Thursday, April 19, 2018

British Mysteries

35849459Hearn, Sam. Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this re imagining of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as a child, we find John Watson newly enrolled at Baker Street Academy. He meets Holmes and is a bit taken aback by his observations, but finds Martha and her dog Baskerville a calming presence. Teachers Ms. DeRossi and Mr. Gapp seem very nice as well. After a class trip to the British Arts and Antiquities Museum, the children get enmeshed in the theft of the Alpine Star. They suspect that their one unkind classmate, the trench coat wearing James Moriarty, might be involved, but there are many clues to follow and proof to be found before Sherlock can determine who is responsible for the theft and recover the jewel.

While you have to look a bit to find the information, the use of the Sherlock Holmes characters has been approved by his estate. I like to see this stated somewhere in the credits, since young readers sometimes aren't aware of the original. Doyle's work is so impressive because of all of the imitative stories it has spawned. Everything from Springer's Enola Holmes to Andy Lane's Death Cloud books pay homage to this fantastic British author.

This book is a completely fresh spin on the tale, however, since it is a heavily illustrated graphic/notebook novel mix! The drawings are not only appealing and engaging, but crisp and clear. I loved how the pages were designed; it's a bit hard to describe, but there is a good variety of framing, panoramic settings, insets, and page decorations that makes this very visually appealing. Usually, I find illustrations a distraction from the text, but these really supported the story well and were fun to look at. I'm assuming that the illustrations are in black and white, but I did look at the Advance Readers' Copy and haven't seen a finished one to compare yet, but the black and white are still stunning.

The characters are all true to their original incarnations, with the addition of much more personality for Martha Hudson, who is given a lot more input into the action of the story. Since it seems to be a boarding school, it's nice that her family home is nearby, and her mother is around to be a parental influence... and provide cookies. Having a cute dog like Baskerville is never a bad idea, either.

  This is a great way to introduce a classic mystery story to students who will read ANY book as long as it has pictures!

35297437Stevens, Robin. Jolly Foul Play (Wells and Wong #4)
April 17th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Head Girl Elizabeth dies of injuries after the school's Guy Fawkes bonfire, Daisy and Hazel suspect that she was murdered. The position of the rake wasn't right, but this doesn't stop the head gardener from being fired. When pages from a notebook Elizabeth kept of everyone's secrets keep cropping up, the Detective Society realizes they have their motive. The five prefects are also suspects, and the girls work on narrowing them down. When Hazel writes to Daisy's cousin Alexander and shares details of the investigations with him (in order to get his help), Daisy is angry and stops speaking to her, which makes investigating difficult. Younger student Binnie goes missing, and it is feared that the murderer has taken her. With time running out, Hazel and Daisy make up, double up on investigating, and figure out who the murderer is before it's too late.
Strengths: Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or British boarding school stories will adore this series. The fact that there are actual murders at the school make it easier to get these into the hands of students who might not want to read about England in the 1930s. The mean girl exploits, however, as well as the investigative techniques, make this a series that I wish more of my students would read. The covers are also brilliant.
Weaknesses: There is a romance between two of the girls that is judged more harshly than I think it would have been at the time. After all, in the wake of WWI, there were a lot of highly educated women who lived with female partners, and it was just kind of accepted. It just doesn't seem historically accurate that students would have cared about it.
What I really think: Definitely purchase these for my library. They aren't huge circulators, but I can see them being around for a long time.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Krista Kim-Bap

35801649Ahn, Angela. Krista Kim-Bap
April 18th 2018 by Second Story Press
E ACR from Edelweiss Plus

Krista and her friend Jason have to work on a project for school about their country of origin and what makes their culture particularly interesting. Krista thinks it is the food of Korea, and Jason certainly agrees. He loves kimchee and just about everything except a particular kind of soup. Krista's mom cooks a variety of foods, and often buys the Korean delicacies, so Krista asks her grandmother for help with her project. Even though she has a rocky relationship with her grandmother, the two start cooking together and enjoy working with each other. Krista also has to dress up, and her sister helps her restyle a traditional hanbok so that Krista can also wear it to a fancy birthday party. Liking the attention she gets when she makes more effort than wearing her regular jeans and t shirts, Krista takes her sister's hand-me-downs and starts to get the attention of some of the popular girls in her class. Jason is a little irritated, but the two realize that it is possible to develop other interests and still stay friends.
Strengths: This was a good combination of family drama/culture problems and ordinary middle school ones like not knowing what to wear and which friends to hang out with. I especially liked Krista's relationships with her family members-- they were perfectly drawn to show that difficult moment where 12 year olds want to be with their families but also want to be autonomous. The grandmother was interesting because the two didn't have a close relationship but grow closer through a shared interest. The topic of double eye folds is handled by the mother in a very nice way.
Weaknesses: There was a bit too much emphasis on what Krista wore, but that might be because neither of my daughters really cared about clothing even in high school!
What I really think: A great purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, but it is only available in paperback. I'll have to see if there is a prebind, because paperbacks don't last at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wedgie and Gizmo vs. the Toof and The Pompeii Disaster

