Friday, February 24, 2017

Guy Friday- WWII and British Guys

31213713Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Making Bombs for Hitler.
February 28th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lida and her sister Larissa are taken from their home in the Ukraine and sent to a camp. Their parents are dead, and the girls are soon separated. Lida ends up in a camp where she is lucky enough to work in the laundry, where she is at least warm and gets to wear a clean smock during the day. The conditions are horrible, the food scanty, but the other girls in her barracks help each other. Eventually, Lida is sent to town to make bombs, but after the plant is bombed she is placed elsewhere. Eventually, the Allies come to fee the prisoners, and she is reunited with a friend, Luka. The two of them move from relocation camp to relocation camp, trying to find Lida's sister. At one point, Luka decides to go home, but it is a Soviet trick, and he returns to Lida. Eventually, the two are found by Lida's sister and go to Canada.
Strengths: It is very difficult to do a good job in describing this book. Like many Holocaust books, the plot centers around the horrible conditions at the camps, and the way people were treated. I don't know why this is such an interesting topic for middle school readers, but I know I had my own copy of Moskin's I Am Rosemarie and was fascinated by it. This book has the added interest of covering a little known topic-- war slaves. The fact that prisoners from different countries were treated differently and even given different food was something that I didn't know, even though I've read a lot of books on the Holocaust. This is a must purchase for any library used by students who are studying this topic. Lida is a great character, and her story is told in an intriguing way.
Weaknesses: I was a bit confused at first as to why Lida was heading toward the camp. The beginning of the book is very fast paced and visceral, which is good for drawing readers into the story, but I could have used a little more explanation of what was going on.
What I really think: I need some newer titles about WWII and was glad to find this. Don't particularly care for the cover, but it's an excellent book.

25394434Walliams, David. Grandpa's Great Escape
February 28th 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jack lives in a delightful small town in England in 1983. His grandfather lives in an apartment above a news agent's, and frequently hosts Jack for sleepovers that involve questionable tinned food and tales of the grandfather's exploits as a fighter pilot during World War II. When the old gentleman starts wearing his bedroom slippers out in all kinds of weather and is eventually rescued from the spire of a local church which he imagined to be his plane, the family is convinced by the local clergy to send him to Twilight Towers, the local old folks' home. There, the residents are supposed to be quiet all the time, turn their valuables in to the staff, and generally are treated very poorly. Jack wants to rescue his grandfather, and the two set off on an adventure that ends with the theft of a vintage plane from the Imperial War Museum in London.

Walliam's has been called "the heir to Roald Dahl", which is a very accurate description. Like Walliams The Demon Dentist, Grandpa's Great Escape pits a slightly scared but motivated child against the forces of evil that are violating something he holds dear. The Tony Ross illustrations nicely mimic Dahl's frequent illustrator, Quentin Blake. Jack and Grandpa have a delightfully British way about them, and the map of their village made me want to move there desperately!

It's nice to see an intergenerational book that deals with the problems of old age but also makes the grandparent seems vital and interesting. Setting this book in 1983 made the grandfather an appropriate age and also allowed the removal of some modern techbology that would have gotten in the way of the adventure.

World War II remains a topic that many readers enjoy, but it is a fresh twist to see one of these brave soldiers in his twilight years. Not only will fans of Dahl appreciate this book, but readers who enjoy very British books (by authors like Jacqueline Wilson) where a lot of tea is imbibed will warm to Jack and Grandpa's adventures.

26891408Thompson, Lisa. The Goldfish Boy 
February 28th 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I am hoping that this is the last super sad middle grade realistic fiction book of the year, and also hoping that 2017 will be a bit cheerier. Hmmm.

On the one had, I was glad that Matthew did have a therapist that he went to see to deal with his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, but in general this was WAY too sad. Parents and child had not moved on from death of newborn after much too long. Also, this had a very British feel to it. While I love books like that, my students don't. This moved along at a good clip, was well written, and kept me interested, but I just can't think of any students to whom I would hand it.

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn't been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child's life... but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Slappy Birthday To You

Stine, R.L. Slappy Birthday To You 
February 28th 2017 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ian's father refurbishes for a living and gives Ian a ventriloquist's dummy for his birthday. His cousins Vinny and Jonny are big bullies who give him a hard time about having a doll and cause some mayhem. Of course, Slappy starts wreaking havoc, and Ian gets blamed for it. Things escalate, and Slappy extracts his vengeance on the evil cousins.
Strengths: There's been a resurgence in interest in the Goosebumps books, due to the movie that came out a couple of years ago, and the fact that the teachers at my school are now younger than most of my clothing and grew up on the books. Have copies that aren't falling apart helps as well. I will definitely purchase.
Weaknesses: There are no shades of gray in Goosebumps books. They are just ridiculous. This must be what the children like about them, but I don't see the attraction.
What I really think: I think that Stine is a good writer who writes some not-so-good books. The Lost Girl was particularly good, and I would love for Stine to slow down and write something... not Slappy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan

25940577Cheng, Jack. See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan
February 28th 2017 by Dial Books
ARC provided by the publisher

Alex Petroski loves his dog, Carl Sagan, and the idea of space travel. He lives with his mother, who is from the Philippines and has been severely depressed after the death of his father. He decides to travel alone to a rocket festival in order to try to send his gold spray painted iPod with recording for alien civilizations into space, leaving prepared meals for his mother in the refrigerator. His rocket doesn't do well, but he falls into company with Zed and Steve, who thinks it's a great idea to drive with Alex to Las Vegas, where he thinks his father might still be living. When they get to the address Alex found online, he meets Terra, who is his half-sister. Alex is a very naive eleven, and doesn't quite understand why his father had two families. Even though Carl Sagan runs off and gets lost, Terra decides to go with Steve and Zed to Los Angeles to meet up with Alex's much older brother, Ronnie. When Ronnie is not in LA and Terra has some personal problems with Steve, the group returns to Alex's home in Colorado. His mother is nowhere to be found, and when he is on the roof looking for her, Alex falls and is gravely injured. Ronnie flies in, the mother is located, and plans must be put in place for Alex's care.
Strengths: This has a very unique voice and writing style; most of it is told through the dialogue that Alex is recording on his iPod. Alex is a very sheltered character in very grim circumstances. I sort of wondered if he was on the autism spectrum, but this is never explicitly said. The tie in with space is nice.
Weaknesses: I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough for this to work for me. There are a lot of coincidences and a lot of adults making very poor choices for this to seem realistic, especially when Carl Sagan is found and returned.
What I really think: Sarah Sammis was right-- there are more road trip books out there than I thought! I'd prefer How to Avoid Extinction or The Someday Birds over this one. I think students might be very confused by the way this is written.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Blazing Bridge

31340887Roy, Carter. The Blazing Bridge
February 21st 2017 by Two Lions
Copy provided by Blue Slip Media and the publisher

Having survived the "super corn nuts crazy pants" adventures in The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet, Ronan is still trying to keep Greta safe. As a Pure, she is in grave danger and must not be told she is Pure, lest the nature of her soul change. Ronan's father, who is a Head in the Bend Sinister, knows about Greta, and since he can't get to her because she is so heavily guarded by Ronan, Dawkins and the others, is about to go after Greta's mother. With the help of a helicopter and then a souped up taxi with an exuberant driver named Diz, the group arrives at Greta's house and convince her mother to go with them. Unfortunately, the Bend Sinister is not far behind, and on the subway, they mistake Ms. Susterman for Greta and kidnap her. Ronan and Dawkins have to negotiate with Ronan's father, promising him the Damascene 'Scope in exchange. They manage to get Ms. Susterman back, but her cat, Grendel, is possessed by an agent of the Bend Sinister. Using a very sad story from his past, Dawkins illustrates why it is so important to keep Greta safe, and the group ends up having an epic battle on the orange silk-wrapped Brooklyn Bridge. Not everyone will survive, secrets will be uncovered, and the fate of the world hangs in a very precarious balance.

Like the other books in this series, there are plenty of car chases, things exploding, and a fabulous gamer geek flash mob in Times Square. Roy does an excellent job of pacing the story, interspersing tense moments of survival with humorous exchanges, which helps the story move along quickly even when there are necessary explanations of the Bend Sinister's actions. I was glad to finally know that they were so bent on destroying the world because they thought they could all be protected and that the new world would somehow be better. I hadn't realized that the 36 pure souls were based on a Kabbalah belief-- the story stands alone without this, but it adds an interesting dimension.

Ronan and Greta's friendship continues to be tested, but I appreciated their realistic interchanges. Ronan is very clearly trying to save Greta, but because she doesn't quite understand the danger she is in, she often thwarts his attempts and wants to take care of herself. Dawkins is still my favorite character, and his sad tale of working with a Pure named Mathilde in France just adds more pathos to his character. Diz is a fun addition, and I would love to have her taxi at my disposal!

Readers of fantasy adventures, this is another great trilogy in the same vein as Bacon's Joshua Dread, Salane's Lawless, Hale's Playing with Fire or Kraatz's Cloak Society. Roy's characters, descriptions and humor are just the ticket for middle grade readers, and I can't wait to see what he writes next.

 Carter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

MMGM- Celebrate the Cybils Winners!

What? You were too busy enjoying your chocolates and roses on Valentines' Day to pay attention to the Cybils? Shame on you! Books make the best Valentine!

