Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday: Bo at Iditarod Creek

18490544Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Iditarod Creek
December 9th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from

In this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek, Bo, her new brother Graf, and her papas Jack and Arvid must move from their small town of Ballard Creek to Iditarod Creek, where the men have jobs in a mining operation in about 1930. The trip is long, and involves passing a ghost town and a boat with a gramophone on it! Once they arrive, the family sets up shop in a house in a town where mining sometimes dictates that houses be moved, giving the whole place a haphazard air. Bo has to explain her story to all of the new people that she meets, such as the Japanese gentlemen who run the town laundry, and the few children who are in town. She meets another boy, Renzo, whose father works at another mine, as well as Nita and her daughter, Paulie. Eventually, Bo has to be signed up for school, and the papas get an opportunity to leave the mine business and live on land that is not ruined by the mining industry, leaving room open for another sequel.
Strengths: Like the first book, this is a charming story about community and family, rich with details about life in the Alaskan wilderness. There are all kinds of diversity, from Jack, who is African-American, to various native Alaskans, to Renzo, who is Italian. The E ARC didn't show the LeUyen Pham illustrations, which I am sure are delightful.
Weaknesses: The first book is a hard, hard sell at my school, and since Bo is about 6, this would be better suited for younger readers. However, there is a lengthy discussion of why "nigger" is a bad word, several mentions of women who are "bitches", and occasional mentions of women being "good time girls", all of which seems like not a good match for the target demographic. I found the use of the term "Dago Charlie" especially offensive; growing up in a largely Italian community, I was always told that this was an offensive term, but there was no mention that this was an ethnic slur.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


18371575Bly, Scott. Smasher
March 25th 2014 by The Blue Sky Press

Charlie lives in a time well in the past, and is visited by a girl who says he needs to travel with her to the future to save the world from certain destruction. Since Charlie is having a hard time in his own world because he can hear The Hum, he agrees to go with Geneva, and soon finds himself in the middle of intrigue in 2042. The evil Grammercy Foxx, who is set to unleash a virus called The Future on an unsuspecting world. He has enlisted the help of famously vlogger Jane Virtue, who gives breathless updates about how many days there are until the release. Geneva lets Charlie in on the secret that this virus will be spread between people and turn them all into zombies, unless the two of them can stop Foxx. This, of course, isn't easy, even though both Charlie and Geneva can time travel and hack and code things on the computer. In trying to stop Foxx, Charlie learns some secrets about his own family and finds out why he is essential in putting a stop to Foxx's evil plan. With the help of a cute and intelligent dog, Callaya, he and Geneva work against the clock and evil henchmen to stop Foxx.
Strengths: For readers who liked Falkner's Brain Jack, this blend of technology and adventure will go over well. There's all kind of code, some hacking, jumping off buildings, crawling through heating ducts. The cover is a good one and definitely makes it look like an exciting book.
Weaknesses: I could not believe that Charlie was from a time 500 years in the past, and for some reason, this book didn't grab me at all. Perhaps it was all the technology... the only character I really warmed to was Callaya. The family connection seemed a bit weak, as well. Just didn't click for me.

Monday, December 29, 2014

MMGM- How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel

21991214Keating, Jess. How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel
January 6th 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from

In this sequel to How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, Ana has a few things to worry about. It's summer, and she's going to be giving presentations for her grandfather about the new shark exhibit at the zoo. That's nerve wracking enough, but she has to work with a new volunteer... the evil Sneerer Ashley. Add to this the pressue that her friend in New Zealand is putting on her to kiss a boy by the end of the summer, and that's all it takes for Ana to stress herself. She does have a new friend, Bella, who likes to cook and is fun to hang around, and things are going really well with Kevin, the boy she likes. Even Ashley is pretty nice, helping Ana buy a new bathing suit, working hard to memorize facts for the presentation, and not being as evil as she usually is. When small things start going wrong at the shark exhibit, though, Ana suspects that Ashley is up to her old tricks, and hatches a plot to bring her down.Can Ana really lower herself to the level of a Sneerer? Will she kiss Kevin? And how will the new year in 8th grade go? We can only hope for another book after this!

Strengths: I'm awarding this a Sparkly Unicorn label for having both parents alive and supportive, in addition to a grandfather who is fun and not feeble! Also, while Ana had problems, they are the ordinary type that many middle grade students actually face, and not horrific diseases or abusive circumstances, or other super depressing things! I can hand this book to any reader and not worry that I'm going to be sending them into therapy. Hooray! While as an adult I find Ana a bit extreme in her reactions, they are very true to life. I especially liked the part when the girls are shopping, and Ashley points out that sometimes the problem with fashion is not YOU, it's the clothes, and helps Ana get a bathing suit that flatters her just by getting a different size, although she also cautions that Ana should perform a "bend test" because clothes should not wear YOU. A good message. Also, it was nice that Ana realized that she was being the nasty one in the relationship. Lots of good things going on here!
Weaknesses: The first book is only available in paperback, although this one can be purchased in hard cover. That makes no sense. In my library, book one would wear out in a month. It's not even available in a prebind. This is actually a really big problem for me!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. 

I can't wait until 1 January, when the Cybils shortlists will be made public! My completely marvelous first round panelists chatted yesterday and came up with a fantastic list, but we can't say anything until the official announcement! Argh! So excited!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lunch Will Never Be the Same

20821045Hiranandani, Veera. Lunch Will Never Be the Same (Phoebe G. Green #1)
October 2nd 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap
E Book from The Ohio E Book Project

Phoebe's family isn't particularly interested in food-- their dinners consist of meatloaf, chicken, and lots of bagged salad, and Phoebe buys the school lunch-- but Phoebe is a bit disappointed in what she has when a new student arrives at her school from France. Camille's father is a pastry chef, and her lunches include crusty miniloaves of bread, goat cheese, and salads with duck in them. Phoebe really, really wants to taste what Camille has, and even has her mother invite Camille over to a (disastrous) dinner so she gets an invitation back. This puts Phoebe at odds with her best friend, Sage, whose mother's pakoras are just not exotic enough for her. Eventually, Camille invites Phoebe over, and her curiosity dies down. She makes up with Sage, and the fun continues with a whole series of books: Farm Fresh Fun, A Passport to Pastries, and Cooking Club Chaos!
Strengths: Such a relief after the depressing books I've been reading! This is for younger students (grades 2-4), but I may buy it for my struggling 6th graders anyway. We underestimate how exciting things like cooking are for tweens! The friendship drama is pitch perfect, the multicultural aspect is nicely done, and everyone's parents seem to be alive. Can't wait to read the whole series.
Weaknesses: As I said, a bit young. I would love to see a similar series for 6-8 graders, with a little romance thrown in! Although, given some of my students' insistence that all of their books have pictures, this might be perfect after all!

20821322Hiranandani, Veera. Farm Fresh Fun
October 2nd 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap

Phoebe's class is going to a farm where they will milk goats and make goat cheese, pick apples and lettuce, and make salads and applesauce. Since Phoebe has become a "foodie" after her friend Camille's family has introduced her to good food, she is really excited about this opportunity. Once at the farm, they meet Jenna, the farmer, and see Ginger the goat and her kids frolicking around, and have lots of fun gathering the food and cooking. When Sage and Phoebe take another look at the goat pen, however, they decide that Ginger and her crew look sad, and open the gate! The goats get out, and Phoebe and Sage have to make amends.
Strengths: Again, this was light hearted fun. Who doesn't want to go to the farm and make their own lunch? The format of these books is quite delightful, with bigger text and pleasant pictures, and the information about the farm-to-table movement is interesting. I think this will be a good book for some of my struggling English Language Learners who also may not have ever been to a farm.
Weaknesses: Again, a bit lower than most of my students need, and no Accelerated Reader test yet! I've been getting a lot more lower level books for students to take tests on because we have so many struggling readers. I know a lot of people hate AR, but with all of the online testing, there is some merit to having students read books and then making sure they finish the book and then understand it.