Selfors, Suzanne. Wedgie and Gizmo vs. the Toof (#2)
April 17th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Our friends are back after their exploits in Wedgie and Gizmo. Gizmo has settled in to life with his new family, and has established some routines. His nap schedule is hectic, but he makes sure to spend some time with Abuela, watching television and eating cheese puffs. When Jasmine is bound and determined to enter a pet in the school parade, both Gizmo and Wedgie are pressed into service. Wedgie embarassed himself last year, peeing on the principal and running a bit wild, so Jasmine thinks he needs to redeem himself. This is even harder now that Emiliy has moved in next door with a mini pig called Pinky (Gizmo refers to him as the Toof). Pinky wears a crown, goes to the beauty shop, and does lots of tricks. Jasmine is very concerned that Pinky will win the prize that she feels Wedgie deserves. In the meantime, Gizmo is trying to muster a cavy army in order to complete his plan for world domination, and even manages to order a drone on Abuela's charge card. This certainly spices up the pet parade, which is rather spectacular, if not as disastrous as it was the previous year.

Selfors captures both Wedgie's and Gizmo's voices beautifully. Wedgie rhapsodizing about a muffin he runs away with under the sofa sounds exactly the way I imagine my dog sounded after she managed to run off with an oatmeal cookie. Gizmo is a brilliant Evil Genius, and his plans to take over the world are pretty darn sound-- if you are a cavy. I'm a little sad that we don't hear from Pinkie, because I imagine the mini pig has a very distinctive vocal style as well.

Of course, much of this book is over the top. Gizmo wears glasses, orders things off the internet, and manages to get aloft in a drone at the school pet parade. The ordinary life of Jasmine and Elliot's family is a nice foil for the celebration of evil genius, and every day details about meals, school, and family chores makes a good argument that Gizmo's exploits are absolutely possible.

Jasmine's jealousy over Emily and her pet rings absolutely true, and Elliot's reluctance to get involved in her plots is something that older brothers will definitely recognize. My favorite character is Abuela, who is the only one who really seems to understand that Gizmo is actually a threat. She keeps telling the family "Yeah, the guinea pig ordered a drone on my credit card", but they never believe her. Even more endearing is the fact that Abuela LETS Gizmo order the drone and even unpacks it and makes sure it is available to him when he needs it.

Readers who enjoy Birney's Humphrey books, O'Donnell's Hamstersaurus Rex, or Reiche's I, Freddy will appreciate this series' use of a guinea pig rather than the overworked hamster. I can't think of too many books that include mini pigs, either, and Wedgie is in a class with the movie character Bolt in his insistence that his cape makes him a super hero!

Gutman, Dan. The Pompeii Disaster (Flashback Four #3)
April 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
Public library copy

After being stranded briefly in 1912, the Flashback Four makes it back to Ms. Z for their next assignment. Since she has collected pictures that could have been taken because photography had been invented, she wants to up the stakes and send the children back to 79 a.d. and the eruption of Vesuvius. Of course, things don't ever go well, the children are mistaken for slaves and hauled off from their target-- taking a photo at the moment Vesuvius erupts. In the meantime, they learn a lot about how the Romans lived.
Strengths: I really like that the group has a mission, and the technology of time travel, as well as the gadgets they use once they get there (Ear buddy for translation would be fabulous, wouldn't it?) in order to communicate and fit in. Gutman has read his Pliny the Younger, and the historical details are good (dormice stuffed with dormice would probably not have been fed to prisoners, but how could you not include them?). This is a fun series for readers who have moved beyond Magic Treehouse and Ranger in Time. In fact, you could do a fun unit comparing the Pompeii versions of all of these!
Weaknesses: I like my time travel to be a little less goofy, and I'm not a huge fan of Julia.
What I really think: I definitely purchase these titles. They aren't wildly popular but see steady circulation, and they're great to have on hand for the students who like time travel books. The Baseball Card Adventures still have a special place in my heart!

Monday, April 16, 2018

MMGM- Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

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.

Collard, Sneed. Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs
April 15th 2018 by Bucking Horse Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This beautifully photo illustrated book offers an overview of the woodpecker world. Headlined by clever chapter titles (Sapsuckers- Slurping Sap and Taking Names), we learn everything from what qualities make a woodpecker different from other birds, how they communicate, raise families, and eat. There are also chapters on different types of woodpeckers, including endangered ones and how students can help advocate for them. The writing is engaging and funny at points, and shows a real enthusiasm for the topic, which is bound to get readers excited as well. At the end of the book, there are resources for learning more on the topic as well as a glossary and, my favorite, photo bloopers!