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.

Head on over to the Cybils web site to see a list of the great winners. As always, I was very lucky to work with astonishingly organized, motivated and talented bloggers who volunteered hundreds of hours to read and debate the merits of books. Make sure you visit the blogs of the fantastic Middle Grade Fiction judges!

Round 1
Puss Reboots, Falling Letters, Reading Rocks, Proper Noun Blog
Round 2
Randomly Reading, Always in the Middle, Skipping Through the Stacks, The Logonauts, Project Middle Grade Mayhem

Myers, Walter Dean, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
January 24th 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The first sentence of this book sets the stage for Douglass' impact on history: "This is the story of how one man's careful decisions and many accomplishments not only made his own life better but in many ways changed the history of America." This is a great lesson for children of all ages to learn, especially since Douglass was such a great example of a man taking charge of his own destiny.

Douglass was a bright child, and learned to read after the wife of his owner saw him paying close attention to the lessons she was teaching her own children.These lessons came to a halt quickly after they were discovered, but Douglass was smart enough to know that if reading made him unfit to be a slave, then the best thing he could do was to learn to read! Douglass also stood up to another owner and was sent to do back breaking work at a shipyard, but used his wiles to work his way to the north and to freedom. There, he educated himself and made alliances with people who could help him improve his own situation as well as the situation of African Americans.

This picture book tells Douglass' story succinctly but completely, and Cooper's illustrations are reason enough for the larger format of this book. The text is sophisticated enough for middle grade readers, but short and simple enough that this could be read aloud even to younger children. Myers' years of writing experience show clearly in his beautiful and motivational depiction of this influential leader.

Cooper has illustrated such an impressive range of biographies, from Satchmo to Langston Hughes to Michael Jordan, that there should be some sort of curated collection of his work. He has done other picture books, on a wide variety of topics relating to Civil Rights and African American history. His pictures are always warm and evocative, adding new layers to whatever text they accompany.

Myers must have left a significant number of works unfinished at his death, and it is a gift to see a new title from him. Readers who enjoy picture book biographies or who are looking to gather information on the early civil rights activities will enjoy and learn a lot from The Lion Who Wrote History.

Ephron, Amy. The Castle in the Mist
February 7th 2017 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tess and Max's father is a war correspondent and their mother is ill, so they must be shipped off to their Aunt Evie who lives in the English countryside. There, of course, Tess wanders off and meets William after finding a key to mysterious garden. She visits again with Max and meets all of the delightful characters who take care of William-- the slightly French Marie who is either a nanny or governess, the cook, and Barnaby the gardener. There are all manner of wonderful things, like a carousel and a hedge maze, but also very scary hawthorne trees through which Max disappears and must be found by a frantic Tess. Eventually, the children have to return suddenly to the US with their father, and when they pay a visit to the castle, they find that things are quite different from what they have experienced.
Strengths: This is a wonderful, classic feeling, summer-in-the-British-countryside book. I adored it. If you have readers who can't get enough of books like The Greenglass House, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, definitely invest in this. I haven't read any of Ephron's adult novels, but this was a very beautiful love note to classic British tales. The end papers are very nostalgic.
Weaknesses: I don't have as many readers for this as I would like to have.
What I really think: I'll have to buy a copy of this. Very nice.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel

28114540Harper, Charise Mericle. Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel
February 7th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

June loves to play with her dog Sam, especially since she is the only one to whom the dog can talk. When her grandmother sends her a big chalkboard on a wheel, with detailed instructions on how to use it, June is thrilled, and she and Sam have a lot of fun completing the suggested tasks. It's even more fun when a new girl moves in next door and ends up in June's class. Mae seems really nice, but classmate April is bound and determined that Mae will be HER friend. The girls have to learn to get along, and eventually Mae and June become fast friends. 

Strengths: This is a very positive, fun story for beginning readers. The illustrations are very helpful in showing what is going on in the story and add a lot to it. Other nice touches are June's sometimes cranky teenage sister, the fact that Mae is a character of color without this fact taking over the story, and the adventure of the wonder wheel. 
Weaknesses: I didn't quite understand why June could talk to Sam. Was she imagining this, or could she really communicate with the dog? 
What I really think: This is too young for my readers (the very intense class debate over whether cats or dogs are better is one that sets this firmly in the elementary school arena), but was rather enjoyable. 

