Thursday, January 18, 2018

Touchdown Kid

33913882Green, Tim. Touchdown Kid
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Cory is a decent football player; not as good as his friend Liam, who has been given a scholarship at a prestigious private school, but pretty good. When Liam is badly injured in front of the school scout, Cory is offerred his scholarship. He really wants to take it-- he lives in a rough Westside neighborhood with his single mother-- but there are some stipulations he doesn't like. In order to attend the school and play on the team, he has to live with a host family, the Muillers. The son seems nice, but the daughter is very pretty and rather dangerous, and the parents seem too sure of themselves and too aware of what a favor they are doing for Cory. He eventually gets his mom to let him take the scholarship, but things do not go smoothly at school. The evil Mike Chester keeps giving him a hard time, even pushing him in the locker room and injuring Cory's ankle badly enough that he can't play for a week. Cory does make some allies with his other teammates, but never feels entirely comfortable. When the Muillers' house is broken into and a lot of expensive jewelry is stolen, the police look at Cory with suspicion, especially after some of the comments he has made at school to get Mike off his case.
Strengths: There need to be more books with characters whose lives aren't solidly middle class. There are a lot of children for whom a new pair of shoes is a very big deal, so Cory's thrift store boat shoes and WalMart polos ring true. There are also children who have lives like the Muillers, so it was interesting to see the interplay between the two. Lots of football, and I have readers who will read anything that Green writes. Not as sad as it could have been, so this one was a touchdown for me!
Weaknesses: The minute the security code was mentioned, I knew that something would go down. Saw that one all too easily. Also, wished that the two socioeconomic classes had gotten along better.
What I really think: Bought without reading. That's how much I like Green!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Betty Before X

28274835Betty Before X. Shabazz,  Ilyasah and Watons, RenĂ©e
January 2nd 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Netgalley

In the 1940s, young Betty Dean is being raised by a beloved aunt who feels that Betty's mother didn't take good care of her. The mother has remarried, moved to Detroit, and had other young daughters. When her aunt dies, Betty is forced to leave her comfortable life in the south to be raised in a crowded apartment with her step sisters. She spends a lot of time at church and hanging out with her girlfriends. The girls are especially interested in the work of the Housewives' League, a Civil Rights organization that is trying to convince the black community that they should not shop at stores that would not hire them. When she has some fights with her mother, Betty is taken in by the Malloys, who go to her church and are very active in the civil rights movement, and she enjoys living with them very much. There are a lot of things going on in Chicago at this time, and Betty learns to be aware of the position of people in her community and is interested in all of the activists who visit and show her more of what is going on in the world.
Strengths: This is a great slice-of-life title for this time period, and we finally have a book from the point of view of a young black person instead of a Civil Rights story told through a white lens! The details of every day life AND of the social mores of the time are absolutely fascinating, and it's even better since this is a fictionalized account of Shabazz's mother, who late married Malcolm X. Watson's input makes this highly readable and engaging, and historical notes at the end remind readers that this story is based on real events. I especially liked the information about the boycotting by the black community of businesses who didn't hire black people. I had never heard to this!
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit young for a book that really should be read by middle school and even high school students. There is a scene of a lynching that might need to be processed with younger readers, who might be attracted to the pretty, sunny cover.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, even though I find Malcom X to be a problematic historical figure. If you have Shabazz and Magoon's X, you should definitely read this!

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fairy Mom and Me

36343106Kinsella, Sophie. Fairy Mom and Me
January 2nd 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Ella knows that she will be a fairy like her mother when she grows up, but she is impatient to try out her skills, especially since her mother is not very good at magic and frequently needs some help. Normally, Ella's mom works at an office and takes care of Ella and Ollie, but when the situation requires it, she breaks out her Computawand and magics up cupcakes, flying beds, or clean up spells. Things often go awry, but work out in the end. Ella has two good friends, Tom and Lenka, but also a girl, Zoe, who gives her trouble. It's hard for her to watch her mother experience problems with magic when she suspects she would do a better job, and Ella occasionally has to ask her Aunty Jo or her grandmother (who uses an old fashioned wand) to step in to fix things.
Strengths: As more and more of my readers enjoy short chapter books with illustrations, it's been hard to find fantasy books. This one is perfect for strong elementary readers, and still empowering enough that older readers who struggle will enjoy watching Ella's mom make mistakes with which she needs help. The pictures are particularly charming and work well with the story, the magical mishaps are amusing, and Ella is a fun character. This has a feel of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the new Millenium.
Weaknesses: A bit twee for me personally, with the magic word for the mother to become a fairy being "marshmallow" and spells having names like "Cupcakeridoo" and "Rewinderidoo", but the target demographic will probably enjoy those light moments.
What I really think: This will go over very well with my struggling 6th grade readers, although my 7th grade ones won't come anywhere near the aggressively pink cover! Ah, middle school.


Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 15, 2018

MMGM- Revolutionary War



It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

35068727Elliot, L.M. Hamilton and Peggy!
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Young Peggy Schulyer must watch her older sister Angelica elope with a dashing young man, and is instrumental in helping her sister Eliza's suitor, Alexander Hamilton, connect with his sweetheart. In the meantime, the Revolutionary War is grinding on, and her father, General Phillip Schuyler, is very involved with aspects of the planning and fighting, although he is not always successful in his military endeavors. Peggy meets many of the luminaries of the time, tries to help around the house (her mother is constantly having babies, which becomes more difficult as she gets older and the war continues), and chafes against the restrictions put upon women. She even travels in the bitter winter weather to prove that she is not to be held down! Set against many details of every day life as well as the political machinations of war, Hamilton and Peggy! is a solid historical novel from the wonderful L.M. Elliot.
Strengths: Elliot does a great job at weaving in very descriptive military occurrences with every day life in a way that is both instructive but fast paced. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish in historical fiction. This was reminiscent of works of Ann Rinaldi, which always have such great details about life and historical events. Elliot has clearly done her research, and I appreciated the notes at the back.
Weaknesses: There is not really very much about Alexander Hamilton in the book, and Peggy is described (in a VERY common historical novel fashion) as being perhaps a bit spunkier and daring than women at that time would have been in real life. It's not unrealistically done, but I always believe deep down that such behavior is probably anachronistic. Makes for a much better story, so it makes sense to portray Peggy this way.
What I really think: If Hamilton fever continues, I may purchase a copy. Actually, I will probably purchase it anyway, since there are surprisingly few newer historical novels set during the Revolutionary War. Forbes' Johnny Tremain (1943) has seen better days.