The photo credit page is brilliantly complete, and I may use it to show students that yes, you do need to cite all of your sources!

Like Collard's other books,  Hopping Ahead of Climate Change, Insects, and Firebirds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, this is a perfect length for middle grade and upper elementary readers (48 pages-- just long enough to have enough information, but short enough to be fast paced) and beautifully formatted. The photos, of course, are gorgeous and perfectly illustrate the points the text is making, but the page set up, font choice, and use of colors and inset text boxes all make this an appealing book. Check out his new web site,

35576416Partridge, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
April 10th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

The conflict in Vietnam was horrible, contentious, and defined the 1960s in many ways. In order to give an all-inclusive look at the many facets of this era, Partridge has arranged interviews with a wide variety of people who were actively involved at the time. There are also chapters relating to people who have since passed away but were essential to what was going on; Nixon, Johnson, Walter Cronkite, and others. This offers a lot of interesting perspectives, from soldiers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to medics, nurses, protesters, and even Country Joe McDonald.

Flipping perspective from the home front to the battle front we hear how events abroad were received and interpreted by those involved, and those who were witnessing events through television or campus activity. Arranged in chronological order, we are able to see the changes in the political administration, the opinions of citizens, and the conditions for soldiers as well as ordinary people trying to survive in Vietnam. This historical progression continues up until the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. in the early 1980s.

I found it particularly interesting that the author was a senior in high school in 1968, and was active in protesting the war while on a college campus... for a while. The most striking part of the entire book for me was the foreword, since her personal reflections are indicative of what I believe the vast majority of the population felt about the conflict. She and friends were traveling and picked up a hitchhiker (people did, then) who turned out to have been returning from Vietnam. Since the group was not particularly supportive of the military, they maintained a polite silence but let the man spend the night with them rather than turn him out in the cold. I recently read a fiction book that talked about the problems faced by a conscientious objector who was vilified by his neighbors. While admittedly very young at the time (I attended kindergarten in Kent, Ohio starting in the fall of 1970 and my father was a graduate student at Kent State), my recollections were more that few people talked about Vietnam, but everyone was sensitive that those who served had a difficult time, and those who lost family members also had a hard time dealing with the situation. The foreword seems to corroborate this feeling.

No one I knew voiced strong opinions because they didn't want to cause people to feel bad. The book did a great job at pointing out that California did have a lot of tension, because the population included both university protesters as well as service men and women shipping out. I was about Partridge's age when the memorial was built, and even though I read the paper every day, I don't remember much about it at all, even though it was quite the ordeal for the organizers to get it approved, designed, and built.

This is an essential purchase for middle school and high school libraries. It is readable enough for students who are interested in military events to read for pleasure, and a wealth of information for research. Along with Russell Freedman's Vietnam: A History of the War, Boots on the Ground is hugely helpful in understanding both the events and the emotional environment of the US during this time.

The one thing that has always stuck with me, for some weird reason, is that it was technically the Vietnam CONFLICT. War was apparently never declared.

31332397Jensen, Cordelia and Morrison, Laurie. Every Shiny Thing
April 17th 2018 by Abrams/Amulet Books
E ARC from

Lauren is angry with her well-to-do parents because they have sent her brother Ryan, who is on the autism spectrum, off to a residential school. She misses him, and thinks her parents just got tired of dealing with Ryan's problems. She attends a private Quaker school that preaches simplicity even though most of the students are from very rich backgrounds and don't necessarily follow these teachings. Sierra's father is in jail, and her mother is an alcoholic who has finally found herself unable to take care of Sierra. Anne and Carl, neighbors of Lauren's, are fostering Sierra, who goes to the same school that Lauren does. Used to taking care of herself as well as her mother, Sierra is surprised at the level of affluence, but is glad that Lauren befriends her and helps her navigating the different environment. However, Lauren's anger turns into a plan to appropriate unused items from the well-to-do and sell them in order to donate money to a program for autistic teens. Lauren starts not only stealing from friends, but from stores as well. While Sierra doesn't want to help Lauren, she doesn't want to lose her as a friend, either. There are several projects going on at school, and lots of drama as Lauren and her friend Audrey fall out. Sierra's mother struggles with rehab, and Sierra tries to stay in contact with her friend Cassidy, but Lauren's issues imperil her own progress. Eventually, Sierra realizes that in order to help the people you care about, you sometimes have to bring their misdeeds to light.
Strengths: There are not enough books about children in foster care, although we are seeing a number of good updated ones. (Byar's 1977 The Pinballs does not count!) This had a good mix of events, and some added appeal with Lauren stealing. There is something my students like about other children doing things that they ought not to do. I'm not usually a fan of dual perspective, but it worked in this case.
Weaknesses: I had a little bit of trouble believing that Lauren would really miss her brother that much, and the level of affluence (which I definitely saw when I taught at a private school) might be utterly baffling to my students! Could have done without the "verse" style, but it does help to delineate Sierra's story.
What I really think: The shoplifting story alone made this book worth reading-- it's a topic not covered well enough. Add the foster care story, and this is a very readable and timely book.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Battle of Junk Mountain