27426246Tracy, Kristen. Project (Un)Popular
June 14th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Library Copy

I was disappointed in this. I usually enjoy Tracy's work, and love the cover, but there was a disconnect between the stated age of the main character (6th grade) and her interests and voice, as well as the formatting of the book. These all felt very much like a better fit for high school. The book has tiny print, and is over 300 pages long. I also had trouble believing that a middle school would have a yearbook with a staff, and that so much power would be given to an 8th grader. Then I started to wonder-- the search to be popular seems like a trope from the 30th century. I am not sure it was that much of a concern when I was in middle school. My students seem more concerned with "being their own person" (definitely a new millenium thing-- I was desperately trying to fit in in middle school, even if I didn't care about being popular) and having a few good friends.

What are your experiences with the new millennium and the concept of popularity?

Definitely purchase this if your school has a yearbook staff, there is a big interest in photography, or you have 6th graders who are willing to read an 11 point Accelerated Reader book. My sixth graders top out at about 8 points. I like Tracy's writing, but this just isn't a fit for my population. 


"Popularity: who has it, who wants it, and who won’t get it is the topic of this story about two middle school friends who want to make the lives of their classmates more equitable, to disastrous results. 

Middle school isn’t a popularity contest. 

It’s a war. Perry and her best friend, Venice, are excited to be yearbook photographers and tell the story of their school through their art. But that’s before they find out the truth: the spontaneous moments they’re supposed to capture are all faked. Bossy eighth grader Anya gives them a list of the popular kids—her own friends—who Perry and Venice have to take pictures of. And that makes Perry super mad. Yearbooks should include everybody—even the dorks. But Perry feels totally stuck. Until she starts taking flattering shots of the people on Anya’s list, none of her candids will ever be chosen. Perry can’t sit by and let this happen. But fighting back isn’t going to win her any friends—she might even lose some. Perry has to decide what’s more important: fitting in . . . or standing out."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

30206050Hale, Shannon and Dean. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. 
February 7th 2017 by Marvel Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Doreen Green (who loves that her name rhymes) moves from California to the suburbs of New York City and has a little bit of trouble fitting in-- and not just because she has a squirrel tail that she must keep hidden! She eventually makes friends at school with Ana Sofia, who is deaf. It helps that Doreen has a cousin who is deaf, so she knows some sign language, although Ana Sofia is proficient in lip reading and the two often communicate through texting. Things are not all good in Doreen's neighborhood, and Ana Sofia tells her to be careful, and to not walk home alone after she babysits. Doreen can communicate with squirrels, and makes friends with one called Tippy-Toes, whom she rescues from a trap in a tree. Tippy-Toes also warns her of the evil going on in the neighborhood, which seems to be centered on the activities of a character called the Micro-Manager. Doreen uses her super strength and ability to jump, along with her ability to communicate with the squirrels, to make her neighborhood safe again. 

Quirky and fun, with snarky footnotes and engaging page decorations of squirrels, Squirrel Girl is an introduction to the long running Marvel comic book character. We learn about her background and family, see her settling in to a new community, and find out her likes (Babies! Iron Man!) and dislikes (Evil doers! Jeans!). 

The main characters are well developed, and I particularly liked Ana Sofia. Doreen is an exuberant young lady, and won't be brushed off, which is the only way to break through Ana Sofia's shell. The supporting characters are fairly one dimensional but serve their purpose of advancing the various plots, whether it is at school or battling the forces of evil. 

Readers who enjoy Lisa Yee's Super Hero High Books will be glad to see this novelization of the Marvel comic book character Squirrel Girl, as will anyone who is looking for a fun, quirky story about girl power and squirrels. My dog and I greatly enjoyed the promotional hat that came with the book, and plan to use it to great effect when keeping an eye on the squirrels around our house!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Guy Friday- Boy X

31213700Smith, Dan. Boy X
February 28th 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ash wakes up in a hospital, alone. He doesn't remember coming there, and there's no one around to ask. He eventually makes his way out and finds Isabel. She is the daughter of scientists who are working with Ash's mother, and the two discover that a whole group of scientists have been infected with a disease that some villains are trying to spread to the entire world. Since the scientists are all locked in a room and only have 48 hours before they begin dying, Ash and Isabel must cross the remote, jungle filled island, get the cure, and hope to stop the villains. Of course, jungles are dangerous places, and Ash also starts to realize that there is something not quite right with him. Why are his wounds healing so quickly? Why is he so strong and fast? As the two race against the clock, they also find out secrets about their own pasts. 
Strengths: Only tweens can save the world, and they must travel through the perilous jungle to do so, pursued by bad guys who want them dead. 

Weaknesses:Only tweens can save the world, and they must travel through the perilous jungle to do so, pursued by bad guys who want them dead. 

Not my cup of tea, but my readers will LOVE this one. 

