Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kaitlyn and the Competition (The Babysitting Chronicles #1)

26336810Green, D.L. Kaitlyn and the Competition (The Babysitting Chronicles #1)
February 1st 2016 by Stone Arch Books 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Kaitlyn Perez has a nice babysitting business going, with a few loyal customers. While her family is well off, her parents work with disadvantaged children, so are not going to buy Kaitlyn or her sister some of the fancier clothes, room decor, or cellphones that they might want, so both girls work. Kaitlyn is a very organized and responsible babysitter who brings educational games and books on jobs with her, and who makes sure that the children are in bed on time and the house is clean. When she loses jobs to a new sitter named "Doc" who lets his charges eat candy and play tag in the house, she sets out to investigate which of her classmates this might be. Along the way, there is some middle school drama, with her friend Piper trying to talk Kaitlyn into buying an expensive dress and losing Kaitlyn's cell phone, as well as drama with a boy asking Kaitlyn to a school dance. When Kaitlyn locates the "competition", she realizes it is a boy who needs money because his parents' restaurant has gone out of business, and she works with him to form a business that can employ not only the two sitters but also Piper and Kaitlyn's sister as well. 

Strengths: I liked the tips offered at the beginning of the chapters, and I liked the positive role model of Kaitlyn wanting to earn money for fripperies that her parents wouldn't buy. The friend drama and other issues all ring very true to life. I liked the inclusion of Spanish words and phrases as well as the present and supportive parents.

Weaknesses: Since Capstone sells mainly to the school and public library markets, the only two options for buying this currently are a $20 hard cover or a $6 paperback. For a book of this length (about 150 pages), $20 is a lot. 

What I really think: Capstone books are fantastic for my struggling middle school readers, so I will definitely look into this series, but may wait to see if a prebind becomes available. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Study Hall of Justice

25786965Fridolfs, Derek and Nguyen, Dustin (Illustrations)
Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) 
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
EARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this graphic novel, young Bruce Wayne is being sent to a new private school, Ducald (in my copy, Doomvale in the Goodreads description) Academy. He is surprised to see that bad behavior is encouraged, and that the teachers all seem fairly evil as well. He is bedeviled by students like Joe Kerr and the other class clowns, but does make an uneasy friendship with farm boy Clark, who wants to be a reporter, and foreign exchange student Diana. The three try to investigate various happenings and unearth secrets about their school. 

Strengths: This was fairly clever, well-plotted and a quick read. I especially liked the inclusion of Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler. 

Weaknesses: The bullying was boring and stereotypical. The E ARC was somewhat hard to follow because the pictures weren't complete-- I'd like to see a finished copy. 

What I really think: This is one I'll definitely have to buy. Be interested to see in what direction the series is going. This is a little too coy about the identities of the three main superheroes, which is weird, since it's so obvious who they are. 

Wonder Woman: Amazon Warrior (Backstories)

Wonder Woman: Amazon Warrior

February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I've looked at this series, and in theory it sounds great-- comic book characters, pictures, etc. One of the few super hero comics I had as a child featured Wonder Woman. 

Probably won't buy this series, though. Why? It was boring! The information seemed to be repeated, the timeline didn't move forward in a way that made sense, there weren't that many pictures, and it didn't make me excited to read about Wonder Woman's further adventures. The covers are fantastic, but the content left a lot to be desired!

"Who is Wonder Woman? How did she become a powerful Super Hero? What abilities does she use to fight for what is right? In this biography--complete with black-and-white illustrations, timelines, and character profiles--young readers will delight in learning the complete history of the awesome Amazon princess."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Guy Friday--This Way Home

24822646Moore, Wes with Shawn Goodman. This Way Home
November 10th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Elijah is good at basketball, and hopes that it will be his ticket to a college scholarship so he can escape his rough Baltimore neighborhood. When he and his friends form a team to play in a big tournament, he is a bit worried when his friend Michael finds a "sponsor" for them who provides expensive shoes and clothes, but he has other things to worry about. His mother has arranged for him to help Mr. Banks, an ex-military man, fix up his house. Banks is a hard task master, but Elijah is not one to give up. He breaks up chunks of concrete, moves dirt, and always shows up on time for work. He forges an unsteady friendship with Banks, who also can handle the gang members in the neighborhood. It doesn't hurt that Banks' daughter is smart, attractive, and interested in Elijah. When Elijah's mother tells the team that they have to ditch the gang sponsorship, the boys do... and tragedy ensues. Can Elijah manage to hold on to his dreams of basketball and escaping his neighborhood?
Strengths: Students will adore this. Basketball, gangs, all sorts of things they like to read about (The 7th grade just finished The Outsiders, so they all want books about gangs now!). I liked that it had supportive parents and community and a good message. Also, I hope that readers who enjoy this will pick up The Other Wes Moore.
Weaknesses: Sad to think that gangs really do exist and that they are a problem. The cover isn't great. I wish the basketball were more clearly visible. 