32720278Greenburg, Lauren Abby. The Battle of Junk Mountain
April 17th 2018 by Running Press Kids
E ARC from

Shayne loves to spend summers in Maine with her grandmother, even though it hasn't been quite the same since her grandfather passed away. This summer, things aren't going the way she wants them too-- her mother is staying home to work, and her best friend Poppy has to help out with the family business. Even Shayne's grandmother has gone back to work, waitressing at a local restaurant, and Shayne is supposed to help out there as well. When she proves less than helpful, she returns to her mother's idea of helping her grandmother ready things for a local rummage sale to help supplement her meager income. With Poppy unavailable, Shayne makes friends with the quirky Linc, the grandson of her grandmother's cranky neighbor. Linc is very interseted in war enactments, and may be able to help Shayne find something in her grandmother's "junk mountain" that will be worth money. Even though she really wants to help, Shayne can only do so much, and eventually has to bring in adult reinforcements to help.
Strengths: This is the third book I've seen on hoarding in the last two years (Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, Smart Cookie), but it is interesting and realistically done. I even bought that Shayne's mother would have sent her on her own. Shayne is hopeful that she can help, and works really hard to try to assist her grandmother. It doesn't hurt that the book is set in the summer in a Maine vacation town.
Weaknesses: I wish the neighbor hadn't been so cranky.
What I really think: This had a good combination of summer, problems, and hopefulness that will make it popular. Definitely will purchase.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Orphan Band of Springdale

35879383Nesbet, Anne. The Orphan Band of Springdale
April 10th 2018 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley

Gusta Neubronner is on a bus from New York City to a small town in Maine in 1941 when her father disappears. He is a union organizer, and has told Gusta a little bit about what to do if men come for him, but she just didn't expect it. At least she is on her way to her grandmother's house, and manages to arrive without other incidents. Her grandmother runs an odd sort of orphanage, so there is plenty of room for Gusta. She settles in to school, gets to know her cousin, and finally gets a much needed pair of eyeglasses. In order to pay for the glasses, she helps a German optometrist who keeps pigeons. As WWII heats up, everyone comes under suspicion, especially the optometrist and Gusta, who is unable to furnish a birth certificate to the school. Gusta plays the French Horn, and is glad to be approached by the high school band, but when her uncle needs an operation to repair damage done by the looms at his work, she sells the instrument to help pay for it. She also writes to a labor organizer in New York who worked with her father, hoping to get some representation for the uncle's case. Long held family secrets emerge, and eventually Gusta is able to make sense of her world.
Strengths: I am constantly fascinated by books involving Germans in the US during WWII, but aside from A Tiny Piece of Sky and Bunting's Spying on Miss Muller (1995), there aren't that many. This Nesbet's own mother's story, and the love that goes into the details is very evident. I would have adored this one as a child.
Weaknesses: A bit long (448 pages) for my students. The biggest reason WWII books circulate is for an 8th grade unit, and this could have had a few more details about life on the home front.
What I really think: May purchase this one if I have the money remaining to do so. This author's Cabinet of Earths and  Cloud and Wallfish don't circulate particularly well. Again, perfectly fine book, and it may be great for your library.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, April 13, 2018

Guy Friday- Trapped in a Video Game

38243915Brady, Dustin. Trapped in a Video Game
April 10th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Jesse is not a fan of video games, but his best friend Eric is obsessed with Full Blast, an alien invasion game that a classmate's father has provided to some of the boys in his son Chris's class. While looking for Eric, Jesse comes upon the game on the television in Eric's basement, and gets sucked into the game! His right hand is replaced by a blaster, and he and Eric have to play the game. As the game proceeds, they find out that a boy who has gone missing in their neighborhood has also been sucked into the game, and they discover that there is a significant bug in the programming that they have to figure out how to fix the game before they are stuck as well. Of course, since this is the first in a five book series, we know that further adventures await the boys. A short lesson at the back of the book on computer coding and how games are put together is interesting.
Strengths: This was about the length of a Jake Maddox sports book, and shares a similiar font size, amount of illustrations, and level of reading difficulty. The story moves along quickly, and Jake and Eric are sympathetic characters. Readers who enjoy video games but who are not strong enough readers for Anderson's fantastic Insert Coin to Continue will adore these books.
Weaknesses: This title is not year listed on Follett, and is published in paperback. While it would make a great gift for a reluctant reader or an addition to a classroom library, it wouldn't hold up to the circulation it would see in my building without being available in prebind.
What I really think:  This is a great choice for readers who are interested in video games but not terribly interested in reading. My students who pick up Patton's Battle Bugs book would be all over this. I will definitely keep my eye on this title, but if an Accelerated Reader test is not available for it, I won't purchase.