35342937Stokes, Jonathan W. The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution
Illustrated by David Sossella
January 30th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publishers

In 2164, Time Corp published a series of guides for time travelers, since time travel devices are standard issue in homes, and there is a Time Patrol to fix any problems that wayward time travelers create. Luckily, copies of the books were found in New York City in 2018, and republished for modern readers. Time Corp is headed by the megalomaniac Finn Greenquill, who gets ample mention in footnotes throughout the book.

With such an introduction, we can expect The Thrifty Guides to be much more amusing than Lucent's Travel Guides or Lerner's Passports to History, which are much better at laying out information that actual time travelers might need. While there is good information about what to wear and eat, the main concern of this book is staying alive in the midst of different military actions or while spying. There are some nice overviews of historical figures with whom one might like to eat lunch, and enough information about daily life to keep a time traveler out of trouble, but the main concern is the military action. There are even maps.

This will be very helpful to students who have to study these battles in school-- I know that our 8th grade does some large units on Bunker Hill and Concord and have to actually make maps of battle strategies, so the maps included in this book, and the explanations for why the battles occurred, will be very helpful. The asides and additional humorous information make the history more accessible and interesting to readers who are new to the material.

My quibble is that I wish more social history was covered in school. How did people dress, what did they eat, where did they shop-- how did they go about their everyday life. What were the social mores? How did families work? What jobs did people have? This information is constantly neglected in the classroom, as well as in historical nonfiction. That said, this quibble is not so much with The Thrifty Guides as it is with the general approach to history, and I am clearly in the minority on this one. The Thrifty Guides are a nice supplement to topics covered in middle school social studies and could be put to good use in the classroom setting, as well as for pleasure reading.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say

34506934Dominguez, Angela. Stella Diaz Has Something to Say
January 16th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Stella, her brother and their radio executive mother live in Chicago. Stella's father lives in Colorado and does not get in touch very often. Stella loves learning about marine animals and has a betta fish for whom she enjoys caring. It's a tough year at school, since Stella's best friend Jenny isn't in her class anymore, and Stella is still seeing a speech teacher to work on her language skills, which are fairly solid but which could use some improvement and make Stella self conscious about speaking in class. She has to deal with a new boy in her class who is from Texas, learning that she is not a US citizen but rather an "alien" with a green card, and missing her family, many of who still live in Mexico City. Stella does her best to get ready for her class presentation despite her challenges because she does in deed have "something to say".
Strengths: Stella is a fun character, and seems very typical for a third grader. Being without her best friend is hard, and she worries that Jenny will make other friends. She misses her father, but realizes that he just isn't going to be involved in her life. She has a warm and supported relationship with her mother, who is doing her best to support her family. The school scenes strike me as realistic, and Stella's struggles with language are delicately and constructively described.
Weaknesses: I worry that this will be too young for many of my readers, although my struggling ELL population will enjoy the story, the length of the text, and the inclusion of pictures. I just wish there were a similar story with an 8th grade character, because most of my students do not want to read about a third grader.
What I really think: I will purchase for my readers who need easier chapter books that appeal to their own experiences.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ellie, Engineer

35525589Pearce, Jackson. Ellie, Engineer
January 16th 2018 by Bloomsbury USA
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ellie loves to build things, drawing up plans and using her impressive array of tools to create and build all manner of innovative projects. When her best friend Kit's birthday is approaching, and the friends overhear that Kit is getting Miss Penelope, a dog, Ellie sets out to build a dog house. She needs some help, and even though the neighborhood boys are annoying, she enlists the help of Toby for a lot of the project. She also asks some other girls to help with the wall paper, and as the project progresses, has to keep a lot of secrets from Kit. When Ellie is afraid that the house won't be done in time, she has a large group of people to help her, and invites them all to Kit's beauty pageant party. Luckily, everyone is understanding, and Ellie's project is a big hit.
Strengths: This is absolutely on trend for how young girls with progressive parents are being raised today. Pink and sparkles are okay, and so are wrenches and building things. Lots of STEM sorts of issues, and Ellie is insistent that she is an engineer. The friend drama is true to life, and it's nice that all of the children eventually learn to work together. There is even a bit of a twist at the end.
Weaknesses: This would be a hard sell for middle school, and the initial reaction to the boys alarmed me a little, although Ellie did manage to work things out with everyone and establish that while boys sometimes do stinky things, this doesn't make all of them stinky all the time.
What I really think: This just made me feel old. When my daughters were this age 20 years ago, the philosophy was just different, and I can't quite explain it. There was a feeling that we shouldn't really differentiate between "girl stuff" and "boy stuff", and everyone should wear primary colors and have dolls AND trucks. My older daughter went through a phase where she would answer "chemical engineer" when asked what she was going to be when she grew up. My younger daughter wanted to be a super hero princess, which is why I encouraged more gender neutral trappings for everyone because I'm still not a fan of pink and sparkles.

Now, the philosophy seems different. Too many women claim "I'm not a feminist", but still have a full time professional job that my mother could only have dreamt about. Little girls dress up as pink princesses but still think they can be CEOs. I find myself feeling vaguely annoyed not because of the amorphous change of philosophy, but by the fact that so much time has passed! To my credit, my older daughter is working in organic farming, and my younger one is in college to be either a forensic account or an actuary, so I think I did okay with math and science and girls!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 12, 2018

Guy Friday- History

   Rarely do I come across a book that leaves me vaguely baffled. This new title from Steve Sheinkin did.

3447529434475293Abraham Lincoln: Pro Wrestler
Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean
January 9th 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
Abigail Adams ARC received for free in exchange for an honest review.


First of all, Sheinkin is a brilliant writer and an even more brilliant researcher. His The Notorious Benedict Arnold just blew me away. He's been a National Book Award finalist three times for good reason. He takes interesting, somewhat unusual topics and writes about them with passion and intensity.

Do we need to put our foot down on ALL history time travel books? But then there are the Magic Treehouse books, which are okay because they introduce very young readers to history in a fun way. Scieszka' s Time Warp Trio is fun. I'm almost willing to give Dan Gutman a pass, since I enjoyed his Qwerty Stephens books and Baseball Card Adventures, and he had some fun twists with his Flashback Four. Meehl's Blowback books are for much older readers, and include sports in a much needed way.

But then there's the Rush Limbaugh Rush Revere books, Potter's Left Behinds, and Mansbach's Ben Franklin: A Huge Pain in My A** for which I didn't care on a number of levels. The Sheinkin books fall somewhere between these two groups.

On the plus side, there's a nice twist. Instead of fixing history, the main historical figures decide to do something different. But that's also why I didn't care for them as much.