What I really think: Glad to add this to my collection of sports books. Don't know how I missed it at first. 

25582717Johnson, Varian. To Catch a Cheat
January 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jackson and his friends are caught on video flooding the school bathrooms-- only they didn't do it! Gaby and Jackson have an alibi that will get them in even worse trouble, so when Rob and Thom offer them a deal-- the video destroyed if they can get a copy of the history exam--they embark on an elaborate scheme to get the test, even though they do not want to cheat themselves. There are all sorts of grudges, kids with mad tech skills, misguided but well meaning security guards and principals and even a little kissing as Jackson and his Gang Green try to stay out of trouble while implicating the students who are actually trying to cheat. 

Strengths: When Jackson is not convincing someone to hack into a system, he's an interesting kid. His relationship with Gaby is sweet and age appropriate, and it's especially interesting since he is friends with her brother. I also liked that she was on the girls' basketball team and had to miss some of the sneaking around because she had games. 

Weaknesses: This was even more unbelievable than The Great Green Heist for me. Since I am our building tech person, if something went this wrong with the video surveillance system, I'd be brought in on it, and I have never met a student who is this tech savvy. I could excuse the breach with reality, but there are so many details about exactly what the crew needs to do with the tech that the story got a bit slow. If there is another book, I'd like to see more of a focus on Jackson's middle school life and less about scams. 

What I really think: Will buy a copy, since I have three of the first book and they circulate well. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Will to Survive

21897654Walters, Eric. Will to Survive (Rule of 3 #3)
January 19th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from

In Fight for Power, Adam was forced to kill two guards, although Brett, who was representing the evil Division, got away. Although he knows he had no choice, he feels terrible about how easy it was to kill the two men. It doesn't help that Brett is still out there, terrorizing the surrounding communities. It's been five months since the blackout, and Adam's father has finally made it back home, but the suburban enclave where Adam lives is strengthening its reserves to make it through the winter. They've found another farmer, as well as a quantity of potatoes, but need to make contact with the settlement at the gas refinery to arrange a trade and add more people to their side. After a side trip in the plane, Adam and Lori meet an ex military man who has a community on an island, and they are also willing to connect with Adam's group. Herb is behind most of these plans, but when Brett comes back and wants revenge, even the best laid plans might not be enough to keep the community safe.

Strengths: The first two books in this series are wildly popular, and this one will not disappoint. Adam has all sorts of skills and is in a leadership position, he has a girl friend, and he has very human struggles on top of everything. So much goodness, in a very disturbing way. Makes me remember that even though I "didn't read" science fiction in middle school, I loved Z for Zachariah (1974) and The Girl Who Owned the City (1975) as well as the tv movie Where Have All the People Gone? (1974)

Weaknesses: Lacked focus of purpose a bit, and needed a map. I NEVER say that I want books to have a map, but one would have been helpful here. 

What I really think: I'm sad that there doesn't seem to be a book four. And I really need to stock up on more peanut butter!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

WNDB- The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof

My daughter claims that I am always ahead of the trend curve, and she may be right. While the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement started in May of 2013, I was on it in January of that year with World Wednesday. Charlotte's Library was touting culturally diverse fantasy books even before then!

So I'm tickled that today is Multicultural Children's Book Day. Here is some information from Susan Raab Associates:

January 27th is Multicultural Children's Book Day. We're working with the founders of Multicultural Children's Book Day, who have in the past few years, mounted an incredibly successful initiative -- 26 million impressions last year after a 2014 launch -- to get more multicultural books into schools and to the attention of parents and kids.

I believe we're at a moment where teaching our kids about people unlike themselves is more critical than ever.  MCBD uses a social media marketing model in conjunction with bloggers that puts these books in front of many millions of people.

Here's how media gets involved:
And, new this year, anyone who'd like to give a shout out about their favorite two multicultural books can do so, and MCBD will do a blog post with the authors/books naming the gift-giver:

Teachers can get free books:
and everyone can discover diversity books about many cultures:

It's still hard to find diverse books. This was the review I had scheduled for today-- somehow missed the boat on having a diverse book sent to me. It's been that kind of winter. But, hey! Dutch author!

