Friday, November 24, 2017

Fly Guy Friday

34051359Arnold, Tedd. Fly Guy's Big Family
September 12th 2017 by Cartwheel Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Buzz wants to play, but Fly Guy is downcast and drawing pictures of his family. Buzz decides to host a family reunion for his pet. He puts up signs around town, and soon the guests begin to arrive. Once they are assured there are no fly swatters, the flies come in to Buzz's house and wait to surprise Fly Guy. Not only is Fly Guy surprised, but Buzz is amazed at how many relatives flies have, and his parents are a little concerned about how to deal with the swarm of guests. Never fear! Buzz has arranged for a garbage truck to cater the event, and soon the flies are reveling in the tasty garbage. Fly Guy's parents even bring his baby pictures. After the party, Buzz cleans up and gives Fly Guy frames for some of the drawings of his family.

I can see why my students mention that this series was an enormous hit in their elementary schools. Buzz and Fly Guy seem to enjoy each other's company, and the two are thoughtful with each other's feelings. The plot is preposterous enough to be funny, but also somewhat realistic. What fly wouldn't miss his thousands of relatives if her were a house pet?

The pictures are vibrant and goofy, with fly guy's big eyes and enormous grin mirrored by Buzz and his family's Captain Crunch eyes (which go over their hair the way that Crunch's are somehow placed on his hat). A lot of emotion is conveyed by very simple lines, and the quality of the illustrations is much higher than on many early reader books.

Because this is an ongoing series, there is ample opportunity for character development. I'm half tempted to go pick up Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl and Fly Guy's Ninja Christmas just for fun! I can see fans of Arnie the Doughnut or Pete the Cat being very happy to get these books as gifts, because this strikes me as the kind of series that children want to collect, starting with Hi! Fly Guy (2005)

I've had a lot of struggling readers this year; Fly Guy would go over well with them, but I think the next too are strictly elementary. Also, I've never been a fan of the whole fairy/princess thing aimed at girls. Picky Reader was 4 when the tend started (2002), and although she got very into Malcolm's The Jewel Kingdom #1 series, there is only one picture of her in a princess costume!

34543504
Meister, Cari. Ruby and the Magic Garden (Fairy Hill #1)
31 October 2017, Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Luna, Ruby and May are young fairies who live in Fairy Hill. They are learning magic and hope to get their fairy wings from the Fairy Queen by doing a brave, kind deed. When they go to play in the fairy garden, they realize that it is not doing well. They try several strategies to repair it, but nothing works. It is important that the garden be restored, because there is a lost baby deer who needs to eat the magic clover in order to find his way home. Eventually, Ruby figures out the problem, the garden comes back to life, the deer returns home, and Ruby is rewarded with her wings.

This level one reader is has simple vocabulary words (sparkle and blocking being the most difficult ones), and has 3-5 sentences on each page. Most of the space is taken up with pictures that support the text. This makes the book just challenging enough for readers but keeps the pages turning quickly.

The story is engaging, and the problem is simple and easily fixed. The fairies all work together and are supportive of Ruby when she is the one to identify and fix the problem. There is a nice lesson about helping others, and a reward for initiative and hard work.

The pictures are colorful and clear. The characters are easy to identify, and the backgrounds don't interfere with the text.

It is nice to see diverse characters in a beginning reader. I don't know that there were many books like that twenty years ago when my daughters were learning to read. Ruby appears to be African-American, Luna could be Latina or Indian, and May breaks the princess/fairy mold by having short hair, a leafy green outfit, and an androgynous appearance.

There are three books in this series so far, and considering that many early readers will go through lots of books, this will keep them reading for some time. It also provides ample inspiration to young imaginations and may inspire some magical role playing.

34543505Meister, Cari. Luna and the Lost Shell (Fairy Hill #2)
31 October 2017, Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Luna, Ruby and May are back, and this time the glow globes that are to be used to illuminate the Fairy Ball have gone dark. The trio investigates so that the party can continue and the Fairy Queen is not inconvenienced. When they realize that the magic shell that helps power the lights is missing, they track it down to the home of a chipmunk. He is using the shell as a lamp, so the fairies craft another lamp and offer it for trade. When the shell is put back in place, the lights come back on, and the party can continue. Since Luna found the shell and negotiated with the chipmunk, she is rewarded with her new wings.

The Scholastic Level 1 readers have "sight words, words to sound out, and simple sentences". There are 3-5 sentences on each page, and brightly colored pictures that support the text.

The story is a mix of the fairies having fun (they are preparing for the party, eating cupcakes, and are dancing at the ball after the problem is solved) and of the fairies solving a problem. Their investigative skills are used for a problem that is not too difficult to solve, and their empathy for the chipmunk helps them to quickly get the shell back.

The way the pages are arranged makes it easy to use this book for predicting what will happen next. I always enjoyed doing this when my daughters were learning to read. "Why do you think the power went out? How would you get the chipmunk to return the shell? Why do you think the Fairy Queen is visiting with the fairies?" are all questions that can be discussed, and help early readers learn how plots are developed.