Yes, it can be hard to get children to read historical fiction. I try daily and meet with little success. I love historical fiction. But Abigail Adams (which I got in an ARC box from Follett; I haven't seen the first book) even confused ME a bit. She's tired of hanging out in the new White House and hanging up laundry, so she jumps into the laundry basket and is transported to the Caribbean so she can hang out with famous women pirates? But then she wants to start a school on the ship? This was so goofy that it was hard to determine the accuracy of the details, especially since the language and situations were so unusual.

I understand why this was done, but it just wasn't successful for me. It might have been the illustrations by Neil Swaab; he wrote and illustrated The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying) which was more mean spirited than I had hoped, so perhaps the inllustrations got my back up.

I think I will pass on this series, and concentrate on finding what Michael Spradlin calls "historical thrillers" like Northrop's new Polaris. If notebook novels and "twisted history" books work for your students, definitely take a look.

Now I'm off to watch the DVD of Voyagers! while questioning my place in the universe.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Under the Bottle Bridge

34228343Lawson, Jessica. Under the Bottle Bridge
September 5th 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Minna Treat lives in Gilbreth, New York, a small town that is very proud of its history and tradition of local artisans. She is being raised by her young uncle, because her mother passed away of a medical ailment and her grandparents were killed in a car accident. There is not information available about her father. Theo, her uncle, wants her to enter the local young artisans' competition, which has always been won by a Treat, but Minna doesn't have much interest in it. Her best friend, Christopher (or "Crash", so called because of his predilection for causing accidents) and new, quirky girl Grace, hang out together and decide to try to discover more information about her uncle. Minna keeps finding bottles with cryptic messages in them near one of the five local covered bridges, and starts to think the messages might be connected with her father. Grace's father, the mayor, wants to start a lot of real estate development in the area, which would cause the woods and some of the covered bridges to be raised, but the town is not very excited about that. Minna isn't, either, even though times are bad enough that her uncle is looking into alternate employment at a town about an hour away. Will Minna be able to find out more about her mysterious parentage, the person leaving her messages, and how to save the town?
Strengths: Lawson has done a fantastic job of world building-- Gilbreth is quite a town, with a rich tradition, a history quoted at the beginning of each chapter, and an interesting blend of people. Minna's reaction to her uncle and mother's situation is handled well; not too sad, a bit precocious, but fairly balanced. I can see this being enjoyed by fans of the Penderwick or Melendy family sagas. The cover is gorgeous.
Weaknesses: This is overly long, a bit too detailed, and very slow moving for the target audience.
What I really think: I will pass on purchase, since I can't get anyone to check out the Penderwicks. This seems like a title that adults will rave about, but most children will bypass.

15801400O'Ryan, Ellie. The Case of the Digital Deception
January 29th 2013 by Simon Spotlight

Library copy

Club CSI is back when pretty, popular girl Whitney asks the group-- especially Corey-- for help because she "feels" she is being threatened. There is no actual wrong doing until the next day, when a picture hung inside Whitney's locker is defaced. The group proceeds to dust for fingerprints, but Whitney is oddly unhelpful. It doesn't make matters any better when Whitney's best friend, Alyssa, brings the group an e mail from Whitney that the group is a bunch of dorks and that she should just ignore them. Eventually, though, Whitney's You Can Draw It account is hacked, and someone buys $100 worth of expansion packs on her parents' credit card. Her parents are not pleased, and ground her. Club CSI steps in with some excellent digital sleuthing, and when they are very close to solving the case, they get some help from experts, including their friend at the local police department who is on hand when they confront the criminal.
Strengths: The Case of the Mystery Meatloaf and the other three books in this series have ended up doing VERY well in my library, so I ordered the next two. This is written by a different author, and I liked it a bit better. The digital sleuthing was very interesting, and the inclusion of some middle school drama helped propel the story. Hoping that books 6 is in the next shipment.
Weaknesses: Have to decide where to shelve this; will probably put it with the other books by Lewis.
What I really think: Fun, quick mystery with a lot of good CSI information.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Supergifted

35068631Korman, Gordon. Supergifted (Ungifted #2)
January 2nd 2018 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Noah is still enjoying being in the "regular" school with his friend Donovan, since he has trouble in classes like wood shop and gym. Why is that good? Noah is so brilliant that he often felt like he wasn't learning anything. Now, there are lots of areas in which he can improve. While Noah is embracing new opportunities, Donovan is stressed out. His sister, her military husband, and their infant daughter have all moved in with his parents, so the house is crowded and stressful. When Donovan runs into some of his enemies at the local park, his brother-in-law's dog has a run-in with one of the kids, whose parents get upset and forbid Donovan from ever being in their neighborhood. When Noah has a hair brained schemed that Donovan needs to stop, he ventures forth into the forbidden territory-- and manages to stop a truck from running right into Megan's house! He doesn't want to admit that he was "Superkid" and get into more trouble, so Noah starts taking credit for being the hero. This deflects attention for Donovan but also makes him jealous when he sees the attention that Noah is getting. Some people who know both boys suspect something is not right, as as plans for the governor to present Noah with a medal at a school assembly start to come together, so do the pieces of evidence that will blow the story apart. Can the boys manage to keep their act together long enough so that they can continue to enjoy their school days in peace?
Strengths: I adored Ungifted (2012) and even though I accidentally bought four copies, they are all in tatters, partly because I keep getting it added to Battle of the Books lists! Noah is an interesting character, and I love that he takes up cheerleading. We've had two male cheerleaders at my school, and I think there should be more both in real life and in fiction! Donovan is hysterically harried, and the supporting characters are all well developed and funny. Hard to go wrong with Korman, and this is a worthy, is belated, sequel.
Weaknesses: This starts out more slowly than the first book, which shouldn't be an issue for the fans who are eagerly awaiting this title.
What I really think: I didn't LURVE this one as much as the first, but I'm going to blame a bad cold and attendant strep throat for my inability to think for a week. (Back in December-- all better now!)
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Winterhouse