Schmidt, Annie. M. The Cat Who Came in off the Roof
January 19th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 
(first published 1970 in Dutch)
Copy provided by publisher

Mr. Tibble is an ineffectual news reporter who has a tendency to write boring things and is in danger of losing his job. After he saves a red headed woman from a tree (where she has climbed because a dog frightened her), he is surprised that she shows up on his roof! Minou is wet and cold, and only wants to sleep in a box in Tibble's apartment and claims to be a cat! Having eaten something from the garbage of a scientific institute next door to her home seems to have changed Minou from a cat to a very cat-like human! Landlady Mrs. Van Dam is a bit suspicious, but soon Minou is helping Tibble with his articles. He needs something really exciting, and when Minou and her cat network uncover secrets about a local personality's treatment of animals, he knows that he has the article that will save him. With the help of a neighbor girl, Bibi, the local cats, and the irrepressible Minou, Tibble finds a new purpose in life, and Minou finds a new life altogether. 

I had never heard of Annie M. Schmidt, so it is interesting to see that such a prominent, and yet unknown, Dutch author's works have made their way to the US. It would be very interesting to see other international books, especially from South American and African countries. This is definitely a fantasy book, but with many interesting details about life in a Dutch town. 

Since this was originally published in 1970, the style is somewhat different from middle grade literature today, but the updated cover is very attractive.  Elementary school readers who are fond of cats, or older animal tales like Sharp's The Rescuers, will enjoy this classic story, as will adults who are searching for international literature.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Criminal Destiny (Masterminds 2.0)

25741007Korman, Gordon. Criminal Destiny (Masterminds 2.0)
Expected publication: February 2nd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Eli, Tori, Amber and Malik have managed to escape from their "perfect" town of Serenity after uncovering information about Project Osiris. They head for their friend Robbie's boarding school, where they regroup and learn a little about the outside world. They also find out that the security forces from Serenity, the Purples, are on their tails. Thinking they will be safer in a big city, they head to Denver, where Amber tries to go to the police. This just alerts the Purples, so the others must free her. After spending a night in the home of people away on vacation, the group heads to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to try to locate the woman behind the project, Tamara Dunleavy, who has become a well known philanthropist. When they finally locate her, however, she wants nothing to do with them, although she does leave her Bentley and some large wads of cash for them to use. Not knowing quite where to turn, the group returns to Serenity and find it deserted. They do some more research and decide that the best course of action is to locate one of the criminals from whom they are cloned and get help from him. A prison break ensues, and the group readies itself for book number three. 

Like Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers or The 39 Clues Books, the big draw of this series is the travel and danger. There are lots of car chases, hotwiring, jumping from buildings into garbage, and a particularly harrowing incident involving a wood chipper. The fact that the group is being chased allows them the freedom to drive vehicles, eat junk food, and generally be free of adult intervention as long as they can elude it. Middle grade fantasy at its finest!

The characters all develop a bit more now that they are free of the constraits of their programmed culture. Malik seems to embrace his criminal destiny a little more than the others, and Amber and Tori seem determined to fight against it. All four miss the people they thought of as their parents, but also feel that Project Osiris was essentially wrong, and that their parents should pay for their involvement in it. 

Korman, as always, writes a funny, engaging tale of tween empowerment that is sure to be a winner for just about anyone who likes a good cross country frolic presented with a large does of humor. 

The adult in me wanted more of a plan-- the traveling about seemed a bit random and unfocused, and the decision to consult one of the criminal "parents" unwise, but this will not bother the target demographic!

25582867Nielsen, Jennifer A. Rise of the Wolf (Mark of the Thief #2)
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This sequel to Mark of the Thief finds Nic involved in chariot racing as a way to escape the demands of the Praetors, but when they demand the key to the Malice so that he can create a Jupiter Stone for them and allow them to fight against the gods, Nic knows that he has to work with Crispus, his sister Livia, and the love of his life Aurelia to keep Rome safe. Given the lack of books set in ancient Rome, and the interest that middle grade readers have in it, this is a good addition to any middle school library. 

Okay, admittedly, I had a bad case of fantasy amnesia with this one. I read it, I really did, but there was a lot of overwrought back-and-forth that went something like this:
 "Give us the key to the Malice, Nic!"
 "But I don't know where it is, you mean Praetors!"
 "Yes, you do! Give it to us!"
"No, I don't! And I don't know how the bulla works, either."
"Yes, you do!"
"No, I don't!"
(Nic, to himself)"I want to keep my mother, my sister, and Aurelia safe, so even though I don't have the key, I'd better find it. Oh, look! I have my very own unicorn! And I can do magic!"

As in Nielsen's previous books, Nic gets hurt a lot, doesn't know whom to trust, and isn't quite sure what he's doing. I lost track of why he was racing chariots, especially since I was pretty sure he was too young to do so. At 352 pages, this was on the long side, although it is certainly doable for students who like fantasy. It could have been shorter if Nic just sucked it up and didn't manage to get caught by the Praetors so many times. And I know he doesn't like Radulf, even though he's his grandfather, but tying yourself to the chariot is pretty stupid if your enemies are going to try to have you thrown out of the chariot. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

MMGM- Sit, Stay, Love

My friends on the east coast were swamped with snow, and while I am very glad I don't have to fight snow drifts on my way to work for the next month, part of me wishes we had gotten epic precipitation that gave us a day off. That's winter for you. It makes me obsess about things like the fact that I am losing rather than gaining followers!