The ball and the pretty dresses will appeal to young readers who are fond of princesses, and the message that kindness and hard work are rewarded is always a good one.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Chocopocalypse

34079582Callaghan, Chris. The Chocopocalypse
October 10th 2017 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Jennifer Wellington, known as Jelly Welly, lives a pleasant but somewhat constrained life with her parents in Chompton-on-de-Lyte, a British town centered around the production and distribution of chocolate. When she hears on a television program that chocolate will disappear in a few days, following an ancient prophecy, she worries about how this will effect her and her family. Her grandmother, who lives in a dilapidated trailer in the driveway, helps her to investigate and to construct an experiment to determine if this is actually true. Of course, world wide panic ensues, chocolate becomes scarce, and Jelly starts to suspect that local chocolatier Garibaldi Chocolati (aka Choccy Cookie) might be somehow involved.
Strengths: Titles with food in them are always popular, and the idea of a world without chocolate is intriguing to say the least. There are a fair amount of illustrations along with the text, which my 6th graders are demanding this year, and this is a fast paced story that is a good length.
Weaknesses: This is VERY British, with vaguely distressed family, evil villains and nosy neighbors with odd names, and unlikely situations.
What I really think: Buy this if titles like Boyce's The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Walliams' The Demon Dentist or Ms. Rapscott's Girls are popular. I did manage to check out The Demon Dentist recently to a child who claimed his favorite book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
. Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Project Terra: Crash Course

33673416Walker, Landry Q. Project Terra: Crash Course
September 19th 2017 by Penguin Workshop
ARC provided by publisher

Elara has always wanted to be a part of the Seven Systems School of Terraforming Sciences and Arts, and is thrilled to be traveling from her far flung farming planet to the well regarded school. While she does run into some snobby fellow students (like Suue, who was bioengineered to be a mathematical genius), she also makes the acquaintance of Knot, a kind Grix girl, and her roommate Beezle, who is an Arcturiaan and shares a hive mind. Of course, the three run into trouble with headmistress Nebulina early on, but their destructive energies are channeled into special projects. There are lots of adventures, some intrigue, and a mystery that has to be solved. Elara and her friends take on all of these challenges happily. The book is the start of a purported series.
Strengths: The Penguin Workshop books are great because they embrace popular STEM topics AND have a fair amount of pictures along with the text. Elara is a fun character, and her determination to succeed at terraforming is admirable. This was a perfect length, filled with action, and the book was nicely formatted.
Weaknesses: This could have used more information about what terraforming entails. Many students will never have heard of this. The plot, setting, and characters all felt very derivative to me, but 12-year-olds won't draw parallels between this, other books, and the original Star Trek series.
What I really think: I will purchase this series, and it will be great for readers who are just starting to be interested in science fiction but aren't ready for something as long as McDougall's Mars Evacuees or Emerson's Last Day on Mars.

Monday, November 20, 2017

MMGM- Pumpkin Spice Secrets

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

34570463Homzie, Hillary. Pumpkin Spice Secrets
September 12th 2017 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Maddie is having coffee with her stressed out older sister at a local coffee shop when she spills her pumpkin spice latte all over the very cute Jacob. He's got a good sense of humor about it... and amazing blue eyes. When school starts and Maddie gets together with her best friends Jana, Torielle and Katie, she's about to confess her crush when Jana announces that SHE likes Jacob. Not only that, but one of their frenemies, Fiona, is Jacob's cousin. Jacob and Lukas start eating lunch with the girls, mainly because Jacob seems to like Maddie, but she sticks to the best friend code and doesn't encourage him. Well, not a lot. They end up working on a debate project at school, and are on the con side of the issue of video surveillance while Jana and Fiona are on the pro side. Maddie's grades slip, and she almost has to miss Jana's birthday party because her parents are so angry, but she does extra credit and manages to be allowed to go. She helps Jana decorate Jacob's locker for his birthday, which makes up for the fact that Maddie spends the afternoon at the library with Jacob on his birthday. Eventually, Jana finds out, and is so embarrassed that she refuses to talk to Maddie. Can the two friends patch things up, and what will happen with Maddie and Jacob?
Strengths: This. This is middle school. These are the concerns that many middle schoolers have. Boys. Friends. Failing pop quizzes. First crushes. Meeting a boy to study. The covers on this series are amazing. Middle school girls love to read romance books, but some of my 6th graders just don't need a lot of details that YA authors include. These are similar to the Darling Crush series, but with MUCH better covers.
Weaknesses: Realistically overly dramatic, which sort of annoyed me as an adult, but is absolutely true to life. The characters are very privileged, but are at least somewhat ethnically diverse. (Maddie is part Cuban, Jana is Indian, Torielle is African-American (and the brainy one of the group), and Katie is the token blonde. But if we want books that represent all of our students, we still need some books about middle class children, right? The biggest complaint my students have is that they want books about African American characters who don't live in the inner city.
What I really think:  I would have saved up my babysitting money and purchased these in middle school!Since Follett only has them in paperback or Follett Bound, I'm using an Amazon gift card a grandparent donated and ordering these in hard back. They will see a TON of wear!