29540876Guterson, Ben. Winterhouse
January 2nd 2018 by Christy Ottaviano Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Poor Elizabeth Somers. Her parents died when she was four, and she has been raised by her uncaring Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap. When they decide to take a vacation over Christmas, she is packed off to Winterhouse with $3 and a grocery bag of clothing. There's little explanation, but she is glad to have a few books with her, and the hotel is not as bad as she has feared. Aside from the creepy booksellers, the Hiems, who warn her that the proprietor, Norbridge Falls, is not what he seems, and is not to be trusted. Norbridge seems quite nice, and looks out for Elizabeth, and also shows her the tremendous library at Winterhouse. Elizabeth also meets Freddy, whose parents send him to the hotel while they travel, and the two discover that they both like anagrams, word ladders, and other puzzles.
Strengths: This definitely had a Lemony Snicket sort of vibe, and the parallels between this and Greenglass House are definitely very strong. Also had shades of Seible's Trouble with Twins. Well paced, with plenty of twists and intriguing characters, this certainly has a lot of fine qualities to recommend it. Bonus points for the Hiems' name-- it means "winter" in Latin! (hiems, hiemis, f.)
Weaknesses: With the addition of the puzzles, students who have trouble following the plot of mysteries may struggle with this one.
What I really think: I'm not sure if my students will be willing to invest in a trilogy of these, but I may have to buy this first book because I love the cover and the premise so much. This year, I have had to buy Ivy and Bean,  Junie B. Jones and Melvin Beederman books for my very reluctant sixth graders. I would love to have students who would enjoy this book, but right now, I'm struggling to get them to read more than 50 pages. At least this has some pictures, which they all seem to require!


All weakness in this novel I am going to blame on the fact that I read this during extreme attack of Middle Age Ennui, and was immediately annoyed by "Uncle Burlap". Really? Burlap? And the dead parents. I loved Winterhouse itself, and the idea of the library, and just about the time I was settling into those lovely thoughts, Elizabeth and Freddy started with decoding messages, of which I am not a fan. That, and Elizabeth's favorite book is Anne of Green Gables, she claims to have read Swallows and Amazons, and she ends the book reading The Wind in the Willows. Really? Isn't that a tad precocious? I'm done with Anne, even I hadn't read Swallows and Amazons until it appeared on a list of 100 Best Middle Grade Books, and in 15 years, I haven't been able to get a single student to read The Wind in the Willows. So, a bit "bah, humbug" here.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 08, 2018

MMGM- Streetcar to Justice, Cinnamon Bun Besties


Wow. This is my 4,000 post. I've been blogging for neigh on 12 years, which my 6th graders have helpfully pointed out is longer than they have been alive.

Doesn't hurt my feelings, kids. I am wearing a sweater that is older than half of our teachers, and I knit it myself (in 1986)! Age and wisdom will always triumph over youth and beauty!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

34848502Hearth, Amy Hill. Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York
January 2nd 2018 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

One hundred years before Rosa Parks' experiences with segregated transportation, Elizabeth Jennings fought her own battle with the segregated streetcars in New York City. While black men and women were free in many parts of the north at this time, there was still a lot of fear because of the practice of slavery in the south. Jennings was a "respectable woman" who attempted to ride a street car to her church with a friend. At the time, the practice was that blacks could ride the "white" streetcars at the discretion of the conductor. If other riders complained, the person would have to take a "Jim Crow" car, which might not have as direct a route. In Jennings' case, there were no riders who complained, but the conductor did not want to let her on. When Jennings voiced her complaints and demanded to be allowed to ride, the conductor drove her to a police station to have her arrested. Her case went to court, where she was defended by the future president Grover Cleveland, who was a new lawyer at the time. This very obscure bit of history was very thoroughly researched by the author, the many sources used are listed in a bibliography and have footnotes. Some of the newspaper articles are included alongside the text. The afterword on how Hearth came to investigate this case is interesting as well.
Strengths: This was just long enough to cover the pertinent information while still being interesting and compelling. Sometimes, middle grade nonfiction gets to be too involved to keep readers' interest. Hearth gives a good background of what life was like for different groups of people at the time. I really enjoyed this one, and think it is important for young readers to understand what life was like in the past. If I polled my students, I would guess that most of them are of the opinion that ALL black people in 1854 were slaves.
Weaknesses: The cover of this is not great, and I might want to take a look at a print copy to see how the pages are set up before purchasing.
What I really think: We need a lot more interesting, narrative nonfiction about topics like this!

34570464Deutsch, Stacia. Cinnamon Bun Besties
January 2nd 2018 by Sky Pony Press
ARC provided by publisher (So my students can read it!)

Suki is on the student council, and their yearly fund raiser to help with the cost of the year end dance is to sell Candy Cards. Anyone can buy a piece of candy and a card for $1, and the student council delivers them to the recipients. There's a lot of profit, and Suki's organization contributed to the  the previous years' sales record. This year, JJ, with whom she is on the outs, decides that HE wants to help, and he thinks they can sell even more. Suki is angry, but has little recourse to protest, and her best friend Marley tells her to just deal with it. In the meantime, Suki sees a very cute dog loose at the dog park. She goes to the local shelter to see if anyone has brought the dog in, and decides to volunteer there, since she is not allowed to have a dog at home. She and Marley keep trying to catch the dog, whom she calls "Cinnamon Bun" after its coloring and its predilection for a similarly named coffee drink, to no avail. The Candy Cards project is not going well, and we learn a little more about why Suki is at odds with JJ. When the animal shelter is having a hard time making ends meet, Suki asks the student council to donate some of the profits to help with the animals. The news picks this up, and local companies come to the aid of the shelter. The Candy Cards ends up going okay once JJ and Suki learn to work together, and Suki's ability to handle responsibility ends up being rewarded.
Strengths: The inclusion of a group of friends that broke up after a misunderstanding was perfect, and the student council fund raiser was great. In fact, I need to mention to our Builder's Club that they should totally do this for Valentine's Day. My high school sold carnations periodically, and that was always exciting and nerve wracking! The animal shelter subplot is good as well. These books are so popular that I asked the publicist to send a paper ARC instead of an e ARC, because I have about five girls who keep returning the books with their friend, who immediately wants to check the book out! That's a good use of the taxpayers' money!
Weaknesses: Could have used a bit more romance. My first CAR was called Suki, so I had trouble with the name! Also, I swear there was another book about an animal shelter that had cinnamon buns in it. And now I really want a cinnamon bun!
What I really think: I enjoy these books, and my students adore them. I hope there will be more on the way after the February release of Salted Caramel Dreams.

Blather- State of the Blog 2018

On the bright side, I have posted at least one book review since January 1, 2012. I try to keep my blog posts up at least a month ahead, so I should be able to keep up the streak in 2018.

I did not meet my 2017 goal of 825. On New Year's Eve, I had finished 822 books and had to go to a party. People who really like to read books can understand how hard that was to attend.