The gray skies get to us, the relentless cold makes it hard to get out of bed, and realizing that I will spend the next month planning my lesson for my next evaluation even though I could tell students how to find resources on culture in the 1960s in my sleep makes me want to hop on a plane to somewhere warm and tropical. Instead, I keep putting on a different wool skirt and jacket every day, biking in wearing 18 layers of outerwear, and trying to encourage children who would rather play Angry Birds on their phone than read that there are good books in the library. 

So! It's a good time for an evil plan, right?

It's the SEVENTH ANNUAL GUYS READ PINK MONTH! Hard to believe, but it's been that long. I've started to encourage boys already to pick up books with girls on the cover. My 6th graders were involved in my Shannon Hale project, so they are very egalitarian in their reading choices. Considering that this is STILL an issue, (Read Tamsyn Murray's account, Unsuitable for Boys, which shows that the same nonsense goes on in the UK). More information next week, and possibly a celebrity spokesperson, so stay tuned. 

Hang in there. Next week is Groundhog's Day. Maybe Punxsutawney Pete  Phil can be bought. (And it used to be Pete. I thought I was hallucinating. There was also Morton the Mighty Marmot of Mill Creek Park. Very scant evidence of either, except for this 1981 article from the Toledo Blade. )

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. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

25786942Howard, J.J. Sit, Stay, Love
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Cecelia is having a hard time-- her mother has left her and her father, and her father is struggling with a career change. He was a P.E. teacher, but after years in school has become a lawyer... but he takes cases that aren't terribly remunerative. When a fire damages the family home, Cecelia and her father has to move in with an aunt who does not care for pets. Cecelia spends a lot of time at the local animal shelter, helping out, and has recently found a pug with whom she has an instant connection. She knows she won't be able to adopt Potato herself, but she's not happy when the wealthy jock Eric Chung and his family do. Eric wants to prove to his very driven parents that a rescue dog can do well in a dog show, but Potato has bonded so closely with Cecelia that Eric has to ask for her help. Eric's sister becomes good friends with Cecelia, which helps both of their social lives, and Cecelia starts to realize that she really enjoys hanging out with Eric, even when they don't need to train Potato. 

Strengths: This had so many good qualities! It showed a girl with realistic problems (housing insecure, struggling father) who is still trying to do good things in her community. It has a multicultural element as well. There is some friend drama, and most importantly, there is a light romance between characters who have shared interests and a mutual respect and friendship. Plus the cover is adorable. Love, love. love this!

Weaknesses: Boo, Scholastic! Paperback only! Plus, I would have liked this more if the mother hadn't run off. It would have made it more realistic, I think. 

What I really think: This needs to be in hardback, and I need a LOT more books like this!

Ashman, Linda. Henry Wants More
Illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes 
January 26th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers Copy provided by the publisher

Henry is a high energy toddler who wants to participate in all manner of activities with his family. By the end of the day, everyone is tired and glad when Henry falls asleep. 

This is definitely a picture book for younger children, but I mention it here because it is one of the few instances I've seen (and admittedly, I don't read a ton of picture books) where the family includes an African-American mother, a fair-skinned, red-headed father, three children with complexions slightly lighter than the mother's, and no mention about race at all in the text. This is exactly what the We Need Diverse Books movement has been waiting for-- books about diverse characters that are not about diversity. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 (I Survived #13)Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937
February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there

Hugo and his family have booked passage on the Hindenburg because his younger sister, Gertie, needs to get back to the United States after the family has spent time living in Africa and she has contracted a case of malaria that won't go away. It's an exciting and luxurious voyage, and much quicker than taking a ship. There's also some intrigue: the Nazis are starting to make their presence felt in Germany, and Hugo strongly suspects that some of the passengers may be either Nazis or spies! He makes friends with the daughter of the ship's captain, and gets to explore many hidden places in the ship. Gertie takes a turn for the worse, which makes the family very anxious. Of course, the big disaster occurs when the zeppelin is about to land but catches fire. Will Hugo, Gertie, their parents, and their dog manage to survive this spectacularly deadly tragedy from the early days of commercial flight?

While is is often difficult to get young readers to pick up historical fiction, the I Survived are packed with so much adventure in relatively few pages that even the most reluctant readers will pick them up. That is a great thing, because the books also have a wealth of historical details for students to learn. 