I had one student who was coming in every day and checking out three books, then returning them. It was driving me a little crazy, so I finally said "Look. Clearly these books are working for you, and we need to figure out why." He replied that he couldn't read the books. Sure enough, when we looked up his STAR level, his reading level was 2.3. I gave him two Nate the Great books and said "These are too easy for you, but see how long it takes you to read them, take the tests, and then let me know how you did." He read both in one night and passed both tests, so I sent him home with some Cam Jansen books. If students can read and finish books, their skills are improving. If it takes testing them on a book so they get points toward their language arts class grade to motivate them, so be it!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Odin's Promise

20756028Brehl, Sandy. Odin's Promise
Crispin Books (first published April 20th 2014)
Copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration.

Mari and her dog, Odin, are suffering under the German occupation of Norway during WWII.  The food is wretched, the schools are not even safe, and horrible Nazi soldiers roam the town, beating up old men and dogs. Mari's much older brother and father are working with the Resistance, and even her grandmother is trying to do her part to fight against the Nazis. Mari even tries her hand at helping a little, but when a tragedy occurs and she no longer has Odin, she realizes how horrible the war is.
Strengths: The research that went into this book is very evident, and the characters are all well drawn and sympathetic (at least the Norwegian ones!). The  Norwegian Resistance was very clever and very interesting, and there aren't a lot of books that cover it. This would be a good introduction to the topic for middle grade readers.
Weaknesses: There wasn't anything fresh in this for me. The Nazis are portrayed very briefly as sympathetic, but evil in the end, which seemed reasonable but trite. I had a good friend who fought in the Wehrmacht, and he certainly didn't agree with Hitler-- there just wasn't much else he could do without being killed himself, so I always hope that books that talk about the Nazis will address soldiers like my friend. Reducing the soldiers to stereotypes and calling them the Scarecrow and Rat is just less interesting.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Uncertain Glory

18210311Wait, Lea. Uncertain Glory.
April 4th 2014 by Islandport Press
Nominated for the Cybils award by Bob Thomas
Copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration.

Joe Wood has managed, through some luck and lots of hard work, to set up his own newspaper business in the small town of Wiscassett, Maine, in 1861. He owes money to another newspaperman, and if he can't get the money together, he may lose the business. He has help from his best friend, Charlie, whose father runs a local hotel, and from Owen, a nine-year-old African-American boy. Luckily, there are a lot of newsworthy events going on-- Fort Sumter falls, and Nell Grammercy, a young but noted medium shows up in town. Between printing broadsheets of the news and selling them, and picking up printing jobs from Nell's uncle as well as businesses involved in gathering men from the area to send off to the war, Joe is plenty busy. His father, deeply distressed after the drowning death of Joe's brother Ethan, recovers a little when Nell channels Ethan's spirit and tells the father his death was not the father's fault-- instead of then sticking around to help the mother run the general store, the father decides to enlist. When Owen goes missing, Nell is a big help in finding him, and Joe gets to know the girl a bit better, and gets to find out that she has some secrets in her life. With the war effort churning up tempers in the town, life will not soon return to the quiet pace Joe has known.
Strengths: Nice use of several historical topics, all based on people who actually lived in Maine during this time. The spiritualism movement is always fascinating, and Nell is a realistic and sympathetic character. The role of newspapers in disseminating news during this time is something that modern readers won't quite understand, and the beginnings of the Civil War are well covered, too. Much better cover than others from this press.
Weaknesses: Joe's voice seemed not quite right for a young newspaperman-- early on, he uses "figgers" and phrases like "write 'em" that seem out of character for someone enamored of the written word. Joe's family dynamic seemed a bit off, too. Still, decent story covering a little discussed period and place.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Movies

21965110Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive (Youth Adaptation)
Published November 11th 2014 by Delacorte Press

Louis Zamperini's life was certainly interesting; after a misspent youth stealing food from people's kitchens, he heeded his older brother's advice and took up running, which he did superbly even though he got off to a rocky start. He eventually ended up going to the Olympics, but when WWII started, he decided to join the Army Air Corps. He worked closely with a good group of guys, and had many successful missions, although there were a lot of losses as well. At one point, he and two airmen ended up in a raft for a very long time, resulting in the death of one of the men. Eventually, the two washed up on an island that was occupied by the Japanese, and their life of torture started. Zamperini's family was told he was dead, although they believed he was alive. He and the other men did their best to not call undue attention to themselves and to survive their incarceration, but all of the POWs lost tremendous amounts of weight and were left with physical and psychological problems. Zamperini was eventually freed and made his way home. Once there, he had a rocky time and self-medicated with alcohol, but he did manage to make a living with speaking engagements and married a woman he had only recently met (apparently, many people did this during this era!). He eventually was able to quit drinking with the help of religion, and went on to live a very full and productive life, passing away just this past summer, when the movie of his life was being made.
Strengths: The appeal of an Olympian athlete caught in the travails of WWII is undeniable. I bought a copy without reading it because I've had students asking for it since September. For readers who are obsessed with this military conflict, this is a must read.
Weaknesses: Even the youth edition is really long (292 pages) and somehow ill paced. There's a lot of time given to his childhood, but very little about what he did after the war. Zamperini seems to have been a fairly good person at the end of his life, but he certainly started out as a less than stellar example.

It seemed odd that Netgalley would have an ARC of More About Paddington, so after I read it (and ascertained that it was Paddington in all of his 1950s glory), I did some searching and found out that there is a Paddington movie coming out today. It looks delightful; Hugh Bonneville plays a rather testy Mr. Brown, but the animatronic Paddington is rather clever, and there seems to be lots of slapstick. Could probably do without Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist, but I guess today's films need a villain.

Bond, Michael. More About Paddington (#2)
February 24th 2015 by HarperCollins (first published 1959)
E ARC from

Paddington is still living with the Browns, getting into scrapes and being washed up by Mrs. Bird, the housekeeper. He tries to redecorate a room on his own, tries to take a family picture with an old fashioned box camera, and does some Christmas shopping. Along the way, he has elevenses with his friend Mr. Gruber, learns about Guy Fawkes day, and eats his fair share of orange marmalade.
Strengths: There is nothing depressing in this book. Hooray! Even though Paddington is far from home and his Aunt Lucy, he doesn't whine about it. He makes the best of his situation and, shockingly, even enjoys himself. What a relief, after all of the thoroughly depressing middle grade books I've read this year.
Weaknesses: Middle school students today will think they are too young for these stories, and they are VERY British. Perhaps the movie will gain the books a new audience, but I have a distinct feeling that the target demographic for the movies is ages about 3-10.