2017 was a difficult year all around. I had some super boring health issues that made it hard to focus. I watched a lot of movies, and checked social media more than I should have! This year, I am making sure the computer is OFF so all I have to do is READ. It will help when I can start running again in March. Believe me, after breaking the same foot three different times, I will be starting out slowly.

I really don't have any more blogging goals for 2018. Just hope to keep blogging and make 2019 an awesome year.

ALA Midwinter 2018I'm off to ALA Midwinter in Denver in February, which is stressing me out a bit. Because of travel, I'll be out of school for four days. I have the best sub in the entire world, but it's still hard to be away and among people for that long. Looking forward to visiting the history center at the Denver Public Library and learning more about Lenora Mattingly Weber! After that, I think I'm not going to anymore conferences until 2019, when I hope to hit Book Expo and maybe ALA Annual in D.C. Maybe Books by the Banks in October of 2018, since my daughter might still be in Cincinnati. (If she doesn't go to Cork for a semester abroad, which I hope she does.) Nerdy Camp is on my birthday this year, and I should go to that, since Michigan is not a far drive.

Want to get reviews before the books even come out? While I wait until close to the publication time here on my blog, if you follow me on Goodreads, you can find out if the E ARC is available at Netgalley or Edelweiss Plus.


Sunday, January 07, 2018

TBH, This is So Awkward

34848219Greenwald, Lisa. TBH, This is So Awkward
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Gabby, Priyanka and Cecily have been friends for a long time, but settling into middle school is taking some time. They aren't supposed to be texting during school hours, but they manage to use the small moments they can find to keep each other updated by text or e mail on everything that is going on. They all have their issues-- Gabby's parents are divorced and she may have to move, Priyanka has a crush on a boy, and Cecily gets caught in them middle of new girl Victoria's attempt to break into her social circle by getting involved in the dance committee the girls are on. Victoria is a bit pushy, as is her mother, who e mails the principal and the PTA when she feels her daughter is being ignored. The principal decides that if students can't be kind to each other while using social media, there will be no school dance, so the girls have to band together to make sure that the dance is a reality. This is told entirely through text with a LOT Of emojis.
Strengths: Today's readers will be very familiar with this format, and trying to read a story about people they don't know might be an interesting exercise in determining how much is NOT conveyed through text messages! It is kind of amazing hoe much of the characters' personalities is conveyed in very few words, and I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.
Weaknesses: The use of e mail by the students already seemed dated, and since I have a dumb phone, this was VERY difficult for me to read! I really enjoyed the characters and the storyline, so I wish this had been a traditional story so it could have been fleshed out more. I hope this doesn't become a series. One is quite enough.
What I really think: If I buy this, it will be because I love this author and because I think this book will be a historic artifact very soon, kind of like the books I have about computer dating or VCRs that enable children to travel through time.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Battle with the Britons: Julius Zebra #2

34928690Northfield, Gary. Battle with the Britons: Julius Zebra #2
January 2nd 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Julius and his companions are back after Rumble with the Romans, since Hadrian has not given them their freedom as promised after their last battle in the Colosseum. Julius and his friends the crocodile, warthog, lion, mouse and giraffe are sent to Britain to spread the news that Hadrian is a great guy. Not surprisingly, when they arrive, the reception is not great AND the animals they have to face in battle are much better than they are. Julius assesses the situation and comes up with a great idea to save the day, and possibly his friends as well. The book ends on a cliff hanger, but we will have to wait until Entangled with the Egyptians comes out in the US.
Strengths: This is a goofy notebook novel with pop eyed animals fighting with swords, and there are enough immature jokes to keep younger readers guffawing. For older readers, there is a bit of Roman history. This is akin to a historical Stick Dog book, although Julius is not quite bright enough to be as philosophical as Stick Dog.
Weaknesses: I'm never quite sure how accurate the history is, in the same way that I'm always a bit confused by Lucy and Andy Neanderthal. Oldfield apparently worked on some of the Horrible Histories, so I'll assume that the details are correct. Will 12 year olds care? Most likely not.
What I really think: Definitely have to purchase this one, as the first has been popular and at least gives students a small taste of Ancient Rome!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 05, 2018

A Variety of Stuff

Apparently, I have lost my magical power over the universe. Usually, if the weather looks suspect, if I walk to school and get completely ready for the day, school will be canceled. I think it's putting on the lipstick that is the magic moment. It was about as cold as it is possible to get without school being canceled (-13, while -15 is the number at which they don't want children out), but I was fine-- I had four layers on my legs. The newspaper deliverer was skidding a bit on the roads, but it was early.

With only three days, the week has been hugely busy. Half the 7th graders needed books set between 1950 and 1973, the other half needed nonfiction, and today all 230 8th graders need a Holocaust fiction AND nonfiction book. That will be a challenge!

New books arrived, but they still need a lot of processing, which my volunteers will tackle bit by bit. Last night, I read 8 Food Dude type nonfiction books (I only put half on Goodreads!), Santopolo's Glam Opening (Sparkel Spa #10), LaReau's The Infamous Ratso, Rissi's Anna, Banana, and the Little Lost Kitten (#5), Surovec's My Pet Human Takes Center Stage (#2), and Meyerhoff's Starry Skies ad Fireflies (The Friendship Garden #5).

This order has a LOT of early chapter books and easy readers, since I have a vast number of struggling 6th graders.

I finally got to the point with two of my 8th graders where they had read every fantasy book I had. Even Chetwin's Gom on Windy Mountain. I had to break done and get a few titles that weren't exactly innovative in my mind. They won't be huge circulators, but will do okay. Things like The Evil Wizard Smallbone-- still medievalish quests with some magic. Sigh. I want more like The Gauntlet with something other than Celtic or (in the case below) vaguely Germanic settings. That said, I'm going to have about four readers fighting for this series! And you know what I'm reading THIS weekend.

Stay warm!