Hugo's adventure on the airship before it crashed is also interesting. Who knew that retrieving the family dog from the cargo area would lead him to uncover an evil Nazi colonel or a spy who was in danger? This might have taken some liberties with actual history, but certainly added interest to the book. 

For readers who are interested in World War II, early commercial flight, or just an adventure that keeps readers on the edge of their seats, this latest installment in the I Survived series will not disappoint. 

My favorite thing about YouTube is that there is so much historical footage there. Here is the British Pathe newsreel covering the disaster:

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Comics Squad- Lunch!

25489034Matthew Holm, Jennifer L. Holm, Cece Bell, Jeffrey Brown, et al. Comics Squad #2: Lunch! 
January 26th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher

Like Comics Squad: Recess, this is a collection of short stories, comics style, all arranged on the theme of lunch. Of course, Krosoczka's lunch ladies are featured, but there is also a new Peanuts cartoon with Snoopy working in the lunch room, an interesting and informative Jeff Brown cartoon about food in prehistoric times, a Jason Shiga choose-your-own-adventure style cartoon, and a Nathan Hale WWII story set on a destroyer. All are short and funny, and rendered in two color illustrations. I very much enjoyed Cece Bell's story of a girl who is very regulated in her choice of eating the exact same lunch every day. The girl then purchases a candy bar from a boy on whom she has a crush, but the bar has peanuts, and she's allergic. The only thing that gave me pause was that most students whom I have known either throw up or go into anaphylactic shock. I'd not heard of people hallucinating, but perhaps this happens in some cases. Peanut allergies are a huge concern, and are an issue that is not much addressed in middle grade literature, but really should be. 

This will be tremendously popular with middle grade readers, and should serve as a good introduction to some new authors for students. My library's copy of Comics Squad: Recess is always checked out. 

25205299Pilkey, Dav and Dantant, Dan. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot and the Naughty Nightcrawlers from Neptune (#8)
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ricky and his robot are trying to build a giant tree house, but soon find that it might crash down around their ears. It turns out that they have irritated their neighbor with the noise, and the neighbor has foolishly made a pact with alien night crawlers to just did under his land just a little. Of course, we all know that you never cede any land to space aliens, lest they take over, and this is just what has happened. Ricky and his friends have to gather all of their resources and find a way to send the evil alien night crawlers back to Neptune. Includes pivotal scenes in flip-o-rama, which don't work well in an e book!
Strengths: I hadn't read any of this series before, and what struck me most is that it is like a middle grade novel length "I Can Read Book". This in itself is pretty brilliant for my struggling readers. There are lots of pictures, but it's not confusing like graphic novels tend to be, and it has funny, slapstick sort of scenes with night crawlers receiving the brunt of violence. Easier to follow than Captain Underpants, and the Santant illustrations are appealing.
Weaknesses: Violence to night crawlers, nonsensical alien takeover plots, general goofiness that adults don't appreciate. 

What I really think: I've been a bit disconcerted about the sexism in Pilkey's work, and wish that he would address it at some point. Do we need to edit early Captain Underpants books? I've always been okay with the slapstick violence, the underpants, and the bodily function jokes, but the sexism? Ricky has a cousin Lucy that wants to turn the treehouse into a princess castle. Really? Sigh. Disappointed. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Guy Friday- Belle Payton

I have decided that for Boys Read Pink month in February, I am going to recommend the heck out of this series. It's about football! I don't care if it has girls on the covers! Great stuff for any reluctant readers, plus a little age-appropriate relationship advice. Love!

Payton, Belle. A Lot to Tackle (It Takes Two #9)
September 15th 2015 by Simon Spotlight

The high school team that Ava and Alex's dad coaches is going to the state championship, and their brother Tommy might get a chance to play in it. Both girls are worried, however, that if the team doesn't win, their dad will be out of a job and they will have to leave. To avoid that possibility, the girls try to set their pottery making mother up for a job at a local private school. Ava's middle school football team is doing okay, but she is still struggling to be accepted by the guys, especially when she doesn't make a winning kick. 
Strengths: This is a great series that showcases a strong family with supportive parents, football, twins, and realistic difficulties in school. Each volume is short and easy to get through, so some of my struggling readers love these. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot going on, and the girls always try to do things that are a little unrealistic-- get their mom a job, save the day, etc. 
What I really think: I enjoy these waaaay more than I should!

