Meeting News

Hello Readers,

So we are slowing coming out of our winter hibernation and I wanted to let you all know about when we will be meeting next.  I’m sorry we have to wait a few weeks to get up and running, but I have some after school meetings that are pushing our meetings into February.

The 7th/8th Grade Chapter of SMS Guys Read will for the first time on February 9 and then again on February 23.  We will be looking at Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart.  Check out this clip to see one of the Reading Challenges we will be trying out.  So gross….So good!  🙂

The 6th Grade Chapter will begin meeting on Friday the 29th and then each Friday from here on out. We will be reading The Terrible Two Get Worse by Jory John and Mac Barnett.  This is the second book in a series, so you will want to get The Terrible Two and read it as soon as possible.  It is fantastic and worth your time!  I have a few copies in my classroom if you would like to borrow one.  We did some great work with the first book last school year, check this link to see what we got up to.

The Inklings will meet for the first time on February 16 and then again on March 1.  We will be starting with a book called The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson.  We will be doing some great Dungeon & Dragons type Reading Challenges with this book while we wait on our next read, which will be Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer Nielsen.  We read the first book in this series last year as well, go check this link to see what we did.  Both Rise of the Wolf and Mark of the Thief are available in the new Scholastic Book Orders and I am happy to order them for you.  We will talk about an order on our first meeting day.

From there we will get back on our Guys Read and Inklings rotation until we break again in late March and early April.

So until mid February….

Read on,

Mr. H


Most Dangerous Review

Hello Readers,

So here we go again, I knew this would happen, I finish a book review and then finish reading another book a day later.  Well let’s see just how far I can push this New Year’s resolution.

The book I just finished was Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.  I came to this book two ways, just like Death by Toilet Paper, those two ways were vastly different though.  First I had read a few other works by Sheinkin, Bomb and his submission to the nonfiction Guys Read anthology.  Both these works I really enjoyed, so when I heard that Sheinkin would be book touring for Most Dangerous and stopping by my local indie bookshop I had to pick up his latest.

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If you ever get the chance to hear Sheinkin speak, I suggest you jump at it.  He is so intelligent and interesting and fun to listen to, I could have listened a lot longer than he was able to talk.

Most Dangerous tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a studious young man that finds himself knee deep in the politics surrounding the Vietnam War.  Ellsberg was an interesting teen, he was said to wear suits to high school and carry his books and papers around campus in a briefcase.  Can you imagine that kid walking around your school?  No surprise he went to Harvard for college, big surprise, he enlisted in the Marines upon his graduation.  From his military service he finished a PhD in economics and began working for the Rand Corporation in Washington DC.  The Rand Corporation worked closely with the Pentagon.  It was on his first day of work at Rand that hostilities in Vietnam escalated.  Ellsberg’s life then slowly morphed from an analyst working to further the war effort to an anti-war advocate and President Nixon’s biggest target.  Why was this simple analyst such a big target?  It all comes down to an ancient photocopy machine.  You see Daniel Ellsberg had access to Top Secret Pentagon documents including what would come to be known as the Pentagon Papers, a huge document detailing American involvement in South East Asia over the tenure of four or five presidents.  Much of the Pentagon Papers proved lying and deceit on the part of the American Government and Daniel Ellsberg took it on himself to “borrow” the document and photocopy it.  He then released the copies to journalist around the country and boy did it get him into some hot water.  At this point Daniel Ellsberg was firmly against the Vietnam War and saw what he was doing as his patriotic duty.  Nixon and his team saw Ellsberg’s actions as treason.  Ellsberg then becomes the target of some pretty elaborate schemes to smear and discredit him.  In one ploy the government agents thought about slipping LSD into Ellsberg’s soup at a dinner lecture he was giving, and then then letting the hallucinogenic drug disrupt Ellsberg’s train of thought.  The government could then point to the speech as proof that Ellsberg was a drugged up loon.  Luckily the timing didn’t work out and the plan was never acted on.  This all lead to Ellsberg going on trial in California and Nixon on ‘trial” in DC.  Ellsberg case was thrown out and Nixon resigned the presidency.  Crazy Times!

Now to my feelings on Most Dangerous.  For this review I will need to look at the story through two different lenses.  First the social studies teacher, history buff and general lover of building new knowledge.  For me, in that lens, I loved Most Dangerous.  I knew some of the highlights from this time in American history, but many of the details were unknown to me.  For that I thank Mr. Sheinkin for taking me on such an interesting journey through the tangled web of the Vietnam War.