Have to see if I still have the smelly old Permabound copy of the first book. May not.
Paddington (2014) Poster

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday--The Year of the Fortune Cookie

18222727Chang, Andrea. The Year of the Fortune Cookie (Anna Wang #3)
May 6th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Copy received from the publisher for Cybils consideration

In this third book in the series, Anna Wang is starting sixth grade and gets the exciting news that her former teacher, Mrs. Sylvester, is going to China to adopt a baby girl, and wants Anna to come with her and her husband! Anna is excited, because she hopes to visit the orphanage where her adopted sister, Kaylee, started her life. Before she leaves, Anna and her friends sell fortune cookies and knit hats so that they can give gifts to the orphanage, and Anna starts to write a project for school about her ethnicity and how it affects her life. Being in Beijing for two weeks is an interesting experience for Anna, since she suddenly looks like everyone else, but doesn't speak Chinese very well, so confuses strangers. She befriends a young waitress at the hotel, Fan, and even visits Fan's home. The Sylvester's baby, Jing, is a much happier baby than Kaylee was, but Anna is a help to the Sylvesters. This would be a great book to read alongside Grace Lin's Dumpling Days.
Strengths: I'm a sucker for any book about travel, and this has good descriptions on what it is like to be a tourist in Bejing. Anna is very thoughtful about what culture and country mean to her; it's interesting that her mother is from China, but her father is from an American Chinese family. Lots of points for diversity, including a short description of Mrs. Sylvester, whom Anna mentions might possibly be part African-American, and one girl in her class who is from Eritrea.
Weaknesses: When I read the first two books, I thought they were too young for my students. At the time, that was true, but I have an increasing number of struggling readers who really enjoy shorter books, like the Whitby Secrets of the Manor stories and Ruth Chew's books. These books are just adorable, and quick, pleasant reads. What's wrong with that? Who among us hasn't turned to some Nora Roberts books for comfort? Think I will buy the other three in the series now, and I have in mind just the readers for them.

15814549Cheng, Andrea. The Year of the Book. (Anna Wang #1)
May 22nd 2012 by HMH Books for Young Readers

From my review in July of 2013:
Anna is experiencing a very common occurrence for fourth grade-- her best friend Laura isn't hanging out with her as much but IS hanging out with Allison and Lucy. Anna loves her family, but feels a little embarassed that they aren't like Allison and Lucy's families-- her mother, who was born in China, is just learning to drive and cleans apartments to earn money. When Laura's father becomes abusive, however, she takes comfort in staying with Anna's family for a while, and the girls reconcile a bit. Anna love to read and is very smart, so books that she enjoys are often mentioned.
Strengths: Nice, realistic book highlighting a variety of difficulties that young girls face-- nothing horrible, but some serious things. Told in a comforting way, with supportive adult characters, so that readers don't have to feel that Anna is alone. I would definitely recommend this series for elementary schools. 
Weaknesses: Many of the details make this seem too young for middle school, as do the illustrations and the small size of the books.

15814495Cheng, Andrea. The Year of the Baby. (Anna Wang #2)
May 28th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers

From my review in July of 2013:
Anna's parents decide to adopt a baby girl from China, and Anna enjoys Kaylee fairly well, and she is certainly worried when Kaylee doesn't want to eat and isn't gaining weight as expected. When she and Laura fail to find another topic for their science project, they decide to see if singing to Kaylee while she is eating distracts her enough that she eats more, and therefore gains weight. Camille, from Anna's Chinese school, also gets in on the project, and Anna tries to learn some Chinese.
Strengths: There have been a couple of excellent books about older children being adopted from China, although summer has leached all pertinent information from my brain. I can't think of another one from a child's perspective about a baby being adopted. I thought that the way Anna was concerned and helped out in a productive way was very nice.
Weaknesses: Again, too young for my purposes, but since this one was set in 5th grade, perhaps I can reexamine the books as she gets older.

Coming in April 7th, 2015:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The City of Death/ Curse of the Iris

17675466Chadda, Sarwat. The City of Death (Ash Mistry Chronicles #2)
October 29th 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Book

Ash, fresh from his adventures in The Savage Fortress, finds that the most harrowing experience of all is... trying to ask out Gemma, his crush. He and his geeky friends have trouble talking to girls, even though Ash is really a demigod, the Kali-aastra, who helps the goddess Kali kill her enemies. When the Koh-I-Noor diamond is stolen from the crown jewels, Parvati (the daughter of the demon god Ravana, whom Ash killed in the first book) asks Ash to help her find the person who stole it, hoping it will lead them to the evil Savage. Along with the tiger rakhasa Khan, the group locates the thief, Monty, but things go badly wrong and Gemma is killed. Grieving, Ash agrees to go to Kolkata with Parvati to track down Savage, and ends up staying in an English cemetery. Ash finds Ujba, who was a friend of Rishi, the man who was supposed to train Ash to use his powers. Ash knows that he needs to be trained, but doesn't trust Ujba. Eventually, Ash tracks down Savage and is ready to kill him, but then thinks that Savage might be able to help him bring back Gemma. Constantly battling the good and evil sides of his nature, Ash travels to Ravana's palace with Savage, where Savage hopes to activate the Koh-I-Noor and become young again, and Ash hopes to bring back Gemma. Parvati is there to stop them, and Savage ends up not being everything that Ash thinks he is. When Ash gets back to London, everything is wrong, leaving room for the sequel. A World of Darkness.
Strengths: Rick Riordan blurbed this, and it is certainly an excellent choice for readers who want their action and adventure coated in a rich layer of mythology. There are so many different world mythologies that it boggles my mind how reliant writers are on the British and Celtic myths. The scenes in India, and all of the different kinds of demons and creatures are quite fun.
Weaknesses: It looks like the third book hasn't been published in hard cover in the US, which is not good. The ending is a real cliff hanger, and readers will want to know how things end. Drat! The British are much more cavalier about killing main characters, and I was rather upset by Gemma's death, especially when Ash breaks into her grave to place the Koh-I-Noor gem there. Not for the squeamish.

20783262Fry, Jason. Curse of the Iris (Jupiter Pirates #2)
December 16th 2014 by HarperCollins
Sequel to Hunt for the Hydra

The Hashoone family is back, and they come across a disabled ship which they hope will have some salvage value. What they find is a 20+ years dead crew but also information that starts them on the hunt for the fabled treasure of the Iris. Tycho, Yana and Carlo are all gung ho to find this, but their parents, Diocletia and Mavry, and their part robotic grandfather, Huff, are less than enthusiastic given the bad family history involved with the ship. It turns out that Huff's grandfather was part of a collective, along with a man named Unger and assorted other pirates, who stole a treasure and then hid it, most likely on a planet that has since been abandoned. It's not easy to hunt treasure in space when Thoadbone Mox and evildoers called Ice Wolves are on the loose, but the Hashoone family tries to work together. First, they get some clues from the bank, where there are some things in a safety deposit box (of a kind), and then they decide to hunt the treasure down on the watery planet of Europa. The children gain lots of new skills, and intrigue and adventure abound. Even if they manage to get the treasure, what will be the right thing to do with it?
Strengths: This has a lot to recommend it. Even though it's got a bit of a grim air about it (Huff? Diocletia? Someone's not happy.), it's got a lot of happy things-- a family working well together, people doing the right thing even when it is difficult, and adventure that ends pretty well. I like the trend toward space adventure. Much more fun than dystopia.
Weaknesses: This was a complicated book. There were lots of characters, lots going on, and even a huge glossary of terms at the end. This makes it great for Star Wars fans who thrive on intricacies, but it triggered my fantasy amnesia. I did buy a copy, though!