Nielson, Laney. Peppermint Cocoa Crushes
October 24th 2017 by Sky Pony Press
Purchased copy

Sasha is hoping that her dance with friends (and twins) Kevin and Karly will win a local competition and earn them all a place in a summer dance institute. Otherwise, she won't be able to go, because her newly single mother is going back to school and doesn't have the money to send Sasha. Besides, her mother hopes that she will apply to the STEM academy like her sister, Claire, and get better college scholarships. While Kevin is willing to practice however much it takes, Karly is more interested in attending Quiz Bowl practice, especially since her crush, Ahmed, is also on the team. This gets Sasha thinking about her own lack of love life, so she decides it's time that Kevin likes her as more than a friend. She starts showing more interest in him, but he just doesn't seem to get it. Is it because her friends are trying to "ship" her with Pete Sugarman? Granted, Pete (who is living with his grandparents, who run the local grocery) is super sweet and seems to like Sasha, but she's determined to make things work with Kevin. Things eventually reach a crisis point, and Sasha learns that you have to be a good friend even when someone disappoints you.
Strengths: As an adult reader, I knew right away that Kevin was not interested in Sasha because he was interested in Ryan, but it takes Sasha until Kevin tells her he is gay to figure it out. Even then, she doesn't know what to do and leaves abruptly. Her older sister admonishes her that this wasn't being a good friend. We don't find out if Ryan likes Kevin, but there are indications throughout the story that this might be true. Like Dee's Star Crossed, this is a pitch perfect middle grade introduction of a gay character. I might be biased-- at least five of the boys in whom I was interested in middle school and high school later came out as gay, and it was pretty confusing stuff back in the late 70s! Nielsen manages to capture the overwhelming middle school desire to "have a boyfriend" and weaves in Kevin's story seamlessly. The friend drama, conflicts with parents, and social whirl of middle school are all nicely handled. Bonus points for having Pete handy as a back up after Sasha is disappointed!
Weaknesses: The mother eventually decides that Sasha's true passion is dance and doesn't insist she drop it to attend the STEM school. This is a fine plan if Sasha doesn't want to be gainfully employed, but as a Latin teacher who was unemployed for many years, I'm not a fan of "following one's passion"!
What I really think: I need at least a dozen of these titles, Sky Pony!





24885662Green, Poppy. The Maple Festival (Sophie Mouse #5)
October 13th 2015 by Little Simon

Library copy

Don't get me wrong; these are adorable books with good  messages, They are well formatted, have large print, nice pictures, and are a nice small size. They are perfect... for FIRST GRADERS. And yet I'm buying the rest of the entire series, along with more Stink Moody, Ivy Bean, and a number of other early chapter books.

This has been a tough year. The 6th graders do NOT want to read. They only want to read a book they can finish in a day. Or has pictures. If they can't move past this by the time they get to high school, To Kill a Mockingbird is going to be a BIG shock!

I'm trying to make myself feel better by thinking this: if I buy some fun, very easy to read books, they won't get a ton of use, and I can have them for struggling students for a very long time. A generous donation from one of our wonderful volunteers will enable me to fund this purchase.

Is anyone else seeing this trend? Is it because smart phones have been around their whole lives? To me, books like Pumpkin Spice Secrets are absolutely perfect for this age group. Instead, I have 6th grader who won't read anything but Babymouse or who think they should read The Fault in Our Stars. Sigh.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Dollmaker of Krakow

34079578Romero, R.M. The Dollmaker of Krakow
September 12th 2017 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Karolina is a doll that was made by WWI vet Cyryl Brzezick, whose family was German. She was modeled on a doll owned by the Dollmaker's mother, and he starts taking her around Krakow when he does his shopping. When he delivers a dollhouse to the Trzmiel family for daughter Rena's birthday, Karolina mistakenly lets the family know she is a sentient doll. Jozef, the father, is a musician who is not bothered by this, and soon the Dollmaker is spending a lot of time with the family, which also includes son Dawid. When the Germans invade, the Dollmaker gets more food because of his heritage, and he shares it with the family. Eventually, it is clear that many of the Jewish children will need to be saved, and along with Father Karol in the local church, Karolina and the Dollmaker come up with a plan. While the children can be saved, Jozef and the Dollmaker perish.
Strengths: This is definitely a different sort of Holocaust book. I did find the details about what happened in Poland during WWII to be interesting, and this might be a good choice for readers who can't handle graphic descriptions of the events of the time, or readers who love fantasy and don't want to have to read a historical fiction book for a Holocaust unit. The cover is lovely.
Weaknesses: For me, the fantasy elements (descriptions of a war the dolls had with rats) slowed down the story and took away from the historical value.
What I really think: I'm a HUGE Rumer Godden fan, so I love books where the dolls are sentient. I also find Holocaust books oddly compelling. Even so, this was a book that was very difficult for me to get into. It was well written, fairly interesting, and unique, but just wasn't my favorite.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The White Tower

34381534Constable, Cathryn. The White Tower
September 26th 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Livy has missed months of school because her best friend Mahalia died of leukemia. When her father is suddenly offered the librarian position at the prestigious Temple College in London, he is excited to take it, and glad that she will get a fresh start when she is accepted as a scholarship student. The family moves into the former librarian's house on the campus, and Livy gets a tiny room at the very top of the house, overlooking the stone Sentinels that guard the campus. Since the family's last name is Burgess, and Peter Burgess was the founder of the school many years ago, there is some thought that they are descendants. Livy has a hard time at her new school; the new uniform blazer was so expensive that her mother bought a bigger one so she could "grow into it", she misses Mahalia, and two mean girls make fun of her and even try to dissuade their nice friend, Celia, to be mean to Livy as well. Livy does get to know curious fellow student Alex a bit, because he studies a lot in the library. Her young brother Tom imagines he sees "Count Zacha" on the roof, and soon Livy is seeing people on roof as well, and gets thrown into an investigation that involves alchemy, the former librarian, head mistress, and students from the very founding of the school.
Strengths: The world building in this was fantastic; I immediately wanted to go to Temple College and be their librarian, especially if I could live near the school! The mystery involving the founder is fairly strong, and the characters are all well developed and intriguing.
Weaknesses: Livy's grief is palpable to a very soggy extent, and she is portrayed as the sort of quiet student who struggles to have friends because she is so introverted. Also, there should have been MUCH more actual flying in this, and there just wasn't enough.
What I really think: While The Wolf Princess has circulated well in my library, I may pass on this. It wasn't quite the book I expected it to be, and I think readers who pick it up will also expect more action and adventure than there is.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 17, 2017