From the teacher of middle school children, the book poses a bit of a challenge.  I found it difficult, as a 40 something teacher, to keep all of the names and details strait, I can only imagine a 7th grader’s eyes just glazing over at times.  Unless I knew the student was a huge history, or nonfiction lover, I would steer them toward Bomb and away from Most Dangerous.  It didn’t read with the pace or the excitement of Bomb, but it does end with a very interesting comparison to our modern day.  What Ellsberg did at that photocopy machine in the early 70’s is generally seen today as a heroic act.  Sheinkin compares Ellsberg’s act to the leaking of classified information about government surveillance by Edward Snowden.  That question of right and wrong could be a very tasty dilemma for a 7th or 8th grade social studies classroom to chew on.

So in the end Most Dangerous is a good read and will not disappoint, if you are looking for a detailed account of government shenanigans and dangerous photocopying action.

Read on,

Mr. H

ps. This morning Most Dangerous was awarded the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.


Death by Toilet Paper Review

Hello Readers,

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve never had much luck with them, so what really is the point?  But this year I just happened to finish a book right at the end of the year and it got me thinking about something I’ve wanted to really try for some time now… I want to try and write more book reviews.

Now according to my recent Reading Challenges on Goodreads, I read between 50 and 60 books a year, I can’t promise full reviews on everything I finish, but I do certainly want to give it a go.

So without further ado I give you my first review of 2016, Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart.  I came to this book two ways, first it was available in my latest Scholastic Book Order, one of my go to avenues for affordable titles, which reminds me, I think I owe them for my last order?  The second path to this book was, of course, the title.  How could you not pick up a middle grade novel that looks like this?


I needed a new title for my middle school Guys Read book club to tackle and a book called Death by Toilet Paper for $4 bucks in the book order really seemed to be perfect.

I thought I was in for a zany, madcap sort of story, and it is funny for sure, but I wasn’t ready for what the story turned into.

The story begins, and is peppered throughout, with a correspondence between Royal-T toilet paper company  and our main character Benjamin Epstein.  These letters will become an interesting thread though the story as they are used to break up the action and it gives Ben the chance to talk to someone outside of his situation.  The letters between Ben and the TP company act as a sort of counseling session where Ben can get a few things off of his chest.

Why might a seventh grader need counseling services, well there is where this book caught me off guard.  The title and the cover art promise laughs and silliness.  The whole opening scene deals with Ben’s best friend and his chef father creating a horror scene for a home movie, with fake blood (salsa) covering everything in the kitchen including the cat!  But what we soon learn is that Ben’s father has just passed and his mother is struggling to make ends meet.  Soon Ben’s grandfather shows up unexpected and quickly shows signs of memory loss.  All of this cast a pretty heavy tone over what I was thinking would be a goofy and lighthearted little story.  Ben and his mom, along with grandpa are now just days away from eviction and also just days away from Ben’s mom passing her CPA exams and getting a job that would save them from all of their financial woes.  In the end Ben hatches a few ingenious schemes and everything works out.

I really enjoyed Death by Toilet Paper and here are a few of my highlights.

First the chapters are headed with random toilet paper facts.  These facts are often hilarious and make me want to do more research on toilets and toilet paper history.  Next, Ben’s friend, Toothpick, has a wonderful pension toward making horror films.  I am already cueing the rabbit scene from the movie Summer School and Googling recipes for homemade scar wax.  The lads of SMS Guys read will have some fun with that idea for sure.  Toothpick also always goes to the Mutter Museum for his birthday.  Just take a look around their website to see what kind of fun you could have there on a birthday excursion.  Finally the grandfather, or Zeyde, as he is referred to in the story adds humor, struggle, heart and heroism to a story that basically is a story about the struggles of family.  I dare you to not laugh out loud or pitch your cookies at the scene on page 82 dealing with Ben drinking a glass of water being used by Zeyde.  I read it four times to my classes and it still gets me!

I do have to say that my one criticism is that the story is simple in plot and fairly predictable in resolution, but I really did enjoy the read and look forward to some fun Reading Challenges with my Guys Read book club.

So there is my first review of 2016, I hope many more to come.  I am just pages away from finishing Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin, so look for that review in the coming days.

Read on,

Mr. H