Monday, December 22, 2014

MMGM- Knight-napped!

18554572Vernon, Ursula. Knight-napped! (Dragonbreath #10)
December 4th 2014 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Danny is minding his own business when a pigeon comes and repeatedly sits on his head. It takes his friends Wendell and Christina to help him figure out that the pigeon is carrying a message, and when he reads it, he finds out that his annoying little cousin Spencer has been captured by the knights at Castle Wanderpol, the inhabitants of which are distantly related to Christina. Soon, the three have secured permission to spend the night with "Christina's cousins" and are on the very good bus system to the castle in Austria! There, Christina worms her way into the castle, but Wendell and Danny are on their own, hopping into the moat from the dungeon, scaling the tower walls, and trying to rescue Spencer. Unfortunately, Spencer is supposed to be used as a test to prove the young knight's ability to fight dragons, and Danny is worried that both of their heads will wind up mounted in the library! Can they all survive? And will the bus system get them back home before they are in trouble?
Strengths: These books are always delightfully funny, hitting both the target demographic's funny bone as well as my own. Danny and his friends go about their adventures with humor and good will; quite the difference between this and the vast majority of the depressing middle grade books that have been published yesterday. Essential for elementary schools, and highly desirable for middle schools as well!
Weaknesses: Horrible paper-over-board bindings that don't hold up to library use. And while I am grateful that these are amusing books, I am quickly losing patience with 12-year-olds who will ONLY read books with pictures in them. Graphic  novels and notebook novels are fine in moderation, as is everything, but this year I have a large population of students who just flat out refuse to read "chapter books" and just reread Wimpy Kid over and over.

Any thoughts on how to gently encourage reluctant readers to take a look at other books?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wedding Belles: Ask Amy Green #6

20819646Webb, Sarah. Wedding Belles: Ask Amy Green #6
November 11th 2014 by Candlewick
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Amy returns for one final installment, which finds her mother still completely unprepared to marry Dave. Clover, Amy's aunt, has agreed to do all of the footwork for the wedding, but Amy's mother can't even manage to get her own wedding dress, and when she does, it is a disaster. Amy has problems enough of her own-- her boyfriend Seth's mother is ill with cancer that has returned, and he breaks up with Amy because he doesn't feel he has enough time to put toward their relationship. Of course, he breaks up with her right when she could use him for research most; Goss magazine wants her to write an article on "How to Kiss", which would be her first solo article! She's also trying to help out the school's cheerleading squad, since one of the members sprained an ankle, and dealing with all of the mean girls in her school, all while fearing that Clover is going to take a job in the United States. Will the wedding ever get off the ground, and give Amy a chance to get back to her regulary scheduled chaotic life?
Strengths: This is a fun series, especially since it is set in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland! It has all of the elements that my avid readers of romantic fiction like-- family problems, boy problems, and fun friends. Readers in this age group also like to think about planning weddings, so Clover's plans (as well as her wacky, fashion forward outfits) will delight them.
Weaknesses: I am not a fan of weddings, and this series seems borderline obsessed with them. There is also a fair amount of sad spread through these, and I worried about the mental health of Amy's mother. I think the woman needs some help and is not getting it!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Books for Younger Readers

20708748McDonald, Megan. Amy Namey in Ace Reporter
(Judy Moody & Friends #3)
September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Amy wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and write insightful newspaper articles. To this end, she and Judy hold an archaeological dig in their back yard, hoping to find artifacts from King Tut and go monster hunting in Frog Neck Creek. Amy writes up her articles, and her mother is so impressed that she helps Amy set up a desk in her room so that she has a good place to work on her journalistic endeavors.
Strengths: Engaging characters and fun adventures make this early chapter book a fun choice for beginning readers. The fact that it is part of a series, and that the book is illustrated in full cover, will draw readers to it. Judy's friend Stink shows up briefly, and while older readers will know  that it is unlikely that Amy would find a sea serpent in a creek or ancient Egyptian artifacts in her backyard, younger readers will be greatly amused.
Weaknesses: Still don't understand why there are so many books encouraging young readers to become journalists. Bad idea, people. Bad idea.

20708769Haas, Jessie. Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season
August 12th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Bramble is skittish going into the fall-- there are leaves whipping across her path, scarecrows in the field that look like suspicious people, and strange and sudden noises. Maggie takes a tumble from Bramble when the horse is spooked, and tries to help Bramble through her fears so that this doesn't happen again. Eventually, Bramble is able to go trick or treating dressed up as a scarecrow, with Maggie on her back as a crow. The two have lots of fun, and get lots of candy, much of which they eat while out.
Strengths: Halloween is a huge deal to readers in this age group, so it makes sense for a book in an early reader series to concentrate on this holiday. Horses are also undeniably attractive, so this is a great choice for elementary students. I remember reading books like Gus Was a Friendly Ghost and the Georgie series year round. The illustrations are attractive, and I liked that Maggie was always very responsible when it came to taking care of Bramble.
Weaknesses: I'm not used to reading books for this age level, so the books seem really short and therefore very expensive! I'm half tempted to keep this for my middle school library, since more and more of my readers struggle with longer books, but will probably send this on to an elementary school.

19346449Greenhut, Josh. Escape to California:
Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures #12
15 August 2015, HarperCollins
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Flat Stanley and his father are riding a cable car in San Francisco when Stanley sees a girl racing down a hill in a wheelchair. Feeling that she is in danger, he tries to save her, and his father grabs on as well, which results in the two of them ending up in a van and driven to a redwood forest. There, they find out that Lily has purposefully sought Stanley out because she thinks that he will understand being different and having people apply preconceived notions to what he must be like. Lily wants to try an escape from Alcatraz island to prove that someone in a wheelchair could perform this impossible trick, and she wants Stanley to help her. Her family is involved in this, as is an entire corporation in Silicon Valley, and Stanley is soon kitted out in a fabulous flying suit. The two get locked into the prison when it closes and try to make their escape.
Strengths: Flat Stanley is a perennial favorite; the original book came out in 1964, and even twenty years ago when my children were in school, there was a Flat Stanley project where we mailed copies of Stanley to friends in other parts of the world and had them send back pictures of Stanley's adventures. If this book is any indication, this new series of adventures finds Stanley kicking it up a notch and getting involved in all sorts of daredevil escapades. At the end of the book, there are some fun facts about San Francisco.
Weaknesses: I was a little uncomfortable with Stanley and his father basically being kidnapped. I'm glad that Lily wants to prove herself, but doing so by slightly illegal activities doesn't seem wise.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Guy Friday- Murphyy: Gold Rush Dog