Poetry Friday: A Round of Robins

Hesterman, Katie. Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. A Round of Robins
March 27th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This picture book sized poetry book follows Mama and Dad bird as they hatch a clutch of eggs, supervise raising the chicks, and send them off into the world. The rhymed couplets give brief information about how the nest is built, eggs are laid and hatched, and some of the activities of young chicks. Eating worms, splashing in puddles, learning to fly, and eventually being persuaded to leave the nest are all covered, and the final pages indicate that this is a process that will be repeated.

The pastel illustrations have a good portion of red in them, and the backgrounds show a good use of watercolor wash with pen and ink accents. Ruzzier may not have been trying to replicate the bird in Eastman's Are You My Mother, but the young robins certainly brought that fictional bird to mind.

The poems cover the material about bird life cycles very thoroughly, although it might have been nice to have a short section at the end of the book with more information and a few photographs, to reinforce to younger readers that all of the information is real and not a story. The poems are simple but well crafted; I am very particular about rhyme and scansion, and nothing stuck out as awkwardly done.

I normally deal with collections of poetry, or thematic poetry book that tell stories of school, so I haven't read many that teach science facts. There are apparently a number of these, however, such as Andreae's
Bustle in the bushes,  Harrison's Crawly school for bugs : Poems to drive you buggy and A place to start a family : poems about creatures that build and Lin's Our food : a healthy serving of science and poems. Who knew?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Doughnut Fix

36548900Janowitz, Jessie. The Doughnut Fix
April 1st 2018 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Tristan's family decides to move from New York City to a small town after his father loses his job and his mother decides to open a restaurant. Tristan is so upset that he doesn't even tell his best friend, thinking that his magical thinking will somehow stop the move from happening. It doesn't. Soon, the family is ensconced in a run down house at the outskirts of a small town on the East Coast. Tristan isn't happy, his sister Jeanine is even less happy because she is not in an Able and Talented program, and four year old Zoe just shows her unhappiness by biting people. When the school district suggests that the children don't start school until the new year, the parents decide that Tristan and Jeanine should each have a project to keep them busy. Tristan has visited a small store in town and been intrigued by their chocolate cream doughnuts, which are no longer being made. He eventually earns the recipe, and embarks on a project to produce and sell the doughnuts, aided by Josh, the son of the local librarian. The boys perfect the recipe, source and price the ingredients, come up with a business plan, get a permit, advertise, and manage to produce a batch to sell. When their debut date ends up coinciding with a snow storm, they are afraid The Doughnut Stop is doomed. Is their chocolate cream doughnut really the kind of product that changes lives?
Strengths: This was a fast paced, fun read that had a great mix of middle grade elements. Even though there was a lot of detail about setting up a business, those details were offset by raccoon poop, a younger sister who zip lines in the basement and opens up several bags of flour as "fairy dust", and lots of chocolate! There's the middle grade angst of moving and making new friends as well as some spot on sibling rivalry. I was able to remember the details of this very clearly for several days after I finished this, which means that the writing was organized and strong.
Weaknesses: I found it impossible to believe that the school wouldn't take the children right away, and also that the mother didn't have a better plan for setting up her restaurant. Also, Zoe would hvae constantly been in time out were she my child.
What I really think: Great cover, solid premise, and a very easy to sell topic. Definitely purchasing!

Random comment: For over half the book, I was operating under the assumption that Tristan was a girl. Even with a friend trying out for the boys' basketball team. Maybe it's because we have a female teacher who is named Tristan, or the scene where Tristan doesn't want to take a ride during a rainstorm from a strange man (who turns out to be the mayor), but when I finally noticed the pronoun "he" was used, I was surprised!
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You Go First

35068526Kelly, Erin Entrada. You Go First
April 10th 2018 by Greenwillow Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, and Ben lives in Louisiana. They've never met, although they have played online Scrabble together on many occasions. When they both have particularly bad weeks, Ben calls Charlotte, and they actually talk. Having one good friend is helpful to both of them in getting through their weeks. Charlotte's somewhat older father has had a serious heart attack and is in the hospital, and Ben's parents have told them that they are getting a divorce. Combined with the normal middle school drama both are experiencing, (such as Ben's attempts to run for a school office even though he is regularly bullied) these new additions to their world are almost overwhelming. Despite the distance that separates them, they are able to help each other navigate the tricky waters of adolescent life.