What I really think: Hand this to readers who can't get enough of Klavan's The Last Thing I Remember series or Mikaelsen's Jungle of Bones

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Forbidden Fortress (Omega City #2)

30255936Peterfreund, Diana. The Forbidden Fortress (Omega City #2)
February 14th 2017 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After her adventures in Omega City, Gillian is not happy that her mother has moved back home to take care of her and her brother Eric while their father is off promoting his book. She's especially not happy when her mother starts making noise about taking the children with her to Idaho! Shortly after Howard gets a book with an oddly encoded that he suspects is from Dr. Underberg, their father gets an invitation to speak at the Guidant corporation, which is interested in green energy sources and is interested in the Underberg battery. The children are invited to come along, even Gillian's friend Savannah. Eureka Cove is a planned community with Smart houses and lots of perks, so Gillian is concerned when her father is offered a job teaching history there. It's a great gig, but the corporation seems suspect. When the children intercept radio signals in code and discover that an abandoned island just off the coast of Eureka Cove isn't really abandoned, they worry that the Shepherds are on the move again, and realize that they are once again in danger. 
Strengths: I like Peterfreund's writing. This had a lot of good twists and turns, a decent amount of action, and likable, realistic characters. I also think this is a fresh idea-- technologically utopian city, Cold War ties, and a group of people with an academic interest in it all. 
Weaknesses: I can't get students to read the first book, and I just don't think the second book will do well in my library. Still not sure why. 
What I really think: There is a third book coming out in 2018, but I almost wish that Omega City had been a stand alone title, and that a new set of characters would have been used for a book about a city like Guidant is running. 

11th Blogiversary

My blog is now as old as many of my students!

There's too much math to come up with number of books reviewed or number of posts. Well over 3,000 posts, and I have 4,324 books on my Goodreads account, which I've had since 2009.

The only celebrating I'm doing is this beautiful new blog design by Pamela at The Posh Box.

I know people had wanted larger font, so I hope this works.

Keep warm on this cold February day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Piecing Me Together

25566675Watson, Renee. Piecing Me Together
February 14th 2017 by Bloomsbury
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This was a bit more YA than I had hoped; nothing inappropriate, just slow and message driven. More like This Side of Home than What Mama Left Me. Debating. I have one student who is an enormous fan of Watson's, and this was a fine book. I just don't know how many readers I'll have for it. I really do Love Watson's ability to make the city a character in the story.

"Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face."

22064285Mancusi, Mari. Golden Girl
December 15th 2015 by Aladdin
Library copy

Lexi is a snowboarder who has a good chance of making the US Olympic team... until she is badly injured in an accident during a race that she blames on Olivia, a mean girl in her exclusive sports school. Lexi recuperates with her mother in Florida and then returns to the school (where her father works), but finds it harder to get back into the swing of things than she thought. Her best friend, Becca, is hanging out with Olivia, and Lexi is more comfortable hanging out with the cute Logan and his friends in a band, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who want Lexi to sing with them. There's a mystery as to how her accident happens that she needs to solve, and a lot of work to be done before Lexi can even figure out if her dream is still to make the Olympic team. 
22710963Strengths: There's a lot of good stuff here-- parents who are divorced but amicable, an exclusive boarding school, snow boarding, real but not horrible problems. The M!X series is hugely popular in my school, and I love that Mancusi has made this entry more Young Adult.
Weaknesses: While I like the cover, the cartoonishness might dissuade my 8th grade girls from picking it up.
What I really think: This is a great book about high schoolers that is told on a perfectly appropriate level for middle school students. Actually, this reminds me a LOT of Bety Cavanna's Angel on Skis from 1957, in the best possible way!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Congratulations to Jason Reynolds!

Congratulations to Jason Reynolds for Ghost!

See all of the 2016 Cybils Winners at 

Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up

26259493Brody, Jessica. Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up
February 14th 2017 by Delacorte 
E ARC provided by the publisher

Addie has a big fight with her best friend, Grace on her 12th birthday. Addie is tired of all of the drama of 7th grade, and thinks if she were just four years older, like her sister, everything would be perfect. She'd have a figure, boys wouldn't be so weird, and her parents wouldn't be so overbearing and might even let her have a cell phone. Her elderly neighbor Mrs. Toodles, whose grasp on reality is tenuous, has given her a decorative antique box for her birthday, and tells her that if she writes a wish on a slip of paper and puts it in the box, it will come true. After her fight with Grace, Addie's wishes that she were 16... and wakes up the next morning with more manageable hair, a car to drive, and a new best friend, Clementine. Addie is pretty and popular, but even after she gets a hang of her new school schedule and realizes that the very cute J.T. is actually the boy who gave her a shaken up can of grape soda in 7th grade, she realizes that being 16 comes with its own set of problems. She desperately tries to get Grace to talk to her so that she can understand what she did wrong. Will Addie decide to stay 16, or will she try to figure out the mystery of the box so that she can go back and try to remain friends with Grace?
Strengths: Ms. Brody really managed to tap her inner tween for this one. Middle school students do really think that high school will be perfect, and this book gives them insight into some of the pluses and minuses of being older. Losing friendships is such a big deal for readers this age, so making that central to the plot is great. I even liked the bittersweet moments, like Addie realizing that her somewhat mean big sister is no longer at home. The scene at the high school dance where Addie was trying to impress boys was really funny, and so true!