18683525Hart, Alison. Murphy: Gold Rush Dog
October 2014 by Peachtree Publishers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Murphy is owned by the evil Carrick, who overworks the dog and doesn't feed him enough. When Carrick's group arrives in Nome, Murphy runs off and tries to survive on the beach. Eventually, he sees new people getting off a ship, and identifies a young girl, Sally, and her mother as likely candidates to take care of him. Since Sally and her mother are on their own, they soon find that having a large dog is good for their safety. The mother has a typewriter, and is planning on earning her living typing up accounts and letters for the people in Nome. She and Sally live in a tent and try to remain as respectable as they can. Sally is bound and determined not to return to her grandmother in San Francisco and hopes to find gold, but things are difficult, and her mother soon books passage back. Sally, with Murphy in tow, runs off to pan gold on her claim. Eventually, she finds a nugget and heads back to Nome, only to run into a snowstorm, as well as Carrick. Luckily, she receives help from other miners, and is saved by the appearance of her grandfather, who helps her work out the legal details of the ownership of Murphy as well as her claim.
Strengths: There is a lot of good information about the Gold Rush in Alaska in the early 1900s, including notes at the back and a small bibliography. Sally is a feisty young woman, and her determination to stay in Alaska is refreshing. The story is told from Murphy's point of view, but still includes much of what Sally is feeling. This is a good choice for readers who like adventure stories, or books like Klimo's Dog Diaries.
Weaknesses: While younger readers will think this a plausible adventure, I knew that Sally would be dead before she got more than five miles from the city, Murphy or no Murphy. In the pictures (which really don't add much to the story), she looks about ten. Still, a decent historical adventure.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Watcher

20759632Harlow, Joan Hiatt. The Watcher
November 4th 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Wendy, a character from Shadows on the Sea (2003) is taken from her home in the US by Adrie, whom she thought was her aunt but who turns out to be her mother. The two go to Germany, where Adrie has a job with the Nazi regime. Wendy, who doesn't speak German, finds it hard to adjust to her new life, but takes comfort in a "defective" German shepherd puppy she saves from being euthanized by the Nazi soldiers. She meets Barret, a blind young man, in a park near her home, and finds out that Barret's grandfather knew her biological father and promised to take care of Wendy in case she ever came back to Germany. To pass time, Wendy volunteers at a Lebensborn home, taking care of babies and young children who have been taken by their parents because they are "perfect" examples of Aryan bloodlines, even if their parents are not. There, she befriends Johanna, who is working at the same children's home as part of an attempt to reeducate her, since she has refused to denounce her religion. Eventually, Johanna comes to further grief for her beliefs, and Wendy realizes that a secret in her family's past puts her at risk, and with the help of Barret, she plans her escape from Germany.
Strengths: This is certainly a good twist on World War II and Holocaust stories. There were many Germans who thought that what Hitler was doing was right, or things would not have become as dire as they did for the Jewish population. It's easy to paint all Nazis as pure evil, but this was an interestingly  nuanced treatment of a child having to deal with a relative who was working for a side with which she herself didn't agree. Having a dog, as well as a family mystery, is a nice touch. Wendy's escape scene reminded me of the one in Number the Stars. This would be a good book to pair with that, or to use in a study unit on World War II or the Holocaust.
Weaknesses: Wendy's relationship with Adrie made this book less successful for me. The mystery surrounding her birth was rather expected. I know that Harlow wanted to pull a character from another book, but I would have liked this better if Wendy would not have been American, would have really loved Adrie, and then came to the realization that what Adrie was doing wasn't right. Something just didn't click for me personally with this one, but I think students will enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday- Nickel Bay Nick

At Kidlitcon, one of the diversities that was mentioned as being underserved was children in poverty. We are seeing more and more books that include characters that are economically disadvantaged, but this book had an entire town on the rocks. Also, I can't think of other titles where the main character has had a heart transplant.

17465440Pitchford, Dean. Nickel Bay Nick

October 17th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by Always in the Middle

Fifth grader Sam's life is hard and he's not making it any better. He lives in the economically disadvantaged town of Nickel Bay, his father's bakery may go under, his mother ran off when he was young to be a singer, and Sam himself had a heart transplant at four and is somewhat fragile. This doesn't stop him from being a complete idiot, though, hanging out with troublesome 8th graders who encourage him to shoplift and steal his father's car. He also deals with anger and disappointment at learning about his mother's remarriage by throwing roks at windows in a derelict building, and ends his evening by destroying the Christmas display at the home of wealthy neighbor Mr. Wells. It turns out that Mr.Wells worked in intelligence, and has done some investigation into Sam's long criminal record. Using this information, Mr. Wells demands that Sam help him; he's broken his leg, which has put an end to his activity as holiday philanthropist Nickel Bay Nick, who passes out $100 bills, to the delight of local and international media. Sam has a job working with Mr. Wells, ostensibly (for his father's benefit) filing papers, and does as much of the handing out of money as he can manage. There are hiccoughs, of course, but things go fairly well, and some holiday spirit is restored to Nickel Bay. Sam also finds out secrets about Mr. Wells, as well as his own family.
Strengths: There are very few Christmas stories out, and this one, centering as it does on philanthropy, has its moments. Fun, adventure, humor-- many things to recommend it.
Weaknesses: I hated Sam. He certainly improves throughout the course of the book, but he is one of the most unpleasant characters I've come across in a while. Certainly, life has not been kind to him, but he definitely makes a large part of his own problems. The ending of the book was a little too neat for my taste.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pennyroyal Academy

20821011Larson, M.L. Pennyroyal Academy
October 7th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile

A girl stumbles about in the forest, wrapped in spider webs, with just a note that she should go to Pennyroyal Academy, an institution that trains young women of royal blood to fight witches. Luckily, since there is a war on, they are taking girls even if they don't have a pedigree, so Cadet Eleven (or Evie, as her first friend decides she should be called) earns a place. She has been befriended by the handsome prince Remington, whom most of the students swoon over, but is given a hard time by another boy, Calhoun. Evie is glad to be training, but she finds out some disturbing news about her past, finding her birth mother and secrets about how she was separated from her and raised. Will this information prevent Evie from fighting in the war that is overtaking the kingdom?
Strengths: For readers who have read all of the Tamora Pierce books, this would be a good choice. The princesses are all strong and daring, and there's lots of action and adventure. Medievalish setting, a bit of romance, some mean girls, family drama.
Weaknesses: I don't know that we need more medieval fantasy books. With maps. This also had some moments of cognitive disconnect for me-- some of the chapter headings had a silhouette that looked just like Barbie, and the tailor, Rumpledshirtsleeves, was always proclaiming how fashion could harness the power of the princess and bring out her true power and self... just seemed a bit odd.

And LOOKEE!! I think I'm doing okay for this year. I have read a few short nonfiction and picture books, but the vast majority of what I read are middle grade novels!

2014 Reading Challenge
You have read 732 of 710 books
53 books ahead of schedule
View Challenge

Monday, December 15, 2014

MMGM- Biographies

18966051Marrin, Albert. Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty
November 11th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This book is more than a biography-- it concerns itself with how Paine was a part of the world around him. It talks about his life, certainly, but frames his actions within the larger picture of history, so doesn't come across as a straight biography. Well illustrated with period pictures as well as later photographs of historic places, this sheds light on how Paine came to think the things that he did, how he shared his opinions with the world, and how the world treated him because of this. Marrin clearly did his research, but I found Paine to be an unpleasant character, and as a result, couldn't really get into the book. Debating whether of not to buy this for the library; we often need books set during this time period, but I don't know if students are going to find this any more interesting than I did.