Kelly gives a believable reason for the two to have connected on line, and there is some discussion of online safety, even though Charlotte later makes some bad decisions and sets off for the city on her own. Technology is present in many children's lives today, so it is realistic to include it, but hard to do so in a way that won't become dated very soon. (Myspace or pagers, anyone?)

The problems that both children face are ones that are fairly common. Parents become ill, many parents get divorced, and other children at school are not always kind. It is good to see that both Charlotte and Ben do have some caring adults in their lives, but sometimes a friend can offer much different help from an adult.

Readers who enjoy introspective books that cover serious topics, such as Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Bauer's Almost Home, Palaccio's Wonder and Sonnenblick's Falling Over Sideways will enjoy learning how Charlotte and Ben deal with the difficulties that life hands them.

That said, I've found it difficult to get students to check out Kelly's Blackbird Fly, Hello, Universe and  Land of the Forgotten Girls. I think this is because the books move rather slowly. Puzzle books also don't do well in my library, so I will have to debate purchasing this title, as much as I like Kelly's work.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Bone's Gift Blog Tour


Monday, April 9 YA Books Central 
Tuesday, April 10 Ms. Yingling Reads
Wednesday, April 11 Unleashing Readers
Thursday, April 12 The Brain Lair AND Genrefluent
Friday, April 13 Always in the Middle

Smibert, Angie. Bone's Gift
March 20th 2018 by Boyd's Mill Press
Copy provided by publisher

Bone is not as ladylike as her Aunt Mattie expects a girl to be in 1945-- she'd rather wear dungarees and play outside with her friend Will than dress up like her cousin Ruby. She still misses her mother, who died in a flu epidemic, especially now that Bone seems to be manifesting a familial "gift" that her cousin has warned her might have killed her mother. When she touches an objects, she gets flashes of what happened to its former owner while in contact with it. Her grandmother might know some answers, but Bone's father has cut off most communication with her. When a professor comes into town collecting stories for a WPA project, Bone uses this as an excuse to touch base with her grandmother and get some answers. Times are hard in the coal mining town, and Bone watches as her friends start working in the mines or going off to war. When both her own father and her uncle choose to go as well, things become even more dire, and Bone is more motivated than ever to figure out what really happened to her mother, and what will happen to her.
Strengths: There were lots of good details about life in this place and time. Coal mining is a brutal way of life that made going off to the war seem like a better idea, and I've not really seen that reflected in any middle grade literature. The family dynamics, with Bone and her father living in a boarding house, Bone living with her aunt when her father went off to war, and the alienation between the aunt and the grandmother are all very realistic. I was glad that Ruby and Bone started to get along a little bit, and that Bone was able to solve some of the mystery of why her aunt was so mean.
Weaknesses: There were some parts of the story that seemed unresolved, but this is the first book in a trilogy. I imagine we will hear more about Will's selective mutism, Bone's gift, and her grandmother's background in further installments.
What I really think: I'm not a huge fan of paranormal books, so it wasn't quite my cup of tea, but I can see this book being a good choice for readers who do like the idea of magic and magical gifts and need to read a book set during World War II.

The Stone Girl's Story

Durst, Sarah Beth. The Stone Girl's Story
April 3rd 2018 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mayka was made by Father, a master stone mason who has since died. She lives in the mountain with her family of stone creatures, but as their markings wear off with age, the creatures are in danger of slowing completely down, like Turtle, whom Mayka mourns. In order to restore him and keep the other creatures alive, Mayka decides to travel to the city of Skye, where father lived, in order to find another stone mason. Along with two birds, Risa and Jacklo she gets into the town only to find out there a stone festival in in the works, and everyone she meets acts a bit oddly and tells her to have her "keepers" ask for a stone mason. Jacklo goes missing, and when he is found, he is in the care of a stone mason to whom Garit is apprenticed. Unfortunately, Siorn has carved mark in Jacklo to make him obedient, and Mayka worries that all of the stone creatures are in danger. She finds out several secrets about Father and why he left, and learns more about a stone war that tore the community apart. With the help of her friends, old and new, she learns to trust in her own abilities to care for her family.
Strengths: This is a very solid, fast moving fantasy with good world building and intriguing characters. It's a great length for elementary students who want to read up-- my children would have loved this in about 2nd grade, when Magic Treehouse books became too easy.
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of epilogues, so I could have down without the scene where Garit and Ilery come to the mountain to visit Mayka once they are grown up. Most readers will be glad to find out what happened later, but I like to make up my own endings!
What I really think: This has some similarities with Durst's The Girl Who Could Not Dream,  but isn't quite as exciting as The Journey Across the Hidden Islands. I'm not sure I have readers for this, but it's definitely a good fantasy book for readers who don't want something too scary.