Guy Friday- Inside Hudson Pickle

34014646Ridge, Yolanda. Inside Hudson Pickle
September 5th 2017 by Kids Can Press
E ARC from Netgalley

When Hudson's Uncle Vic's apartment catches on fire, it sets a lot of things into motion. Vic moves in with Hudson and his mother, which makes things crowded and leads to lots of vegan dinners. Hudson is not playing hockey because he has gotten too tall, and he is trying out for the school basketball team. So is Trevor, his best friend who is not talking to him because Hudson blew off Trevor's martial arts competition, and Willow, a girl whom Hudson finds interesting. For his career exploration class, Hudson has agreed to research firefighters, and gets an opportunity to talk to the fireman in charge of the investigation of Vic's fire. Unfortunately, it looks very suspicious, and Vic's health problems are, too. Hudson starts to wonder-- could his uncle be into drugs? And what about his father, whom his mother refuses to mention. Are drugs the reason why? As try outs start in earnest, Hudson finds himself having more and more troubles with his "childhood asthma" which he has always hoped would go away. Are his breathing difficulties related to his uncle's or his infant brother's, who died when Hudson when 2? Will his asthma keep him from being on the basketball team, or from being a firefighter when he grows up? Since he's irritated by his medical concerns as well as his mother, who is conscientiously overbearing, Hudson has trouble smoothing things over with Trevor, and starting things with Willow, who seems to like him. Middle school is tough enough, and Hudson needs to find a way to deal with his family problems and keep on top of things at school.
Strengths: There were several interesting topics covered in this book, but they were presented in an intriguing fashion and written about in an engaging way. The book starts with the fire, and I loved that while Hudson knew full well that it was A Bad Thing, he couldn't help but be excited about his uncle moving in with him! The interactions with Willow were perfect-- embarrassing, but completely understandable. I found myself really interested in Hudson's medical problems, probably even more than I was about his father. The tone of this was generally upbeat, but in a typical irritated, middle school way. Working in both hockey and basketball is inspired. I enjoyed this a lot, and think the cover is great as well.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Hudson's mother would have told him NO information about his father.
What I really think: Definitely look forward to more books by this author. Since she's Canadian, I'll definitely hope for a good middle grade book about a boy playing hockey. I need more than the Sigmund Brower titles!

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weregirl

32849250Bell, C.D. Weregirl
November 1st 2016 by Chooseco
Copy handed to me by the author at Kidlitcon!

Nessa lives with her mother, her younger sister, and her younger brother who is on the autism spectrum in Michigan. Her mother is a veterinary technician, and the family struggles financially. Nessa wants to escape her small town, which had been the site of chemical dumping, although the company responsible is bought by Paravida, a company that promises to make reparations. The only hope she has is to improve her times at cross country in order to get a college scholarship to run. She's on track to do this, until she tries to free a wolf from a trap while on an evening run, and is attacked and bitten by another wolf. Her recuperation goes better than expected, and her times even improve. This is great... until she grows fur. Luckily, one of her mother's friends has some inclination towards the supernatural, and puts her in touch with Chayton, a young shaman who helps her come to terms with her shape shifting and gives her some strategies for dealing with it. In the meantime, she has to deal with her crush on high school soccer star Cassian, as well as her brother's appointments at a clinic run by Paravida, appointments that seem more and more dangerous, especially when another young boy dies suddenly. Not only does Nessa have to deal with her shape shifting and college plans, but with a dangerous threat to her town.
Strengths: Nessa's struggles to get an education by working hard at running are wonderful, and this is a great story for girls who want to "read up" in middle school. The crush on Cassian is sweet and appropriate, and there are a few "mean girl" moments with another runner. I liked the mystery with Paravida, and thought that the company's involvement in the population of a small town was interesting. Even though the days of lots of students wanting werewolf books are over, the gorgeous cover on this one will definitely get picked up by readers who still want books like Shiver, Claire de Lune and Rachel Hawthorne Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and Ellen Schreiber's werewolf series.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this story. I would almost rather have had the cross country running paired either with the werewolves OR with the evil corporation. Both made it a little confusing.
What I really think: I know three readers to whom I can hand this the minute it gets processed for the library!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Any Way You Slice It

36387418Asselin, Kristine. Any Way You Slice It
November 15th 2017 by Wicked Whale Publishing
Print copy provided by the author

Penelope Spaulding works hard at her family's pizza restaurant in New Hampshire, especially with her father trying to get ready for a reality show. Her real passion, though, is playing hockey, and when Jake, who kind of irritates her, dares her to join the local misfit hockey team, she lies to her parents and starts playing. Her grandmother tries to stick up with her, but her father has very deep rooted feelings about her not playing. It's hard to hide things from her folks, especially when she and Jake become closer.
Strengths: This is a great young adult book that is suitable for middle grade readers. Tweens love a good romance, but don't need too many... details. I loved that Penelope generally gets along with her family, but they disagree on this one issue. The grandmother is delightful, and the father is very sweet. The reality show is a bit of added fun. Penelope's passion for hockey is what really makes this book sparkle, and the fact that it helps her find a romance if perfect. The best part of the book is when Penelope has a crowd of young girls who all clearly adore her after they watch her play in a game. Girl power!
Weaknesses: The cover should have more to do with hockey. Or pizza.
What I really think: Great book for girls who love sports. This was originally published as an e book, so I was very glad to see it in print!