24885657Payton, Belle. 'Tis the Off Season (It Takes Two #10)
November 17th 2015 by Simon Spotlight

Football season is over, so the girls are trying to focus on other interests, but Ava's parents tell her she can't be on the basketball team because she is struggling with grades. Alex also overbooks herself, promising to host a holiday party for friends that becomes too much. Their parents are being a bit odd-- the family is not traveling back east for the holidays, and money seems to be an issue. It turns out that they have a good reason for their actions, but weren't at liberty to tell the girls. In a very interesting side story, Corey and Lindsay break up because Lindsay is too intense, and Alex finds that she and Corey are becoming closer. 
Strengths: Great discussions of time management, appropriate middle school relationships, asking for help when struggling in school.
Weaknesses: Decorated Christmas sweaters are NOT ugly sweaters! 

What I really think: Can't wait to hear how Ava does on the basketball team!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics

25387393Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics
5 January 2016, Random House Children's Books
Copy provided by publisher

So many children thought that they should have beat Kyle's team in the original Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and many are jealous of the children's subsequent fame. Kyle starts to wonder if he really should have won. When Mr. Lemoncello decides that he will have another competition, with children from all over the US and not just Alexandriaville, Ohio, Kyle really starts to worry. Charles Chiltington and her mother are still angry, and form a committee to help run the new library in the way that THEY think is proper. Miguel, Sierra, and Akimi are all back on board to be on Kyle's team, but he is beset by anxiety, especially when the Dewey Decimal fluent Marjory Muldauer looks like she might be able to win the competition. When books crucial to the game go missing, the committee thinks that Lemoncello's ability to curate the collection is sorely lacking, and that the hover ladders and holographic librarians are just gimmicks that get in the way of a properly run town library. Can Kyle and his team locate the books and find out who was taking them before it's too late?

Strengths: Certainly, this was too cool a library to leave forever, so it's great to revisit all of the fun and innovative library technology (pterodactyls, anyone?).There are lots of puzzles to figure out, tons of Dewey Decimal categories discussed, and many classic and new books referenced. There are even quite a number of real people mentioned in the book; luckily, Colby Sharp was mentioned as a language arts teacher early on, which alerted me to this fact. Very fun!
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of puzzles, and this book seemed to center more on those, and the slight mystery of the missing books, rather than Kyle's development as a character or the library's importance to the town.
What I really think: The first book was fantastic, so readers will be waiting for this sequel. 

Controversies in Children's Literature

If you haven't heard, Scholastic has pulled the book A Birthday Cake for George Washington from publication. 

I can definitely see the problems with this book-- the happy pictures of slaves were very disturbing. Even though I felt discomfort, I truly felt that Ms. Ganeshram was trying to show the efforts of Hercules and highlight his contributions to history. She is a cooking historian, and there is not much cooking history in children's books.

Could this have been done in a more culturally sensitive way? Yes. Should the notes at the back have been included in the text? Absolutely. I love Mitali Perkins' suggestions about how this book could have been improved.

In the end, I decided that if Andrea Davis Pinkney, who is such an advocate for diversity in books, said nice things about the book and agreed to publish it, and she didn't have a problem with the things that bothered me, I would bow to her greater wisdom. Perhaps I was "Reading While White" and didn't quite get it. Is this wishy washy on my part? Yes. But I erred on the side of trying to be aware of my privilege and trusting the judgement of an expert in the field.

It's tough to make these decisions, but it's better to have these conversations than to not have them, and to be honest when we make judgement calls that don't work out. My original review is below. Remember, I was trying to find good in a book that added diversity to coverage of Washington.


Ganeshramn, Ramin. A Birthday Cake for George Washington
Illustrated by Brantley-Newton, Vanessa
Advanced copy provided

Delia's father is the head cook for George Washington, and is entrusted with a very special project-- a cake for the president's birthday. When the kitchen is inexplicably out of any kind of sugar and it's too cold to head out to the market, Hercules' culinary skills are put to the test.

The story offers an interesting look into the inner workings of the kitchen at the point in history. The illustrations show many facets of cooking at the time that might be unknown to younger readers today-- fire places, larders, and no electricity! Period clothing is also nicely illustrated. There is even a recipe at the back of the book if readers want to make their own cake to celebrate.

The fact that Delia and her father were both slaves owned by Washington is touched on very lightly, but there is a nice note in the back of the book about the fact that while Washington became increasingly uncomfortable owning slaves, he went to a lot of trouble to keep Hercules under his ownership until he finally ran off. Delia was owned by Martha Washington, who did not free her slaves in her will, and so spent her entire life without freedom. This gives adults who are reading this book to younger children an opportunity to deliver information to slavery depending on the knowledge level of the child involved.

An interesting collection to books about our first president, A Birthday Cake for George Washington is an interesting look at a historic household to use to celebrate Washington's birthday.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- A Tiny Piece of Sky

It was not that long ago that people of German descent were discriminated against. I had relatives in Iowa who attended German language schools and Lutheran churches until WWI; their children get upset about the influx of Mexican immigrants in the town now. Why? They don't speak English. 