Weaknesses: I thought the reason why Addie and Grace stopped being friends should have been a bit stronger.
What I really think: This is a perfectly brilliant book for middle school! It will circulate constantly-- I can see a lot of readers recommending it to friends!

Monday, February 13, 2017

MMGM- Lost in the Pacific


Whew. Sorry. It doesn't come out until August, but it looks great. 

Of course, I have about 150 200 books ahead of it in line. If there were every any reason to get my reading done quickly, THIS WOULD BE IT!

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.

29563567Olson, Tod. Lost in the Pacific, 1942
October 25th 2016 by Scholastic Nonfiction
Library Copy

Who knew that Eddie Rickenbacker had a harrowing adventure during WWII? When he was assigned to visit a war zone around Guadalcanal to assess the site and give pep talks to weary soldiers, he was to be flown there by a crew of seven that was supposed to be getting a couple of days leave. The men came from a variety of backgrounds, and there are pictures of all of them at the beginning of the book. Things went poorly from the beginning, with a botched take off and the need to board another plane. Eventually, the plane got disoriented, lost, and crashed into the sea! There were barely enough life boats, and no very little food was taken off the plane. The group was lost for over three weeks, and one of the men, Alex Kaczmarczyk, who had just been ill, didn't make it. Miraculously, the other men did. All of them told their stories to various reporters, and a couple even wrote books. Olson does a superb job of fictionalizing this event and making it tremendously readable and exciting. I'm definitely going to order this one for my readers who like reading everything about WWII, and I will also look into the next volume of the series, about Apollo 13. 

30268424Losure, Mary. Isaac the Alchemist

February 14th 2017 by Candlewick Press 
Copy received from the publisher

This well-researched biography tells the story of a young Isaac Newton, the difficulties with his upbringing, and his scientific and alchemical experiments. This reminded me quite a lot of the Childhood of Famous Americans books, and I was surprised that there was so much primary source information about Newton and his experiments. I'm have tempted to hand this to fantasy fans who have read books about more magical alchemy themes and see what they think. I'm not quite sure about whether I'm going to buy this, however. While it was well-written and researched, it's a tiny bit too story like for research and a little too slow paced for pleasure reading. The lack of index makes me think that this would not be a first choice for a source for National History day. Definitely take a look at this if your library has a lot of students who like to read historical nonfiction for fun.

29775375Grabenstein, Chris and Patterson, James. Word of Mouse.
December 12th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Library copy

Isaiah, an electric blue mouse, escapes from an evil research laboratory but leaves his family behind. He manages to land in a very disorganized house with food all over the place, and a large contingent of resident mice who are glad to take him in. He also makes the acquaintance of a beautiful mouse, Mikayla. Mikayla can sing beautifully, but girl mice are "not allowed" to sing. Isaiah makes his way to a neighboring house as well, and meets Hailey, who learns that Isaiah is highly intelligent and can even communicate with her by typing on her computer. She helps Isaiah go back to the lab and rescue his family, and Mikayla saves the day by singing the mouse battle cry. 
Strengths: The illustrations by Joe Sutphin were definitely a highlight here. There's an evil cat, evil humans, and enough mice gathered in the walls of the house to alarm the most rodent friendly. This is a jacketed hard cover, which is a departure for the "Jimmy" books. A must purchase for elementary libraries. 
Weaknesses: Nothing really fresh here, but then, what ten year old has read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971)? Maybe this could be a gateway to some classic mice fiction.
What I really think: I was bothered by the fact that "girl mice aren't supposed to sing". That just seemed very... 1971. I was also bothered by the portrayal of rats as dirty and mean. Both things seemed odd and dated to me. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

31193387Alexander, Kwame. The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life
February 14th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This book is a collection of rules, quotes, and short snippets of biographical and autobiographical inspirational stories. It is well illustrated with photographs from Thai Neave as well as drawing and fun text that look like the cover at left. (I can't find the information for the book designer, but that person is the real start of this effort.) The stories are interesting enough, but this is one of those books that I'm not quite sure what to do with. It's not necessarily nonfiction, but it's definitely not fiction. The stories about sports players were over before I wanted them to be, and the rules were rather ramblings. They all made sense, but there were too many of them, and they were too wordy. It seems to me that if you want rules for life, there should only be ten, and they shouldn't be more than a very short sentence each! Since there is definitely a heavy sports theme here, some of them didn't make sense to me because I don't play the sport from which the phrasings came. 