Ms. Yingling

The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid

Meloy, Colin. The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
October 24th 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In 1961, Charlie Fisher is a poor little rich kid whose mother has decided that she's tired of caring for him, so he gets shipped off to stay with his father, a diplomat living in Marseilles, France. He has a tutor, and gets to go to lots of posh events, but there's something lacking in his life. While writing a story while observing the crush of life around him, he notices pickpocketing going on and then meets Amir. Amir makes off with Charlie's silver fountain pen, intriguing Charlie even more. He finds a business card for a restaurant, and sets out to meet the group of child thieves. The "whiz mob" is a diverse group of young people who travel around the town relieving the well-to-do of jewelry, wallets, and other possessions. Charlie is strangely honored to be accepted into the group, practises his own pickpocketing skills, and spends his days robbing the public, which is more exciting than studying his Latin. When Amir tells Charlie to quit running with the group, the two fall out. Amir leaves the group, and Charlie is excited to be able to take part in a "big tip" for a change. When the event turns out to be one that his own father is at, will Charlie be able to see what the group's long con is?

The whiz mob is described in such a way that their actions are more adventurous than criminal. After all, what is a centime to someone who owns a yacht? While the children do rely on their collections to survive, they are taken care of by shadowy members of the "school", so are not portrayed as starving street children. After all, "big tips" might call for tuxedos and evening dresses, which would not look right on starving, unwashed children.

The details about daily life in this exotic town in the 1960s are exquisite, and Charlie's privileged life is appealing, if a bit dull. His father's job is a little vague, but ultimately takes center stage in the whiz mob's plans.

While the amount of diversity depicted might not have existed in Marseilles at this time, it's nice to see a variety of countries of origin.  The mob is headquartered in Bogota, Colombia, and the children are recruited from all over the world, which is why there are children from the US, Russia, and other countries. Amir is a great character, and his longing for the smell of baking from his home country is especially touching.

The writing style is reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, with snarky asides to the audience, and there is also a vast quantity of pickpocket slang used. Readers who enjoy quirky historical fiction with a dash of adventure, will find The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid as refreshing as a nice tall glass of grenadine and milk.

(Which sounds awful, doesn't it? And I can't think of a single student I have ever had who would want to plow through over 400 pages of lines like "Charlie was forced to reef the kick-creating pleast in the fabric to push the okus toward the opening of the pit..." although the twist at the end and the long con were both vaguely interesting. Just one of those books that must be too sophisticated for my readers.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Penelope March is Melting

34434535Ruby, Jeffrey Michael. Penelope March is Melting
November 14th 2017 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by publisher

Penelope lives on a frozen island in an undiscovered part of the sea. It's a grim existence, with turnips being one of the only crops, as well as the source of electricity and fuel for cars. There is one very creepy house in town, supposedly owed by a Mr. Buzzardstock. When Amelia rescues his dog (whom the children all refer to as Wolfknuckle, but whose real name is Henry, she discovers that the man, while eccentric, is misunderstood. He does ice sculpting, and does have a magical connection to the world around Glacier Cove. He is very concerned that an evil creature, Makara Nyx, is trying to muster her forces to destroy the island. Penelope's friend, Coral, has a fortune telling grandmother whose prophecy about Penelope indicates that Nyx might, in fact, be a concern. It's a good thing that Buzzardstock has a plan. Using a submarine staffed with talking penguins, he is determined to save the island and destroy Nyx. Penelope is able to work with Buzzardstock quite a bit, as her father, in the wake of her mother's death, tries to be involved but all too occasionally drowns his sorrows in turnip hooch. How can Nyx's efforts be thwarted, and how can Penelope use her determination to save her friends and family?
Strengths: While this was almost 300 pages long, the story moved quickly and the print was fairly large. Penelope and her brother are sympathetic characters, and Glacier Cove is a different sort of setting. There are lots of quirky names and occurences.
Weaknesses: Could have done without the father's grieving and ineptitude, and the story would have held up without it. For a place that had no contact with the outside world, they had a lot of modern amenities, which confused me a bit.
What I really think: Readers who like Lemony Snicket, David Nielsen, and Hieronymous Bosch, as well as some of Natalie Lloyd's fantasy books will find this an engaging, if chilling read.


From jeffrubymedia.com
"I'm the chief dining critic at Chicago magazine, a marvelous publication for which I have written and edited since 1997.

I also spent 11 years as the magazine's humor columnist, and penned a blog about my wife's various pregnancies. I have written features on food, sports, travel, and celebrities, and earned nine nominations from the City and Regional Magazine Association for best food/dining criticism and best column. Even won once.

I sumo wrestled once in front of 20,000 people in a basketball arena in New Jersey. That, I lost.

My writing has appeared in countless places including Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Time, Newsweek, Men's Journal, and Southwest Airlines magazine. My first children's book, Penelope March is Melting, which New York Times bestselling author Pseudonymous Bosch called "a marvelous and magical debut!" comes out on November 14th, 2017. My 2005 book, Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food, was featured on The Food Network, History Channel, NPR, CBS, and, for about two seconds, Oprah.