35603935Lauren, Ruth. Seeker of the Crown.
April 3rd 2018 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ARC provided by the publisher

Synopsis from
"Valor risks everything to protect her friends in this second book in a thrilling fantasy series that's Percy Jackson meets Frozen.

One month has passed since Valor broke her twin sister Sasha out of jail. But the girl who imprisoned her to begin with—Princess Anastasia—has gone missing. The queen, desperate to find her daughter, asks Valor and Sasha to track Anastasia down and bring her home.

But just as the girls and their friends embark on the search, the queen also vanishes, throwing the realm into utter chaos. If Valor can't restore order, she risks getting sent back to prison . . . and tearing her newly reunited family apart once again. She must rely on people she can't quite trust, as well as her own instincts, to protect the people she holds dear." 

Strengths: Valor and twin Sasha get along better in this book, and Valor is more likable. There are lots of twists and turns, changes in alliances, and lots of good world building and details about what's going on.
Weaknesses: Nothing really fresh. Vaguely Nordic fantasy kingdom, political intrigue, sisters working together against evil. Readers who like this sort of book need a LOT of similar titles, but I'm always looking for something that will have a new twist.
What I really think: I enjoyed Prisoner of Ice and Snow, but just couldn't get into this on the night that I read it. I will definitely buy it because the first one has been popular. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

MMGM- Crash

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.

Favreau Marc. Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America
April 10th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC received from publisher at ALA

This nicely formatted book provides an understandable overview of some of the causes of the Great Depression, and the effects that it had on the people of the US. We have reached a point where students in middle school don't have a great understanding of this period of time-- they don't really even understand 9/11! When I was growing up, there was still a lot of talk about how hard things were, from not only my grandparents, but my parents as well. This is important information for students to know.

I especially liked that this included some information I'd not really seen gathered before. There was a nice description of Herbert Hoover's contributions to US politics before he got sucked into the vortex of the Depression and his name was forever tied with "Hoovervilles". The stock market crash and the dust bowl are well explained, but there are also chapters on the African American and Hispanic America experience about which I have not read before. I find the CCC fascinating, and knew several men who were involved in this work, although there could have been a little bit more about other WPA programs. The book ends with a bit of information about Father Coughlin and segues nicely into World War II.

Period photographs, many by Dorothea Lange, as well as reproductions of posters and flyers, give much needed visuals for readers who can't fully comprehend how bad the Depression was. A complete index and sources notes round out this well done book.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Summer of Broken Things

35297600Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Summer of Broken Things.
April 10th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Avery is a well-to-do 14-year-old who loves to play soccer. Her father must spend the summer in Spain for work, and her mother is staying to run her decorating business. Something is wrong with this situation, but Avery isn't quite sure what it is. Kayla is two years older and lives in a small town not too far from Avery's posh town. Her father was injured in an accident before he was deployed, leaving Kayla and her mother to live with her mother's folks while her mother tries to make ends meet with her nursing home job. Kayla isn't well liked at school because she is awkward and unattractive. The two girls were friends under odd circumstances when they were young, and Kayla is approached to come to Spain to be a companion for Avery. Neither girl is all that excited about it, but Kayla is glad to see the wider world. Things go wrong from the beginning-- Avery loses her passport, the apartment in Spain isn't great, Avery won't go to the Spanish language class the girls are both enrolled in, and a dark family secret that affects both families emerges. Avery throws herself headlong into passionate self pity, and Kayla cuts off contact with her very supportive family for a while. Even Avery's father is affected. When the three attempt a road trip to do some sight seeing, there is a medical emergency, and the girls have to work together to get through it. Eventually, they both come to the realization that life goes on no matter what has happened in one's life.
Strengths: Haddix is a local author, so there is always great demand for her books. This is definitely more young adult than many of her titles, in that it is more introspective and sad, but doesn't have inappropriate situations or content. It was interesting to see lives in Ohio portrayed from both ends of the economic spectrum.
Weaknesses: Avery was a horrible child, spoiled and self centered, and the situation with the family secret was not handled well by anyone. The descriptions of Kayla seemed half a bubble off (as someone who identifies more strongly with the working poor), especially when she loses weight over the summer. It was good to see her become more confident, though.
What I really think: This is rather lengthy (about 400 pages), and my readers tend to like there travel books to be a little happier. I may wait to purchase this, since I don't think it will have as many readers as Haddix's other work. High school libraries will definitely want to investigate.