17244238Latta, Sara L. Microwave Man: Percy Spencer and his Sizzling Invention
January 1st 2014 by Enslow Elementary

This slim biography covers the interesting life of Spencer, who was born in 1894 and left school after the 5th grade. Eventually joining the Navy as a radio operator, he was able to get a job at the fledging Raytheon company in the 1920s. He distinguished himself by, among other things, finding a way to vastly speed up production of radio tubes for use by pilots in WWII. Hoping to keep Raytheon viable after the war, he turned his knowledge of radar waves to the invention of a device used for food preparation... the microwave oven. Sadly, Spencer passed away in 1970 before his invention really took off.
StrengthsThis Inventors at Work series covers some unsung heroes, including Ruth Wakefield, whose name SHOULD be immediately known to all and yet is not. I will be ordering this entire five book series. I especially liked how this had some science tie ins with brief explanations of how radio waves worked. Well illustrated and pleasantly formatted, this will be a big hit for readers who like the Abdo Food Dudes series.
Weaknesses: Some of the writing is a bit stiff; early on, the word "tot" is used, which seemed an odd choice!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

While I managed to get a lot done over the weekend, Monday  morning is off to a roaring start with all of the printers in the building not working again. Last week, I swear the 7th graders broke Google! If I were in the classroom, I would be very reluctant to plan any lesson around the computer. STAR testing?? Renaissance Place seems to be down. Web Quest? Network server on the fritz. Showing nonfiction video clip to class? LCD projector not working or teacher computer fried because of netweek server fritz. It makes the chalkboard and overhead projector seem like cutting edge technology.

But PARCC assessment on line? That will totally go through with no problems at all. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky

21511579Dallas, Sandra. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky
September 1st 2014 by Sleeping Bear Press
Copy received from the publisher for Cybils award review

Tomi and her family rent a farm from Mr. Lawrence and grow strawberries. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, her father is arrested and taken away, and the rest of her family is taken to the Tallgrass relocation camp after selling their belongings. Tomi's older brother, Roy, has a jazz band, and they continue to make music, and her younger brother, Hiro, finds other children to play with, but Tomi and her mother struggle with their new living situation. Eventually, Tomi's mother finds her purpose in improving living conditions at the camp, and in getting together a group of women to make quilts to raffle off for the war effort. Tomi makes a few friends, attends a local high school, and hopes that things will improve soon. Her father returns, but is bitter and changed.
Strengths: This had the same feel as this author's The Quilt Walk: perfectly serviceable historical fiction. Dallas must like quilting, since sewing does figure in this one as well. This had a few things to distinguish it from other novels about relocation camps-- the mother comes into her own, and there is not a dying grandparents involved.
Weaknesses: The adult novel by this author, Tallgrass, sounds more interesting. This was all too similar to the other books on this topic that I have read.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Lost Kingdom

17219052Kirby, Matthew J. The Lost Kingdom
August 27th 2013 by Scholastic Press

Billy Bartram enjoys helping out his naturalist father in this alternate late 1700s United States. When his father is asked by Ben Franklin to go on a mission in an air ship to find the lost Welsh kingdom of Madoc and ask them to help fight against the French, Billy is allowed to go as well, since his father hopes to gather specimens when they are out west. A group of various people take off, and it is soon discovered that the daughter of the mission leader, Jane, has stowed away. This ends poorly when the airship lands and is in danger of being attacked, and Jane is nowhere to be found. While she makes it back, her father does not, and Mr. Bartram becomes the mission leader. The group also has to deal with vicious bear-wolves, technical difficulties, and a variety of threats. When they finally find the Welsh settlement (after losing the airship to an attack), they are disappointed that there are not more of them, but when the French find the mission at the Welsh settlement, the groups are able to band together and use technology to defeat the enemy.
Strengths: Bonus points for Kirby for attempting an American fantasy instead of a British one with dragons. Readers who enjoyed Gratz's The League of Seven or connoisseurs of Steampunk will like this one, and I can even see readers who normally like Revolutionary or Civil War stories enjoying this.
Weaknesses: Kirby is one of those authors who rarely speak to me. Icefall does okay in my library because it has shown up on the Battle of the Books list, but this sort of fantasy book just doesn't have many readers at my school. Whenever I read a book, my first thought is "To whom would I recommend this?" I have a couple of readers who could be coerced into reading this, but when no names jump into my brain, it's hard for me to invest in the book.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Guy Friday- The Troubles of Johnny Cannon

18511077Campbell, Isaiah. The Troubles of Johnny Cannon 
October 14th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Johnny has a lot of challenges in his life in 1961 Alabama: his mother is dead, he struggles with injuries from the car crash that killed her, his father was injured in the war, and his brother is off to fight. When a shadowy man from his father's past comes to town, Johnny doesn't trust him, and when his father starts spending a lot more time with the amateur radio, ostensibly making phone calls for soldiers despite the fact that the family may lose their home to the bank, Johnny starts investigating. Add to this the fact that racial tensions are high in their community, and Johnny's budding friendship with Willie, the son of the local preacher and the woman who helps cook for Johnny and his father, draws him into the trouble. Things get really complicated when it turns out that the local barber ran a nightclub in Havana, the local wealthy man owes the barber money, Johnny's father's radio messages are frequently in Spanish, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion is making the headlines. Johnny finds himself drawn into Cuba-American affairs in ways that he never could have begun to imagine.
Strengths: There needs to be more middle grade historical fiction set during this time period, and this does a good job at explaining the events of the time and framing them in an interesting and action packed way. Johnny was a likable character, and even though this dealt with serious issues, it wasn't overly depressing. It was nice to see racially tolerant people depicted during this time period.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in the book. While it was nice to see both the Bay of Pigs situation and racial issues covered, it made the book confusing, especially since Johnny is made to play such a large role in historical events. Notes as to actual events, as opposed to the fictitious ones portrayed, would have been helpful. I am not a fan of dialect, so Johnny's speech patterns made the book harder to get through for me personally. I'm still conflicted about the use of "Tigger" to replace a more offensive term.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Ever have the kind of day when you just wish you could travel back in time? I had seventh graders visit the library yesterday, and we talked about what our library would have looked like in 1969, as background information for The Outsiders. Think about it. If you are twelve, you might read this book and think "Well, when they are jumped at the fountain, why doesn't Ponyboy just take out his cell phone and call the police?"

They don't understand the concept of phones being ONLY attached to walls.

(This is the circulation desk that was original to the building. I still miss it.)

This would have been the most technologically advanced piece of equipment in the library. No phone, no television. Certainly no computers. Overdue books must have been a nightmare. The end of the year could come and a student might have 15 things out-- hard to catch using only cards.

Ordering only through paper catalogs and the recommendations of School Library Journal and Booklist. That would have been the hardest part of not having technology, I think. Keeping up with new books that were published. Wow.

Of course, if I could dress like this every day, I would be TOTALLY happy! Of course, I would prefer it in a rust or forest green for winter, but this is clearly a spring fashion. (And my hair looks pretty much like this, anyway! Get me some big ol' glasses with purple frames to match my polyester...)

Off to an all day meeting about policy and Gale resources and Chrome Books. Any day I don't spend with students is always hard, even in the summer.

My life has little meaning if I'm not recommending books! Sad but true!

Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (#18)

20169624Van Draanen, Wendelin. Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (#18)
September 9th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Sammy heads back to the Highrise for purposes known only to her, and is chased by an unknown figure and falls three floors. She is brought to the hospital, unconscious but not too badly injured otherwise. Her friends and family are all extremely upset, and rally around her. Her grandmother and her new husband, the policeman with whom she had worked, her friends from school, her movie star mother and rock star father, and just about everyone else Sammy's life touched shows up at the hospital. The case of the nightie-napper, which Sammy was presumed to be working on, manages to get solved over at the Highrise, and Sammy's life is in danger the whole time she is in the hospital. A scruffy and shady looking orderly is hanging around, and the motion detector on Sammy's bed keeps getting turned off, but there are so many people in and out of her room that the orderly is not able to harm her. Eventually, her friends figure out who this is and why he wants to hurt Sammy, but will the plucky girl detective regain consciousness?
Strengths: This is definitely a love note by Van Draanen to a character she has been working with since 1998, the year that I started volunteering at my library! All loose ends are tied up, and a satisfying conclusion pointing out just how Sammy has affected the lives of those around her is provided. Fans will be pleased. I especially like that the covers have remained similar in design over the last 16 years.
Weaknesses: Somewhere along the line, about 2006, I lost track of Sammy, and now only the last five books are available in hardcover. I think I'll order them, but I'm not trolling to find the others. Eighteen books is a bit too long for a series, and I don't think there is a single school in my entire district that has kept up with all the books. This will bug me a little, but I know that as soon as I would get the whole series, someone would lose book #5, and I would just cry!

Honestly, I adored this author's The Running Dream SOOOOO much that I am just waiting to see what she will write that is NOT Sammy related. It will be awesome, I'm sure!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks- A Bird on Water Street

18772626Dulemba, Elizabeth O. A Bird on Water Street
May 7th 2014 by Little Pickle Pres
Nominated for the Cybils by Lynn Miller-Lachman

In the 1980s, Jack's family is dependent on the copper mines in their Appalachian town, even though they have caused the deaths of family members as well as environmental devastation. There are no trees and no birds in the town because of the acid rain caused by various processes involved, and Jack loves trees. When the mining company lays off a large number of workers, the remaining workers go on strike. With the mine shut down, the area around the town starts improving a bit, and Jack hopes that the mine never reopens. If that's the case, though, his family will have to leave, because there won't be any work for his father to do. It's bad enough that half the population of the town seems to have left to look for other jobs, which impacts remaining businesses and concerns, like the school and post office. Jack wishes that there could be some balance-- keep the town alive, but repair the environmental damage.
Strengths: There're not a lot of books written about Appalachia, and that's certainly a different kind of diversity. These areas are still struggling thirty years after this book is set. There are also not many books written about the labor issues that went on in the 1970s and 80s. Jack is an appealing character who is stuck in a conundrum, and the picture of the close knit town is interesting.
Weaknesses: There's some attempt at dialect, but it's very uneven. I'm not a fan of dialect, so I was fine with the infrequent use, but it was off when there were some phrases used. A rather philosophical book, there's not a lot of excitement, and it is definitely another sad book.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Zoo at the Edge of the World

19099499Gale, Eric Kahn. The Zoo at the Edge of the World.
August 26th 2014 by Balzer + Bray

Marlin lives with his father and older brother Tim in South American in a vaguely Victoria time period. The family (the mother is deceased) run a resort for wealthy British folk that features a zoo of exotic animals. The father, Ronan Rackham, is a noted explorer, and when he comes home from one expedition, he brings a jaguar back. The cat has eaten one of the staff, and can't be let loose since he has acquired the taste for people, so he is heavily caged. Marlin stutters terribly and is given a hard time by his brother and the staff, but he can speak perfectly well if he is alone with his pet monkey, Kenji. Once the jaguar arrives, Marlin finds that he can understand what the animals in the zoo are saying, and they can understand him! There is a wealthy family staying at the resort, and their young daughter, Olivia, befriends Marlin, and he realizes that the father is trying to buy up parts of the jungle for a sugar plantation, and that will damage the resort, which is already having financial trouble. When even more disturbing details emerge about the future of the zoo, how will Marlin safeguard the animals as well as himself?
Strengths: This is a decent reality based fantasy with a good dose of action and adventure. The book is a great length, and describes life in the jungle during this period of history well. Marlin's stuttering is dealt with sensitively, although his treatment by his brother and the staff is appalling.
Weaknesses: Got this at a book look, and it strikes me as one of those perfectly nice books that students will not frequently pick up. I don't know if it's the cover, the title, or what, but over the years I've gotten a fair number of books, mainly fantasies, at these book looks that just fall flat. (Jones' Enchanted Glass, Bracegirdle's Fiendish Deeds) We'll see.

Monday, December 08, 2014

MMGM- The Black Stars

Krokos, Dan. The Black Stars
October 14th 2014 by Starscape
Copy received from publisher.

After The Planet Thieves, Mason is off at school, getting into trouble with the evil Marcus, when he is summoned by Grand Admiral Shahbazian and told that he is being sent to Rhadgast school on Skars to try to find out if they are up to something. His friend Tom goes with him, and the first person they meet is Merrin, so Mason feels a bit relieved. Merrin is spending most of her time working for the Coalition for Life, so Mason and Tom get thrown right into life at school. They gets implants so they can speak the language, and befriend Po, who shows them around. The teachers are a little reluctant to train them, but the boys actually fare better than they were at human school! That is, until students start disappearing. Of course, the boys are suspect, but Mason has been honest with his teacher, Reckful, and told him that he is there to spy, as well as to learn about the fate of his parents. He's particularly successful with the last bit... his mother is not dead, but is working at the school because she is trying to find an antidote to Tremist venom. The Rhadgast's have better technology, and the mission is important to her because Mason's father has been turned by the Tremists, and with the school under attack, finding a cure is even more crucial. Mason is also on a quest to find Anamore's gloves, which are like the ones he was given in the first book but much more powerful. He alone is able to make it through the interview with a virtual Anamore, and is awarded the gloves.Will the antidote to Tremist poison be found in time? Or will the Tremists manage to make Earth collide with Skars? Most importantly, will Mason be able to harness the powers at his disposal in the next book, since a treaty will be broken?
Strengths: Extra bonus points for bringing a middle grade parent back from the dead and giving us hope that Mason't father can be saved as well! While the Tremists are a threat, Mason seems to have things well enough in hand that I don't find the story depressing. I like the trend toward space adventure science fiction rather than Dystopian science fiction. The first book is never on the shelf, so I am glad to have this one.
Weaknesses: If the plot with Marcus being a stupid bully would have continued, I would have been irritated. How sad is it that the Rhadgasts gave Mason fewer problems? I was also a little put off by Mason's misbehavior-- if you can save the world, you can learn how to behave and not get in trouble. What? That's a teacher perspective rather than one from the target demographic? Probably!

Mr. Krokos' publicist offered to have him answer questions, but I have gone completely blank. Anyone have anything they would like to ask?