​ My favorite beer is Guinness. My favorite band is The Replacements. My favorite bald former Harlem Globetrotter who appeared on multiple episodes of Scooby-Doo is Curly Neal.

I'm an Aquarius, a reluctant dog owner, and a laundry hater. I live with my wife, kids, and dog in Chicago."


Blowback '63


36284711Meehl, Brian. Blowback '63 (Blowback #2)
September 18th 2017 by Twisko Press
Copy provided by the author

After traveling back to the Carlisle Indian School in Blowback '07, Arky is still trying to make sense of his adventure and work out the details about how he might find his mother, who is lost in time. Iris, his sister, is also investigating how time travel works for their family by reading her mother's notes and getting visions when she plays the English Horn. She is also talking to Matt, who doesn't quite remember his trip to the past, although he has a picture of the young lady with whom he wanted to be involved, and has some vague memories about his time with her. Arky and Danny (who is trying to decide on his choices for college) get sucked into the past, and Iris and her father cover for the boys, saying that they are on an extended camping trip. They end up in the Civil War, arriving near Chancellorsville. They end up being enlisted in the Thirty-Fourth New York after running into a peddler who seems to know a little about them. They are prepared to fight, but hope that they don't die, but also get involved in playing baseball with the Herkimers. Danny is a stand out player who has some trouble with the old time rules, and his prowess brings him to the attention of Liz, a young Southern lady who doesn't care as much about the social mores as she should. Danny is prepared to stay in the past, but Arky wants to find his mother. He's heard someone singing a song based on Dvorak's New World Symphony that only his mother could have brought to the past, and by the end of the book, he manages to pin down her whereabouts a bit more. Iris, too, finds some information, and it looks like the next book will take us all to Paris in the 1890s.

This is a wonderful mix of Civil War details and baseball. On the one had, we find out about living conditions, food, spies sending signals in laundry, and even about battles themselves. On the other, we learn how baseball was played originally, and see Danny trying to make up new rules and developments, such as baseball mitts, which weren't originally used. Throughout all of this is interwoven the idea that the boys shouldn't change the past, but how can one travel back in time and not at least be tempted?

Iris played a much larger role in this book, and it was interesting to see not only how she covered for her brother and took care of her grieving father, but also how she investigated her mother's research and tried to move with on with her own life, eventually agreeing to go to prom with Matt! It doesn't hurt that I played the English Horn in high school, and once performed the solo that is frequently mentioned.

There are precious few books that combine history with sports, so Blowback '63 is an excellent addition to all high school and most middle school libraries. It is a longer book (400+ pages), so some younger readers might struggle with it, although the content, while occasionally a bit coarse, is still middle grade appropriate. More accessible than Chabon's Summerland, with more fantasy than Wes Tooke's baseball books and more baseball than just about any other historical fantasy books, Blowback '63 is a fascinating trip back to a time when baseball was new, war was raging, and teen boys could get caught up equally in both.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: This is Our Constitution and Innocent Heroes

36357413Khan, Khizr. This is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father
October 24th 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Bookended by notes about Mr. Khan's personal experiences with the Constitution as well as immigration, current politics, and being a Gold Star father, this overview of this important US document has several things to recommend it. The book is a good length for middle grade readers, and nicely formatted. It is laid out in a logical fashion, and the explanations of different portions of the Constitution are well explained in language that young readers can understand, and contain relevant examples to support understanding. Speech bubbles accompanying the explanations address Khan's personal concerns. The full texts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are included at the back.

This is easier to read than the Levinson's Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today but offers a lot of good information. I don't think that too many students will pick this up for pleasure reading, but it is a good addition to any elementary or middle school library. I can see readers picking this up for research and spending more time than they expected delving into the intricacies of the Constitution because of the readability of the book.

30269106Brouwer, Sigmund. Innocent Heroes: Animals in War and the Battle of Vimy Ridge
February 14th 2017 by Tundra Books (NY)
Copy provided by the Publisher

This mix of connected stories about WWI and nonfiction information about the animals that inspired them was an interesting collection. This was nominated for the Cybils awards, and I had to think about whether it belonged in fiction or nonfiction, but I think fiction is a good fit. Like some of the Dear America titles, it helps to have nonfiction accounts to support the more action packed stories. Brouwer was known to me mainly for his sports books, and he infuses these historical accounts with some of the same excitement he uses to bring his hockey and football stories to life. Having pictures from 100 years ago will make the War to End All Wars more accessible to modern readers. A very impressive work, with an appealing cover on a topic which many readers seek out, Innocent Heroes is a great collection to middle school and high school libraries.