15818254Blackwood, Sage. Jinx.     
Published January 8th 2013 by HarperCollins   
Library copy

Jinx is living with stepparents in a clearing near the treacherous forest of Urwald. To step off the path there is to invite death, so when his stepfather takes him into the woods and has him sit off the path and wait, Jinx knows this is not a good thing. Luckily, the wizard Simon happens upon them, and when trolls come out of the woods, he cloaks himself and Jinx so they are not carried off. His stepfather is not so lucky. Grudgingly, Simon takes the boy home and puts him to work cleaning and helping out. Dame Glammer, a witch with whom Simon deals, thinks the best course of action is just to EAT the boy. Jinx is not entirely sure if she is kidding or not. Simon's wife, Sophie, is not always around, since she teaches somewhere vague and unspecified, and never arrives at the house by the front door.  When Simon performs a spell on Jinx that robs him of the ability to see the color of people's thoughts, Jinx suspects that Simon is evil and takes off through the forest to visit Dame Glammer to ask her some questions. On his way, he meets Reven, who has an unspecified curse on him, and Elfwyn, who does as well. Dame Glammer is Elfwyn's grandmother, and the witch suggests that they travel to the Bonemaster to ask him about the curses and Simon. The Bonemaster seems nice, but he is highly suspect, and in the end Jinx is put into a terrible situation. How will the three children survive, and will their questions be answered?
Strengths: I appreciated that this had a Germanic/Grimm Fairy Tale feel to it rather than a Celtic?King Arthur one, and I think that fans of Delaney's The Last Apprentice might enjoy the interplay between good and evil in this one. Jinx is an appealing character, and even Simon has his moments, especially with his fun home and his love of cooking. I can see why fantasy fans like this series.
Weaknesses: This brought to mind a dozen other similar books (Prineas' The Magic Thief especially), so I would quibble with the dust jacket blurb that says this is "innovative".
What I really think: Don't regret purchasing. It will get steady use and last for a long time.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Flower Moon

32050239Linko, Gina. Flower Moon
January 2nd 2018 by Sky Pony Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Identical Twins Tempest and Tally Jo are approaching their 13th birthday, but are increasingly at odds with each other. Tempest is a bit socially awkward and loves showing off her science experiments at school, which embarrasses Tally, who also misses the fact that the two used to always hang out together. Their parents decide to send them off to their grandfather's carnival for the summer, so the two end up in Georgia with Pa Charlie. While there, Tally starts to realize that the twins in her family seem to be doomed to spend their lives apart from each other, the way that their grandmother and her twin would only mail craft projects back and forth, and their mother and Aunt Grania have not been together since they were 18. Tally can feel that things are different, and that forces are literally forcing her and her beloved sister apart. Can she work with the people in the carnival who know and love her and try to figure out a solution before the convergence of the Flower Moon and their 13th birthday splits the twins apart forever?
Strengths: This has a lot of good sister drama with a background of magical realism that will be appreciated by fans of Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinary, Law's Savvy, and Downing's Moon Shadow. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and there is an undercurrent of time sensitive mystery that makes this hard to put down.
Weaknesses: I'm never a huge fan of quirky Southern characters, and when the carnival was added, this got too creepy for me. It's not a creepy book, but it made me feel creeped out.
What I really think: My readers don't care much for Lloyd and Law; I may purchase this if there's enough money at the end of the year. It was well written and an interesting debut, but I'm just not sure if it will find readers in my library.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

#WNDB- Black Panther: The Young Prince

Am I the only one is unsure of how to proceed after reading this post by The Radical Copy Editor? I had started to do "World Wednesday" posts back in January of 2014, but when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement started, I just borrowed their hash tag. I am most likely not using "diverse" properly.

I try to arrange my Wednesday posts to showcase books about a wide variety of people from difference ethnic backgrounds, levels of personal challenges, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Does anyone know the best term to use? "Windows and Mirrors Wednesday", going back to Mitali Perkin's quote?

35099656Smith, Ronald L. Black Panther: The Young Prince
January 2nd 2018 by Marvel Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

T'Challa enjoys his life as the heir to the throne of Wakanda, where his father is the reigning Black Panther. Their society is very technologically advanced because years ago a meteor hit near them and gave the valuable element of Vibranium to them. When war approached their borders, T'Challa's father sends him and his friend, M'Baku, to the African embassy in Chicago to hide from the father's enemies. T'Challa's adopted brother, Hunter, is older and stays to help with the war. When the boys arrive in Chicago, they find that the embassy is not nearly as luxurious as their home, and their middle school is certainly not what they are used to. While T. Charles (as he becomes known) embraces his nerdy French speaking, wrestling self and makes friends with Zeke and Sheila, Marcus decides to play basketball and befriends the shady Gemini Jones, who claims to be a warlock. T. is very concerned when Marcus moves in with the Jones family, but the war is heating up in Wakanda, and his father is otherwise occupied. T. investigates and finds that Mr. Jones is involved with some very scary magic, and he is afraid that his friend Marcus is involved. Can Sheila, Zeke and T. figure out what it going on and use the powers of the Black Panther to stop Gemini and his father before bad things occur? How will the war in Wakanda play out? And what does the future hold for the young Black Panther?
Strengths: Smith, whose two books on magic (HooDoo and The Mesmerist) show a great understanding for the way spiritualism and superstition play out in various communities, was a fantastic choice to write this book. The Black Panther canon seems to be presented well enough for people (like me!) who don't know anything about it, but with enough new information to be interesting to Black Panther fans. The Chicago setting is used well, and the story stands alone well.
Weaknesses: I found it difficult to believe that the boys were not taken care of better. Wouldn't an embassy have a lot of interest in protecting the son of a king? I was hoping that the concierge would step up and be sort of an Alfred (with Bruce Wayne) protector, but that didn't happen. The target demographic won't care, but if the boys really were in middle school, more adults would have been involved. I might have placed them in high school for a more realistic feel.
What I really think: Will probably purchase for my readers who like superheroes.

And for another, slightly different title involving panthers...

34848200
Schrefer, Eliot. Mez's Magic (The Lost Rainforest #1)
January 2nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

This would be a great choice if you have readers who are loving Erin Hunter's new Braveland series. Exotic animals in an exotic location-- Schrefer always does a great job with this. I may pass, since interest in talking animals is waning in my school. Still, take a look at this one for elementary and middle school.

From Goodreads.com:

"Caldera has forever been divided into those animals who walk by night and those who walk by day. Nightwalker panthers, like young Mez and her beloved sister, have always feared daywalkers as creatures of myth and legend. Until the eclipse.

Now Mez has discovered that she can cross the Veil and enter the daylight world. Her magical power has unknown depths, but she must rush to discover it after a mysterious stranger arrives at her family’s den, bearing warnings of a reawakened evil.

Saving Caldera means Mez must leave her sister behind and unite an unlikely group of animal friends to unravel an ancient mystery and protect their rainforest home."

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

2017 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists

2017 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists

So, I'm still running a little behind, but here are the exciting Cybils finalists! Head over to Cybils.com to see other divisions!