All in all, an interesting effort, but more the sort of book that is given as a gift for graduations than an essential library purchase. 

28954175Dowell, Frances O'Roake. Sam the Man and the Chicken Plan
August 30th 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Library copy

Sam wants to earn money like his big sister does (she mows yards), but there's not much a seven year old can do. When he watches his neighbors chickens while she is gone, he takes a liking to them and wants to buy his own. He advertises in a local flyer and ends up with Helga, a chicken that lays blue eggs. His friends are enthralled when he takes one to school, and his teacher shows him how to blow the insides of the egg out so the shell is intact. Sam has a great plan to eat the eggs and sell the shells. He also helps a neighbor by going on walks with her elderly father, who becomes interested in the chickens as well. 
Strengths: This was a nice, gentle read about a boy and his family. Nothing earthshaking, but I like Dowell's work and this did not disappoint. Upbeat, interesting, and maybe a tiny bit young for my readers. Drat. 
Weaknesses: If this had been a little bit longer and included a few more anecdotes about Sam's life with the chickens, I might have purchased it. It's a smaller format book.
What I really think: A fantastic choice for elementary libraries. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

One Amazing Elephant

30255968High, Linda Oatman. One Amazing Elephant
February 14th 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Lily lives with her father at a campground in West Virginia, where he is the superintendent. Her mother lives in Florida with Lily's grandparents, Bill and Violet, who run a small circus and have an elephant, Queenie Grace. Lily has always been afraid of the elephant, but makes an attempt to ride her in order to make her grandfather happy. Unfortunately, Bill dies suddenly, and Lily is sent to Florida for the funeral. There, she meets a boy her age who is one of the sideshow performers because of his alligator like skin condition, her mother's evil boyfriend, and the other members of the circus. She is still afraid of Queenie Grace, and still angry at her mother for abandoning her, but Lily is moved by the elephant's grief. When her grandmother decides to send Queenie Grace to an elephant sanctuary, Lily tries to help her escape, but this is unsuccessful. Luckily, the sanctuary is a good place for the elephant to be, and the family starts to move on. 

Strengths: Everyone will be talking about this one, and it will be nominated for major awards. This is a description from Goodreads: "In this beautifully written, poignant middle grade novel, perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, Lily mourns the death of her grandfather with the help of his circus elephant, Queenie Grace."
Weaknesses: Not only oozing with sadness, longing, and regret, but blessed with a cover that looks like it has come straight out of the 1980s. 
What I really think: I was hoping books would become happier in 2017. I don't know that this is going to happen. Will pass on purchasing. 

28114436English, Karen. Trouble Next Door (The Carver Chronicles #4)
December 6th 2016 by Clarion Books
Library copy 

Calvin isn't happy that the elderly couple next door are moving, but he's even unhappier when he finds out that Harper Hill, the bully at his school, is moving in. He tries to avoid Harper on his way to and from school, but can't keep it up forever, especially after his father talks to Harper's foster mother. Calvin finds out that Harper's mother is living in a gardening shed in the community garden, and Calvin was taken into foster care when the authorities found out that he was living there, too. Calvin is also very concerned about the school science fair, because he makes his father promise to buy him the new version of his favorite video game, Wuju Legend, if he wins. Calvin's project doesn't turn out the way he wants. His hypothesis is that boys are quicker at identifying optical illusions, but the boys turn out to be much slower! Harper has a much better project that his mother is helping him with, but Calvin begins to realize that Harper isn't all bad. 
Strengths: This is a great series for elementary school students. It is not quite as popular with my readers as Charlie Bumper is, but Dog Days, Skateboard Party and Don't Feed the Geckos fill a need for some of my struggling readers. I like the fact that the characters are diverse, but also a lot like Caroline Hayward's Penny. 
Weaknesses: The description of Harper's foster mother was half a bubble off for me-- she is shown as an older, chain-smoking woman in a housecoat. This was somewhat redeemed by Harper's mom being involved with Harper. Harper acts out because of his situation, but Calvin seems to have some trouble expressing all of this. Calvin is also pretty bratty.
What I really think: I'll probably purchase this one, since one of my 8th grade girls who really likes African-American characters in her reading told me that she was completely addicted to this author's Niki and Deja books in elementary school. Did seeing characters who looked like her make her into the reader she is today? Probably didn't hurt. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Guy Friday- 10 True Tales

29563564Zullo, Allan. Heroes of Pearl Harbor (Ten True Tales)
October 25th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Zullo starts out his book with a very helpful explanation of both how the information was gathered for the book and the process he used to write the tales. Like many of his other titles (Vietnam War Heroes, Hurricane Katrina, Young Civil Rights Heroes), Zullo uses a variety of primary and secondary sources to gather information, and then writes interesting accounts by inserting dialogue, which may include epithets and language used at the time. This makes his books read like some older nonfiction titles, which is not a bad thing. Some modern narrative nonfiction gets bogged down in proving itself, but once Zullo has explained his process, we are free to immerse ourselves in the stories of the event.