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Boy Problem

18527503Kinard, Kami. The Boy Problem.
April 29th 2014 by Scholastic Press

Tabbi is back (after The Boy Project), trying to use mathematical formulae and the process of elimination to determine which boy in her grade she should date. Her single mother is not helping, not letting her hang out at the skate park with Malcolm when Tabbi is ill, and embarrassingly flirting with one of Tabbi's teachers! When her class has a project on probability, Tabbi ends up working with the perky Priyanka, whose life seems to revolve around cupcakes. After a bad storm destroys Tabbi's cousin's school, the girls decide to bake cupcakes to try to raise money. They fill out all the school paperwork (this is a real thing!), but end up going head-to-head with the evil "Maybelline" who runs another cupcake fund raisers to get money for uniforms AND stocks other people's boyfriends! When new boy Andres shows up at school, Tabbi thinks that he is cute and might be a good choice to date, and tries to win his heart with gluten free cupcakes. There are a few problems with Tabbi's best friend Kara, and some social embarrassment (a huge zit, a funny video that gets posted on Faceplace, but nothing too dire.
Strengths: A lot of girls ask for books in diary form, and this works well. The doodles and math problems add a different spin. While the mean girls aren't nice, they aren't super mean, and Tabbi handles them well. There's even a little bit of cultural diversity with Pri's family.
Weaknesses: I found the math problems and graphs, etc. a little annoying, but then it occurred to me that it's probably a good example for middle school girls to show a girl who is interested in math AND boys. Again, as an adult it's hard to imagine anyone spending that much time thinking about boys... until I read my diary from that time period and want to set fire to it. Hard to complain when a book is too close to reality!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood

18405492Hale, Nathan. Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood
(Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4)
May 13th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams (Amulet)

In this small format paper-over-board book, World War I gets a graphic novel treatment, narrated by Revolutionary war spy Nathan Hale (which is also the author's name, to be confusing) and the hangman and the provost. The snarky trio decide to depict all the players in the war as animals (Bulldog for the UK, eagle for Germany, a bunny for the US, since the eagle is already used), and describes the events that lead to the war, and then covers the majors developments year by year. Done in shades of reddish brown, there is a lot of information packed into a small book.
Strengths: Since I have a growing number of readers who will ONLY pick up graphic novel type books, this might be the only way I can get students to do research in five years. The information is quite complete, even if I struggled with the crowded pages and tiny font. I should probably buy the entire series.
Weaknesses: I picked this up at a book look, and after I read it, I noticed that the pages were not glued to the jacket along the spine at all. This does not bode well for the life of the book once actual students touch it. I will apply liberal amounts of glue to the cover and hope for the best, and also reinforce the spine and corners with tape. Judging from the poor state of Stickman Odyssey in my library after just three years, I don't think this title will have a lot of longevity.

This is part of why I am increasingly reluctant to buy graphic novels. I worry that students do no actually read the words, AND most of my collection is more glue and tape than paper.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Guy Friday- Squeeze Play

18170250Cowherd, Kevin and Ripken, Cal. Squeeze Play
March 4th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration

Corey Maduro is anxious when his team gets to go to a Grand Slam Tournament. His playing is off, he's getting grief from one of the better players on his team, and his father can't behave himself at the games. Corey's mother helped keep his dad under control, but since this is a middle grade novel, she has passed away from cancer. Corey does better than he thinks he will in the Home Run Derby, even though he doesn't win, and is having fun with his teammates at the cool park that recreates famous baseball fields, but he lives in dread. Sure enough, at a pivotal moment, his father goes absolutely ballistic and is taken from the game by police officers. The coach has it all on videotape, and stages an intervention, and for the rest of the time, Corey's dad is able to keep his temper in check. Katelynn, the better player, continues to give him a hard time for most of the book, but the two come to an understanding.
Strengths: Corey is an appealing character, and the tournament sounds like it would be fun. Katelynn is an interesting character, and is handled well. Her mild abuse of Corey has an interesting twist, and I loved that Corey never stoops to disliking her because she is a girl-- it's mentioned briefly, but she is a really good player and the team knows it. I don't know how I missed this one, but I have Out at Home, which features the coach's son from this book, on my radar for March.
Weaknesses: These are always good, solid titles, but there are some things that would make them great. The covers have a 1980s feel to them, and it would help to add more humor and fewer problems.

21417702Clark, R.M. The Secret at Haney Field
September 16th 2014 by MB Publishing
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher; copy provided for review.

Description from
"Twelve-year-old April O'Day's summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown's minor league team, she's fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she's becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend - and fellow baseball enthusiast - Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it's a whole new ball game."

For that small intersection of readers who like ghosts with their baseball. Not bad, but I had to move it to the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category. Take a look if you have students interested in the Negro Leagues.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

What have I been saying? Listen up, people!

Thanks to the ever wonderful Jen Robinson for sharing this on her blog yesterday, from Scholastic:


Or, in my words, UNICORNS POOPING RAINBOWS! Anything, anything but the six books full of gloom and doom that I read last night. Even Mike Lupica succumbed to the terrible plague of having a tween boy spend an entire book grieving for his deceased brother. Humor? No, it's not.

Here was the buttload of depression from last night:
  • a boy grieving for his brother
  • a boy with horrific bad luck who is struck by lightning
  • a boy whose father is an injured and unemployed illegal immigrant AND his sister has cancer
  • a family whose parents sell everything and make them live in a van because they believe a religious fanatic that the world will end
  • an almost 600 page long fantasy book that... I don't even know. 
The one small, redeeming light was Veera Hiranandani's Lunch Will Never Be the Same, which was fun and delightful. I gave it five stars because ALL THE PARENTS WERE ALIVE.

Will Scholastic's offerings reflect their findings? Although this study is right, I'm rather disappointed in the small number of people they surveyed!

The Lovegrove Legacy

16059442Harvey, Alyxandra. A Breath of Frost.
January 2nd 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

In 1814 London, Emma isn't thrilled about "coming out", but at least she has her cousins Gretchen and Penelope to keep her company. When their first ball ends in a fire and the death of a girl, the three learn secrets about their family. Emma is a witch, and the scent bottle from her mother (who is kept at the country home because she is mad) which has gotten broken has released the Graymalkin sisters and opened a gate to the Underworld! Cormac, a Keeper with the Order of the Iron Nail, is assigned to watch Emma and keep her safe... and the rest of the world safe from her! Eventually, Emma is enrolled in Rowanstone Academy, a school to train young witches to fight that is masquerading as a finishing school. When Emma sprouts antlers, she learns even more secrets about her mother, her father, and her connection to the Graymalkin sisters, and works with Cormac and her cousins to try to figure out why so many young witches in London are being murdered.
Strengths: I liked Emma, Gretchen, and Penelope, and thought the romance with Cormac was a nice touch. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, since there are some nice twists, but this was a good paranormal story from Harvey, whose Hearts at Stake series and Haunting Violet do very well at my school. Pretty covers, too!
Weaknesses: Very long and rather convoluted. There was a lot of action that seemed to slow down the plot rather than advance it.

20613807Harvey, Alyxandra. Whisper the Dead
October 7th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

This book focuses more on Gretchen and her Keeper, Tobias, and includes more information about Moira, a Madcap witch who lives on the streets and frequents the Goblin Market. Gretchen is very concerned about her twin brother, Godric, who deals with the fact that he can see ghosts by drinking too much. It doesn't help that it's hard enough for her to deal with being a Whisperer-- she can hear the voices of those who went before, and hear the spells that they cast, which helps her to formulate spells of her own. While the Graymalkin sisters have been bottled and the door to the underworld has been closed, there are indication that there are forces of evil leaking through. The person responsible for the murders in the previous book (and I don't want to ruin that!) is loose, and the graves of those girls are being robbed. Penelope is courted by Lord Lucius, who turns out to be more evil than she could suspect, and Gretch finds out some interesting information about Tobias' family, and it's a good thing she's okay with it, since the two have a romance going on. Before long, the Order has bound Emma's magic, which is not a good idea because the Graymalkin sisters are not going to stay bound for long!
Strengths: I liked that this book switched its focus to Gretchen, so we could see things from her perspective and investigate her own magical qualities. The romance with Tobias is a bit different as well, and I imagine the third book (whose title I can't find yet) will concern itself more with Penelope.
Weaknesses: Again, a lot going on, and a little hard to follow, no doubt because this is more Young Adult and I spend most of my time reading sports books meant for ten year old boys!