Amina’s Voiceby Hena Khan
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Flowering Minds
Amina (AH-min-ah) lives near Milwaukee, and enjoys being with her friends, especially Soojin. She loves to sing, but doesn’t like to do so in public. Amina’s brother Mustafa is becoming an obnoxious teenager, and her father’s older brother is coming from Pakistan to stay with the family for three months. When a misunderstanding causes Soojin and Emily to stop speaking to her, Amina thinks things can’t get any worse… until the mosque her family attends is gravely vandalized. What do the vandals mean, “Go home!”? Amina is home, and has to reconcile how she sees herself with how others see her, not only regarding her Muslim background but her singing and her relationship with family and friends.
While this book will speak to students who share Amina’s Muslim background, it also addresses universal concerns that middle grade students have in a realistic and touching way. The details of Amina’s home life are wonderfully drawn, and the descriptions of food, clothing, celebrations and family relationships again serve as vivid mirrors or clear windows to a way of life. Her individual quirks, such as being afraid of speaking in public and having trouble eating when she is upset, are very common among middle school students, and are depicted with a light touch, making this an intriguing, timely and appealing book.
Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Armstrong and Charlieby Steven B. Frank
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Greg Pattridge
Armstrong has been signed up for Opportunity Bussing by his parents. As the youngest and the only son, he’s grown up feeling like he doesn’t really have a place. Everything is hand-me-downs. His father runs the household, having lost his leg in the war, and now living with PTSD. Meanwhile, Mom works long hours in a local hospital.
Charlie attends Wonderland Elementary and is watching most of his friends flee for farther away schools for sixth grade. Their parents don’t want their children exposed to the bussed in students. Charlie though has other problems, a mother suffering from debilitating depression,  and an upcoming birthday that will make him older than his brother who died the year before of a severe asthma attack.
Told in alternating points of view, with a few asides by the yard duty officer, this Armstrong & Charlie is the story of a growing friendship between two reluctant sixth graders.
Sarah Sammis, Puss Reboots

Caleb and Kitby Beth Vrabel
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Mrs. Shh!
Caleb wants to be like every other twelve year old, but he isn’t. He is battling a life threatening disease that many have never heard of Cystic Fibrous. CF as many call it is affecting not just him but his whole family. From his annoying “perfect” older brother, to his divorced parents and countless trips to the hospital ER and hospital stays. He just wants to be like all the other kids he knows. He want’s to live life to the fullest and not do the daily treatments in order to breathe. One day Caleb meets Kit and she doesn’t treat him like he is a fragile boy, she doesn’t ask questions she just accepts him for who he is. She has a full vivid imagination and they create this magical world in the woods. Problem is Caleb is sick and he can’t keep up this charade for long with out his actions creating some serious consequences.
Caleb and Kit is the first middle grade book I’ve read that discusses Cystic Fibrous in a plain matter of fact manner. It doesn’t sugar coat the disease and shows the reader how life is like for the 30,000+ people living with it. The author presents the facts and intertwined it with a story of friendship, family, growing up and challenges of living with a chronic illness. Cystic Fibrous is the back story but not the whole story, we learn so much about Caleb, his family and Kit. Caleb and Kit is a heartwarming tale that will delight the reader.
Shannon Griffin, Picture Books to YA

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusby Dusti Bowling
Sterling Publishing
Nominated by: Heidi G.
Even though Aven was born without arms, she has never let that stop her from doing the same things as her classmates. She even entertains them with interesting stories about how she lost her arms. When her father gets a job managing Stagecoach Pass, an old west town in Arizona, Aven finds her new classmates judge her on sight and don’t want to give her a chance. Afraid to turn her classmates off completely by watching her eat with her feet, Aven seeks refuge in the school library. There she meets Connor, a boy with turrets syndrome, and Zion, a shy overweight boy. Together they find a way to fight peer pressure and expectations while solving the mystery of Stagecoach Pass. A fun and heartfelt story about overcoming expectations and finding self-worth. Readers will love Aven and her friends and all of the interesting characters she meets at the park.

Refugeeby Alan Gratz
Scholastic
Nominated by: Wendy
Three children, three countries, three points in history.  Refugee is three stories in one.  
Josef a Jewish boy surviving in 1930’s Nazi Germany. Will his family be able to find a better life after they board a boat on its way to Cuba?  Isabel lives in Castro controlled Cuba in 1994. Her family and best friends board a makeshift boat and try to make it to United State soil before the US Coast Guard find them. The seas can be rough but living in Cuba is rougher. Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015 where the war has been going on for as long as he can remember. His family will trek across many countries and face so many hardships and challenges. They will make unthinkable sacrifices until they get a to a safe place. Syria might have broken them but maybe not all is lost…
Refugee is a story of family, hope, survival and heartache. Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud experience more in their young lives than most people. You will cry for them, you will cheer for them, their stories will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Shannon Griffin, Picture Books to YA

Restartby Gordon Korman
Scholastic
Nominated by: Deb
What happens when the school bully loses his memory? In a page-turning and readable book balanced with humor and serious Gordon Kormon takes on that question.
When Chase wakes up in the hospital he doesn’t remember what happened. He doesn’t remember falling off the roof and he has no clue who any of the people in the room with him are. He remembers nothing. So begins his journey to recovering his memory that becomes a chance to become a better person. Chase finds out he is a football star and also one of the most popular kids at school. And he also discovers he’s a bully. There are hints early on when his little half-sister clearly shows she’s afraid of him and soon there is no doubt. Chase was a nasty bully responsible for the tormenting of a student at school to the point that that student leaves and goes to another school. It won’t be easy for Chase to redeem himself if that is what he truly wants. It shouldn’t be.
What makes this standout is how Kormon manages to blend several voices in telling this story to show that Chase has a long way to go to prove he is not the guy he was before the accident. He is given a chance to start again, but not without a hard look at what he did and the pain he caused. And in writing the story the way he did, Kormon shines a light on everyone’s role in bullying, including parents, other students at the school and school administration,
Restart is stand out book with wide appeal , that will also generates some fine classroom discussion, this is a book that ticks all the Cybils Award boxes.
Deb Marshall, Read, Write, Tell

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamoraby Pablo Cartaya
Viking Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Melissa Fox
Arturo lives in a very close knit community– his family owns an apartment building, and his family, his grandmother, and most of his aunts and uncles live there. His abuela runs La Cocina de la Isla, a restaurant where his mother is the head chef. When the slick Wilfrido Pipo comes to Canal Grove and threatens to tear down many of the buildings, Arturo must protect his comfortable world. As serious as the urban renewal is, however,  Arturo’s teenage concerns are paramount. Will he be taken seriously as a dishwasher? Can he care for his abuela? Does Carmen like him? Readers will identify with these concerns while having a window into what it would be like to live in a close knit Florida community.
This warm tale of family, food and friends, with the addition of a delightfully over-the-top villain, was a delightful change from the standard tales of gloom and doom coming out for middle grade readers, and the panelists gobbled this up… and got hungry for churros while reading this humorous and insightful tale.
Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Zap