MMGM-Whistling in the Dark, Addison Cooke

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

34427283Hughes, Shirley. Whistling in the Dark
November 14th 2017 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Joan is a young teen living in Liverpool, England in 1941. The Germans seem to bomb sections of the city every night, and the other privations of war time are part of every day life. Joan's father, a wireless operator on an oil tanker, was killed when Joan was very young, but the family has gone on without him. Older sister Audrey is dating Dai, a young man in the service, brother Brian is helpful but somewhat annoying, and younger sister Judy needs a lot of care. Joan's mother is dating an "oily" soldier who is in charge of providing food for the local soldiers. Joan goes on lots of adventures with her friend Doreen, whose father is fairly well-to-do and well connected. When a Polish refugee, Ania, joins Joan's school, some of the other students are not particularly kind. When a mysterious man who has been hanging around Joan's neighborhood identifies himself, Joan's family gets pulled into some intrigue involving him, and there is also some black marketeering being run by some surprising individuals.
Strengths: Ms. Hughes was born in 1927, so she is able to include many details of this time period that people who had not lived through it would never know. Audrey attempting to use gravy brown for leg makeup was a detail that blew me away! While I am not a huge fan of "home front" stories, there is a 7th grade unit on historical fiction from 1940-1980, and this will be perfect for that. Also, Liverpool is one of my favorite cities (and somewhere I don't get lost easily), and I've been enjoying some of the BBC period dramas such as Home Fires and My Mother and Other Strangers, so I will definitely be recommending this.
Weaknesses: A bit light on plot, but the details of daily life more than make up for it.
What I really think: Hero on a Bicycle does very well in my library, so I'm glad to purchase this one. I will also be looking into Ms. Hughes' work-- she seems much more well known in the UK.

33897630Stokes, Jonathan W. Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan (#2)
November 14th 2017 by Philomel Books
ARC provided by publisher

Addison is chafing to be off on another adventure now that school is over (and he's managed to avoid detention), and is glad that Aunt Delia and Uncle Nigel are willing to let him take Eddie and Raj to the Gobi desert when the museum sends them off China. They meet with Eustace Hawtrey in Hong Kong, but before Addison can soil his new white dinner jacket, his aunt and uncle are kidnapped by Madame Feng and her band of Triad gang members. It turns out that a shield Hawtry showed the group has directions to the tomb of Ghengis Khan, and Madame Feng really wants to have the fabled Golden Whip. Soon, Addison and friends are whisking themselves off to Macau to Feng's casino; finding Dax, a pilot his uncle trusts who takes them into the Gobi dessert; and bartering with camel merchants who miraculously speak English in order to obtain camels to take them to where they suspect the tomb is. Along the way they are followed by Triad gang members, catch glances of poor Aunt Delia and Uncle Nigel, and manage to find the Golden Whip-- only to lose it. The book finishes with Molly and Addison meeting their Uncle Jasper and finding out a few more clues to the family mystery and the prophecy that indicates that all of the Cookes must die!
Strengths: Like Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, this is a fast paced, appealing adventure romp that is fantastic once you suspend your disbelief about Addison's ability to travel and to fight off die hard Chinese gang members. At 450+ pages, it will keep avid readers occupied for a day or two. The inclusion of information about Ghenghis Khan, who is covered in the 6th grade social studies curriculum, is an added bonus.
Weaknesses: I read this while having an extreme attack of Middle Age ennui, so I couldn't personally get into this. I didn't care about the Golden Whip and found it unlikely that Madame Feng would, I was irritated by Addison and his white jacket, and the whole thing seemed improbable. I wondered why Dax would fly a sketchy plane with a toothpick in his mouth. Forget the Triad members. Dax impaling his esophagus seemed more of a threat to me. This will not matter to the target demographic at all, and Addison's quirks are much tamer than they were in the first book.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase a copy for my fans of Ryan Quinn, The Devil's Breath and Stormbreaker, and the ARC will get handed to about three different eager reader when I go into work tomorrow!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lily's Mountain

33413955Moderow, Hannah. Lily's Mountain
November 14th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lily's father has climbed Denali mountain peak six times, but his last trip ended in a freak accident. A glacier shifted unexpectedly, opening a crevasse underneath him and pulling him to his death. Lily, her mother, and older sister Sophie are dazed by the news, but Lily remains convinced that he is not dead and needs her to rescue him. She manages to talk her mother into letting her and Sophie go to Denali as long as they abide by her rules and check in with Ranger Collins. The girls assemble their provisions, take a long bus ride there, and do a lot of hiking, some okayed by their mother and some not. Lily remains steadfast in her belief that she can save her father for a long time. They run into a few problems but eventually find the site of their father's accident and begin to make peace with what has occurred.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about how to pack for a mountain climbing expedition, and Lily and Sophie run into a few interesting problems (now I know how to remove porcupine quills from someone's hand!), but generally practice good mountain climbing safety procedures, even when things go wrong. Lily's grief at her father's "disappearance" is palpable, her belief that he is still alive is realistic, wishful thinking that middle grade students might experience, and I was glad that she was able to get a better hold of reality by the end of the book.
Weaknesses: Most of my readers want their mountain climbing adventures without the side of palpable grief. I found it difficult to believe that Lily's mother would have sent her and Sophie off by themselves; if the mother had gone with them, that would have made more sense.
What I really think: I will not purchase, because I don't have the readers for this type of story.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoons


Costa, Ben and Parks, James. Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo: The Road to Epoli
June 6th 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers 

Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this lengthy graphic novel, we meet Rickety Stitch, who is an undying, animated skeleton who is unclear about his own origins. His constant companion is The Gelatinous Goo, and he is the only one who can communicate with it. Rickety keeps having a dream about a city named Epoli, but can't remember all the lyrics to the song he sings about it when he is awake. Fired from his job cleaning dungeons, he sets out on a quest to find himself. He comes across an imp called Ziggly in the Grimly woods, and starts to travel with him. When the three approach the caslte of Golo the Gargantuan, it becomes clear that Ziggly is delivering his new friends as dinner! Rickety makes a deal to retrieve the Faerie Man for Golo to eat instead, but the Goo must be left behind. Ziggly then takes Rickety to meet with Nerman, a gnome, and they trick him into helping them. in their travels, they come across Xor the unicorn and find additional information about Epoli, as well as a way to get the Goo back from Golo.