How quickly we forget. 

25431146Stout, Shawn K. A Tiny Piece of Sky
January 19th 2016 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1939, Frankie is not happy that her older sister gets to spend the summer at an aunt's farm, but SHE has to work in the family's new restaurant. Since there is so much work to be done, she ends up not even having time to do to the pool with friends or even roller skate. She knows it is important to her family's survival that the restaurant, does well, and she does enjoy working with the staff, but she misses her sister. When local Chamber of Commerce leader Sullen Waterford Price isn't happy with the way he is treated by Mr.  Baum, he starts a rumor that the Baums have ties to the Nazis, and an anti-German campaign that interferes with the opening of the place. Frankie investigates and tries to stop him, but is only partially successful. Others in town don't believe that the Baums are anything but loyal citizens, and the restaurant is able to stay open, even after a tragedy occurs. 

Strengths: In light of current immigration trends, and the public reaction to them, I think this is an important book for students to read. There is very little out there about the treatment of Germans during either of the world wars; there's a Bunting title, Spying on Miss Muller, and the Parker Edenville Owls, but that involves more spying and not the general treatment of German families. This had a lot of good details about daily life at the time, which is always a plus in historical fiction. The fact that it is based on the author's own family, and that she had some letters and documents to give her some direction, adds a very interesting personal touch to the story. 

Weaknesses: This is on the longer side (320 pages) and is rather slow paced, and books about the home front during WWII don't circulate nearly as well as ones set on the battlefield. 

What I really thought: This is an interesting addition to any collection of books set during World War II, but might take some handselling to get students to read it. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Goblin's Puzzle

22464760Chilton, Andrew S. The Goblin's Puzzle
January 19th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Publisher

A slave boy with no name is sent with the merchant's son to a neighboring kingdom, but when the son is killed by another slave, the boy has to decide what to do. He has always tried to be a good slave, so when another traveler, Nikola, offers to take the boy along to the silver mines to pick up cargo, he has a hard time saying no. Luckily, Nikola has a strong box that contains Mennofar, a goblin whom the boy releases because it seems to be the right thing to do. Mennofar lets the boy know that he had a narrow escape, since Nikola was going to sell him into slavery. The two work out a deal; goblins can grant requests only under duress, so the boy asks to have a truthful answer to one yes or no question every day. In the mean time, the daughter of a sage, "Plain" (and later "Just") Alice is kidnapped by a dragon, but given to an ogre when the dragon Ludwig realizes she is not his intended target. Ludwig then captures Princess Alice. The boy manages to get roped into rescuing the two by Just Alice's father, Oswald, and he and Mennofar brave many obstacles in order to get them released. The boy also tries to figure out the mystery of why he is a slave, but it is difficult to ask the goblin the right questions in order to get answers that make sense. The group discovers a sinister plot to overthrow the kingdom when Duke Geoffrey plans to force Princess Alice to marry him. Can they figure out how to stop him?

Strengths: Fairly good medieval-ish action/adventure fantasy. Well written. Nice use of the girls in the story, and the goblin is intriguing. Glad to see the cover show the boy as he is described in the book. I often find fantasy books painful to read, and this one was easy to breeze through!

Weaknesses: A bit derivative. There are so many medieval fantasy books in my library. It was disappointing that the character of color was the slave and had no name-- it would have been a nice twist to make the princess the character of color. The dialog is fairly clever, but there wasn't really any fresh twist to the standard quest/saving maidens tale. 

What I really think: I do have a few more readers interested in fantasy, so will keep this in mind. 

23719446Jinks, Catherine. The Last Bogler (City of Orphans/Bogle #3)
January 5th 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers 

Since Birdie is now living with Miss Eames, Ned is working more closely with Mr. Bunce. The plague may have abated somewhat, but soon many working children are going missing, and the newly formed subdepartment of the Sewers Department is busy. From laundry girls in a prison to telegraph delivery boys, any place of work that is in a lower level and near a drain or sewer has become a treacherous place for children to work. Harewood and Gilfoyle notice on a map that bogles tend to be frequenting the underground waterways of London, and try to work out a plan that will end the bogle problem once and for all. Bunce and Ned travel to the country to meet with the sister of Bunce's trainer and to find the origin of his spear. When they are able to replicate the spear, Ned is able to kill a bogle as well. What will Birdie, Jem and Ned, as well as Mr. Bunce, do if the bogles can be dispatched once and for all?

Strengths: The vast variety of jobs held by children in Victorian England is well-portrayed here, and very interesting. My favorite part of this is that it ties up ALL  the ends very neatly, and is only three books long! There are so many small moments that add so much to this book-- Mother May scoffing when she hears that Bunce thinks the spear is from Finn MacCool, the machinations of the Sewer Department staff, the care that the orphans end up being given. My students have been reading these fairly steadily.