35297317Freeman, Martha. Zap
January 2nd 2018 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Luis is a little concerned when the electricity goes out in his house in Hampton, NJ, but he heads off to school. The power is out there as well, but he runs into his friend Maura and decides to spend the day at her house in the suburbs. When they arrive, they find that Maura's grandfather, Mr. O'Hara, has had a stroke, at just about the same time the power outage occurred! He ends up in the hospital, and with no electricity to charge phones, pump gas, or to support so many other crucial functions, things get hectic. Luis' parents can't go to work at their jobs, either, and as the power outage continues, tensions run high in the town, spurred on by the outspoken candidate for mayor who blames the incumbent for the outage.. Luis frequents a local bodega, and the owner, the diminutive Senora Alvaro, is almost attacked by rampaging teenagers, but Luis manages to keep her safe. After this, he decides to hunt down a local homeless man know as Computer Genius to see if he might know what caused the power outage. Computer Genius is willing to help... for a price. Luis and his friend Carlos find Red Bull and Pringles for the hacker, and Carlos is dispatched to help Senora Alvaro. When Computer Genius seems to be getting close, Luis finds himself followed by guys who seem intent on beating him up, but he insists on staying in town even when his parents want to decamp to a relatives house. Who is behind the power outage, and will Luis and the Computer Genius be able to restore power before things in Hampton get even worse?
Strengths: I love the quote with which this book starts: "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster." Carl Sagan. Books like Weyn's Empty, Philbrick's The Big Dark, Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It, and Walters' The Rule of Three are so utterly chilling because they could so easily happen. In Zap, the outage is localized and due to some easily explained but scary politics, and the science and technology used to explain the outage is utterly realistic. Told from Luis' point of view, we see his tween irritation against the larger issues, and it's a twist on "tweens saving the world" to have him investigate in ways that adults don't pursue. The inner city setting contrasted with Maura's new home in the suburbs speaks to many current issues in our society, but it's good to see that the two remain friends. Young readers will be enthralled with Luis' exploring of abandoned houses. There were just so many things I liked about this book! It was an intriguing read. There are also some great science connections on electricity!
Weaknesses: While I liked the fact that Luis is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants, I was a bit worried that this wasn't an #ownvoices book, especially when Luis talks about having to clean up his parents' vomit after their "well deserved" partying. However, there is a note at the end from a friend of Freeman's who grew up in a similar setting, and he apparently gave her notes on what it was like to live in a similar time and place. Aside from that alarming description, the parents are hard working and treat Luis well, although it was a stretch to me that an 11 year old would be left behind by any parents during a power outage. I wish that Luis had been 14 or 15, since the book would then appeal to high school readers as well. I also wasn't entirely comfortable with how the role of the grandfather was treated.
What I really think: Clearly, I need to stock up on bottled water. And peanut butter. Can't wait to purchase this and share it with my students.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 01, 2018

MMGM- Escape From Aleppo


It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

26146347Senzai, N.H. Escape From Aleppo
January 2nd 2018 by Paula Wiseman Books
ARC provided by the author.

Nadia and her family live in an apartment building in Aleppo, Syria, so her aunts and uncles, and well as her grandmother, are all close by. When their neighborhood is being bombed in October of 2013, they have a plan to leave and head toward the Turkish border to meet Nadia's father. With the help of her older cousin, Razan, Nadia packs up her cat, Mishmish, and prepares to leave. Since being caught and injured in a bombing earlier, however, Nadia is very fearful of being outside, and her hesitancy Causes the family to be caught in a direct hit of their building. Nadia is not badly injured, but is trapped in the rubble, and her family leaves her, assuming that she has perished. When she finally emerges, Nadia tries to follow the agreed upon route to a dental clinic, but the landscape of her neighborhood is barely recognizable. Along the way, her cat reappears, and she is fortunate enough to meet an elderly man, Ammo Mazen, making his way across the town. He agrees to help her, applies ointment to her wounds, and listens to her story. The two don't find Nadia's family, but they find two boys who were being helped by a friend of Mazen's. Basel, who is eight and looking for his grandfather, leaves with them, but Tarek decides to stay behind. Mazen must visit lots of contacts on their way out of Aleppo, and Nadia, after snooping through his wagon and overhearing conversations, discovers that he is finding a preserving rare books and artifacts that would otherwise be destroyed in the war. Mazen's health is not good, but the small group, which Tarek eventually rejoins, makes their way towards Turkey. Mazen's health is not good, and the journey is arduous, so he stays at a small town near the border while the children make the final leg of their journey, hoping to be reunited with Nadia's family.

This is a timely and important story that will help young readers understand what is going on in Syria, and grasp why their are so many people who have been displaced. Since a story is only illuminative if children read it, Senzai adds many vivid details that will draw readers into Nadia's experience. In the first part of the book, Nadia flashes back to more pleasant times of her life. We see her enjoying a birthday party, celebrating with her family, and relishing small pleasures, like polishing her fingernails or playing with her cat. For reasons I don't understand, my students don't quite grasp that children in other countries live lives very similar to their own until wars or other tragedies disrupt them. These details of Nadia's life before the bombing of her apartment building goes a long way to investing readers in her life.

As Nadia travels across the city, Senzai does a fantastic job of describing both the shops and streets before the war, colored with Nadia's experiences in various places, and contrasting that with the devastation that has occurred. Details about the history of the conflict and of Ammo Mazen's past alternate with the grim present that include soldiers, snipers, and bands of teenagers out looking for any supplies they can steal. This makes the story both informative and exciting, and sweeps us along in Nadia's journey to Turkey.

As Nadia's fear turns to grim determination, we also see how the war is affecting young Basel and Tarek. Ammo Mazen is a huge help to the group despite his somewhat suspect past, and his ill health makes his devotion to getting the children to a safe place all the more touching.

While Gratz's recent Refugee has the story of a family escaping a similar situation in Syria, Escape from Aleppo will appeal to readers who wonder how they would survive in a war-torn environment, but like this author's riveting Ticket to India, showcases young people trying to survive such trials without the support of their families. When I was a tween, I was fascinated by stories of children my age during the Holocaust or on the Oregon Trail because they were pulse pounding and exciting, but reading about these experiences also made me appreciate the hardships of others. Escape from Aleppo is a must-read middle grade novel for understanding the evolution of the current political environment in the troubled country of Syria.
Ms. Yingling