I especially appreciated the map at the beginning of the book-- although I have read many books about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, I didn't quite realize the number of ships that were anchored there. Being able to visualize where the ships were helps, especially since Zullo has picked out stories from a number of different ships. 

The stories themselves cover a wide variety of experiences, and are told in very exciting language that is clearly aimed at showcasing the bravery of those involved. Notes at the end of each chapter delineate the extent of the damage on the ship involved, and where necessary, tell the fates of the crew members. It is a nice touch that the lives of survivors are given a brief overview as well. 

While there is a glossary at the end of the book, there is no index or bibliography, and there are no pictures in the book. There are many other sources that have these-- both National Geographic and Dorling Kindersley have lovely compilations of WWII pictures and there are specialized volumes on just about every facet of the war. Readers need only stop by the 940.53 section of their local libraries for a wealth of these. 

Even though the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor just passed, the interest on the topic has not waned. It is difficult to keep aficionados stocked with enough books on World War II, and this newest Ten True Tales will be snapped up quickly. It's the sort of book that will be read under the covers with a flashlight by interested readers until the pages start to fall out. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Lots of Mysteries!

Smith, Ronald L. The Mesmerist
February 7th 2017 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jessamine lives with her mother in London after her father's death, eking out an existence doing sham seances, which was a popular thing in Victorian times. When she and her mother get a mysterious message during one of their readings, they seek out the help of Balthazar, who is a fairy and tells them that Jessamine really does have powers to communicate with the dead. They get sucked into the perilous underworld of London, dealing with dark powers. When her mother is killed by the evil Mephisto, Jessamine is glad to heave the help of Balthazar as well as other orphans under his care, Emily and Gabriel. Jessamine manages to overcome her fear and grief to help battle these myriad forces. 
Strengths: Smith, whose HooDoo also was a historical mystery/horror title, does a great job at researching and describing his settings, and the stories have a deliciously creepy feel to them. 
Weaknesses: This would have been a tighter, scarier story if it had been under 200 pages. 
What I really think: This is very reminiscent of Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair, Jinks' How to Catch a Bogle, and a couple of other titles dealing with mesmerism, seances, and general supernatural happenings in a Victorian London setting. While I can get a few of these to check out, it's just not a topic my students request. This is a great book if you have readers for it. I enjoyed it a lot.  

Warner, Gertrude Chandler. Journey on a Runaway Train (Great Adventure #1)
February 1st 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Boxcar Children, Whitman has put out a new series, not to be confused with the graphic novel series. 

Jessie, Benny, Violet and Henry, who are living with their Grandfather and Trudy the housekeeper, are recruited by the Reddimus Society to return an artifact to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. They have a little help from adults, who do fund train tickets, but are generally left to their own devices, in typical Boxcar Fashion. This is the first of a five book series, and would be excellent for fans of the rather substantial mystery series. The writing is simple, but without the "Oh, Benny. Look, Benny!" tone that dragged down the original series. Solid purchase for elementary school libraries.

That said, I remember practically nothing about the story, other than it seemed far fetched, and there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for the children to have to be the ones delivering the artifact back to its original owners. Will pass on purchase. 

I do always enjoy the original book, and the story of Gertrude Chandler Warner is a fascinating one. I'm glad that the series has stayed with Whitman-- it's just not what I need in the way of a middle school mystery. 

23310691Lane, Andrew. Knife Edge (Young Sherlock Holmes #6)
December 8th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) 
Library Copy

Interestingly, this goes right along with The Mesmerist in that it has a Victorian England setting and a plot involving Spiritualism. It's also set in Galway, which is fun. The first book is fairly popular in my library, and I have two copies, but I can't get students to read beyond the third book, which is a common problem. Drat. Snake Bite, where Sherlock gets shanghaied, was great, but this one even left me a little cold. I'm going to pass on Stone Cold and Night Break, as much as I like these personally. 

Attack of the Kuddly Kitten

Whew. Crisis averted thanks to Pamela at The Posh Box! The attack kitten was actually a good thing-- my "new" blog design was about six years old, and I'd been dragging my feet on a refresh. 

Changes coming soon! Like to warn people. I personally don't take change well. 

Here's some fun from the archive! Remember that youngster on lap is now a freshman in college. Time has treated her more gently than it's treated me!