Weaknesses: The final reason that the bogles were eliminated seemed weak to me. I would have rather gone with an epic battle and explosions!

What I really think: Love these to a ridiculous extent and don't completely know why!

Monday, January 18, 2016

MMGM- Adorable Talking Mice

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. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

While the books today seem a little young for middle school, they may not be. Since the Geronimo Stilton, Ricky Ricotta and Babymouse series all are checked out frequently by my struggling 6th graders, perhaps we have room for some more advanced easy reader books with talking mice. Oddly, I am okay with the mice talking as long as there are adorable pictures of them, and these books had great messages. 

25387373Dillard, Sarah. Mouse Scouts
January 5th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy received from the publisher

Tigerlily and Violet are very excited to move from Buttercups into the Acorn Scouts and are looking forward to getting their badges. When their leader, the stern Miss Poppy, tells them that the group will be planting a garden, the thought of growing their own food sounds good until the scouts realize how much work it will be. They learn that the garden must be watered regularly, they must fight off pests, and a garden, while rewarding, is a lot of work. 

Strengths: Not only does this have a lot of good information on what it is like to be a scout and how gardens must be tended, it frames the gardening in terms of what it is like to be a MOUSE gardening. That was quite fun! I would have loved this in the 3rd grade, when I was a Bluebird. There aren't many middle grade books about scouting, and certainly that is an activity in which many middle grade readers participate.

Weaknesses: The characters were all a bit stereotypical-- Junebug has glasses and allergies and spends many meetings reading books, Cricket is a glutton, Hyacinth is snooty, etc. The uniforms were skirted, which seemed unrealistic, especially when the scouts were gardening. I wish that this had a mixed gender troop instead; I think that boys could then be tempted to read it. 

What I really think: I will buy a copy of the first book and see how it does in my library. I enjoyed it, but it does look young. 

25387376Dillard, Sarah. Make a Difference: Mouse Scouts #2

January 5th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy received from the publisher

The troop is back, and this time they are working on their community service badges. The girls all have different ideas, but in the end, decide to pick up trash around their community. It's not easy, since they have to get the trash into a receptacle, but they use their scouting skills to get the job done. These skills also come in handy when a cat who is their nemesis gets caught in a tree.

Strengths: I like how the scouts all have different interests and abilities, and they are all allowed to use them. The inclusion of a diagram on how a pulley works makes this book STEM compatible!

Weaknesses: If the scouts get all of their badges, this will be an 18 book series! That's too long for my library, although I think the books will probably keep selling to elementary schools and to parents whose children beg for them. 

What I really think: I could probably support about five books in this series. 

Green, Poppy. A New Friend (The Adventures of Sophie Mouse #1)
January 20th 2015 by Little Simon

Sophie and her friends are excited to start school, but when a new student enters the room, they are all afraid. Owen is a snake! They have always heard bad things about snakes, so no one wants to play with him. Sophie feels bad that Owen is sitting alone, and talks to her mother about having a snake at school. Sophie's mother was friends with a snake when she was younger, and encourages Sophie to be open minded. When Owen is able to save the day because he is a snake, Sophie and her friends see the error of their ways and include him in their circle. 

Strengths: This book is nicely formatted-- a good length, large print, plentiful illustrations. I had a seventh grader check one out, and she actually came by later in the day to say that she'd read half the book and was enjoying it! Sometimes struggling readers feel a LOT better about reading when they have permission to read something easy and enjoyable! (This student had previously trying to get through Patterson's Confessions series because her friends were reading them. Made her miserable!)

Weaknesses: While this is a great lesson, it seemed a little didactic. This could just be how books for younger readers are. 

What I really think: Don't know that I will buy more books in this series, but certainly enjoyed the first one!

Of course, the master of any illustrations involving animals in Beatrix Potter! Here's a great nonfiction book to pair with lots of different fiction book!

25472758Hopkinson, Deborah and Voake, Charlotte. Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Copy provided by publisher (Cassie)
February 2nd 2016 by Schwartz & Wade

We were certainly fans of Beatrix Potter books in our house, and since 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the author's birth, it was fun to see a copy of this picture book about an event in her life. Since Potter was a devoted animal lover as well as an artist, she had quite the menagerie growing up, and she did her drawings based on her observations of the animals. When she wanted to draw a guinea pig, she borrowed one from a neighbor, but it ended up eating paste and string in her work area and dying overnight. To try to make it up to her neighbor, she gave her a drawing of a guinea pig. 

Readers who love Potter's books, animals, or both will find the description of Potter's animals to be interesting, and will hopefully use this as a cautionary tale to take better care of animals!