Readers who enjoy longer graphic novels such as Stevenson's Nimona, Hick's The Nameless City or Siegel's The Sand Warrior will enjoy this quirky and goofy medieval quest. Rickety's lack of knowledge about his past makes for an intriguing mystery, and the traditional medieval characters all have a unique twist to them.

The art is slightly different from many graphic novels, and this is a larger format book (7.2 x 0.5 x 9.8 inches), which sets it apart from other titles. I liked the fact that Rickety's dreams were in black and white, while the rest of the story had full color.

This certainly had some odd moments (the Gelatinous Goo?), but there are a few pages in the back of the book that give more explanation of some the places and people involved in Rickety's world. There's almost more information in these few pages than in the rest of the entire book, since the rough sketches of the characters are accompanied by tiny text.

This is billed as book one, so we'll see if book two brings more information about Rickety and the Goo's origins. To hear the ballad that appears in Rickety's dream, go to https://ricketystitch.com/home.

The authors have gotten a lot of praise for this one, but it's very much like The Glorikian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie to me. All I can think the entire time I'm reading it is "What were these guys smoking when they came up with this idea?"

Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone
May 2nd 2017 by First Second
Public library copy

Good dystopian graphic novel, but NOT for middle school. Frequent and random uses of the f word, and the "meat puppets" was disturbing. Mentioning this because Westerfeld has many great middle grade titles. This is just definitely Young Adult.

From Goodreads.com
"Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world."

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 10, 2017

Guy Friday- Backfield Boys.

33155337
Feinstein, John. Backfield Boys.
August 29th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tom and Jason are fairly happy in their public school in New York City, but they are both phenomenal football players and spend a summer at a football camp. Afterwards, they are offered positions at the prestigious sports prep academy in Virginia. Even though their mothers are less than thrilled about them playing football at all, they are offered scholarships that make the very expensive school seem worth the risk. Right away, things get uncomfortable. The boys expect to room together, but are separated. They are assigned positions that they don't normally play. When they ask about these things, the coaches are very put out and make it clear that they are not to be contradicted. Jason is Jewish and Tom is black, and the boys soon start to pick up on subtle and not-so-subtle incidents of racism in the school. Jason's roommate, a self-proclaimed "good ol' boy" named Billy Bob is from Alabama and does not share these prejudices, but he has spent more time in the South and understands how things work. When the boys realize that there has never been a black quarterback, and roommates are assigned along racial lines, they contact sports writers and start an investigation, especially into the most offensive coach as well as Gatch, the founder of the school, who has alarming ties to people whose track record on race is horrendous. Can the boys come up with concrete proof that things are not being done properly at their school?
Strengths: Feinstein does a great job of writing for older middle grade readers as well as high school ones. I appreciated that he set this in a high school and dealt with serious issues without resorting to bad language or behavior. Tom and Jason are both very appealing characters, and the inclusion of sports reporters is a great example of "writing what you know"! This was reminiscent of Paul Volponi's titles like Black and White or John Ed Bradley's Call Me By My Name, and is a welcome addition to books about football that have some more serious themes.
Weaknesses: Referencing Trump will date this one, and it is immeasurably sad to think that this level of institutionalized racism might still exist in the US, but that's why it's an important book.
What I really think: This is an essential purchase for middle school and high school libraries. Also, I will never live South of the Ohio River. Just won't.

24974996Stone, Nic. Dear Martin.
October 17th 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers

Public Library Copy

Justyce McCallister was raised in a rough neighborhood by a struggling single mother, but now attends the exclusive Braselton Prep and is most likely going to Yale when he graduates. His ex-girlfriend, Melo, calls him one night when she is drunk and needs help getting home, but when he comes to her aid, a police man accuses him of taking advantage of her, roughs him up, and arrests him. With the help of his friend Sarah Jane's mother, who is a lawyer, Justyce is released without being charged, but the incident shakes him up. It also worries Manny, who is also African American, but who has very wealthy parents. The racial prejudice present at their school in Georgia starts to become more and more apparent to the two boys, as some of the football players who are friends with Manny make more and more comments and questionable choices. Manny's cousin ends up shooting and killing the officer who arrested Justyce, and racial tensions are high in the area. Justyce had tried to come to terms with the events in his life by keeping a journal in which he wrote letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, but when a tragedy occurs, even this doesn't help him. Even with his acceptance to Yale, Justyce struggles to figure out where he fits in to society and how he will be able to go forward with his life.
Strengths: My African American students sometimes want to read about life in disadvantaged, urban circumstances, but more often than not complain that they want to read about African American students like themselves-- suburban, middle class, and not involved in gangs. This is a perfect example of what they want. Justyce has experienced more prejudice than Manny, but still have a hard time understanding and dealing with it in a way that my students will understand. The two boys know all the "rules" of being young black men and try to follow them, but are still surprised by how horrible people can be. This was well written, very emotionally charged, and am important read.
Weaknesses: I wish that there hadn't been so much Young Adult content and language in this. Definitely an essential purchase for high school libraries, and a more accessible choice for a class read than The Hate U Give, which our high schools used last year, but I will pass on this title for middle school.
What I really think: How sad is it that our society has not moved beyond these sorts of situations. Again, never, ever, ever living south of the Ohio River. Yes, things like this occur occasionally in Ohio, but I hope that my students never experience anything remotely like this book!