Friday, April 06, 2018

How You Ruined My Life

36388635Strand, Jeff. How You Ruined My Life
April 1st 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rodney's father left, so he and his mother struggle to get by. When his well-to-do aunt and uncle decide to take a three months' long cruise, his cousin Blake is sent to go to high school with him. It's bad enough that Rod has to share his tiny room with his cousin, but when Blake finally arrives, it is with a ton of stuff and an attitude that Rod should be his servant. Rod, who is very busy with his band, Fanged Grapefruit as well as his girlfriend, Audrey, isn't pleased. As Blake does more an more sneaky things to Rod, he also tries to ingratiate himself with all of Rod's friends, to the point where Blake throws animals guts in his own face so he can blame it on Rod! On the other hand, he gets some awesome gigs for the band, but he also turns Audrey against Rod. His head spinning, Rod isn't sure what his cousin's evil plan is, only that it is evil, and he must find some way to stop him, even if it is by sort-of kidnapping him and attempting to drive him across the country! Will the cousins ever be able to make peace?
Strengths: This was VERY funny. I was reading it on the plane coming back from ALA Midwinter, and laughed so much that I ended up reading a lot of it to my travel companion! This wins absolute first place for lists of rock band names. The plot was amusing, moved quickly, and was just a lot of fun. I especially appreciated that the main character was a high school junior, but there wasn't anything inappropriate. It's so hard to find books like this for my more mature readers. Very nice balance.
Weaknesses: Younger readers might be a little confused by what Blake is doing. I have had to explain the concept of "gaslighting" to teachers, so students might not understand what Blake is trying to accomplish, other than being annoying.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, and a bit miffed that it's in paperback! Follett does have a prebind available.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

35742696O'Connor, Sheila. Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth
April 3rd 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Purchased copy

Reenie, her father, and her brothers Billy and Dare move from Missouri to live with their grandmother in Minnesota in 1968 because their mother's cancer treatments bankrupted the family. Reenie and her brothers all have jobs, and they are saving up to pay for Billy's college tuition at the University of Missouri so that he can be deferred from the draft. It's unusual for a girl to have a paper route, even with her brother, so local thugs Rat and Cutler give her a hard time, but she gives as good as she gets, which only escalates their feud. One of Reenie's customers is Mr. Marsworth, but he will not answer his bell. Reenie starts leaving him lengthy letters, and he returns brief, typewritten letters in response. He encourages Reenie to go to the library, make friends with another new girl on the street, and eventually, to go to the beach near the lake house he owns to give her something to do. She still persists in writing, especially when she finds out that Mr. Marsworth was a conscientious objector during WWI, and she will try anything to keep Billy from going to Vietnam. With the encouragement of her new pen pal, Reenie has her brother write a letter to the newspaper, visit a center to help him with his application, and apply to a Quaker college Mr. Marsworth attended. As the summer wears on, Billy's situation becomes more pressing, the family must make plans for the future, and secrets from the past are revealed.
Strengths: This is an interesting topic, and one which I am very happy to see represented in literature. Aside from Kurlansky's Battle Fatigue, and Qualey's Hometown (M.E. Kerr's Slap Your Sides is WWII) I can't think of another book that does. There are lots of good descriptions of every day life in 1968, and the letter format makes sense within the context. I liked that the plight of the conscientious objector in several other conflicts was addressed. The family secret caught me by surprise, but made sense and was resolved in an interesting way.
Weaknesses: There is a lot going on in this book, which dilutes the central message. I could have done without the mother's death or the bullying from the local thugs, and Reenie would have done well to learn from Mr. Marsworth's brevity. Her "handwriting" was somewhat wearing to read.
What I really think: This will be a popular choice for the 1960s unit our seventh grade does, and will get checked out a bit more frequently than other titles about this time period because of the appealing cover.

Following Baxter

35604273Kerley, Barbara. Following Baxter
(Cover Art by Gilbert Ford)
April 3rd 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jordie, whose father has been living in an apartment over the family garage since her parents have separated, really wants a dog. Her mother always says no, so Jordie is excited when Professor Reese moves next door with a large dog acquired when a friend had to leave the country suddenly. The professor is very busy with her experiments and setting up her lab in her basement, so she's more than happy when Jordie offers to walk the dog, whom they name Baxter. Baxter is everything Jordie could want in a dog, and she's thrilled to be able to spend every day after school with him, accompanied by her younger brother, TJ. The two children eventually find out the nature of Professor Reese's experiments, and even help with some of them, When the professor goes missing, though, they need to find her without letting their parents know what is going on.

Next to jet packs, teleportation is probably the most enthralling way to travel! I can't think of another middle grade books that addresses this, and I appreciated how much detail was given to how objects would have to be broken down and reassembled. At one point, a cockroach is teleported accidentally, and the discussion about how it fares afterwards is very interesting.

While it's a bit of a stretch that Professor Reese would end up with a job, it's a nice thought that she would come to the aid of a friend so quickly. It's also nice to see her becoming friends with the neighbor children so quickly; does anyone take baked goods to welcome new neighbors anymore? The parents certainly check up on Jordie and TJ, but it's refreshing to see children given a bit of freedom and responsibility. The parents' living arrangements give them lots of opportunities to support the children, but also give the children a little wiggle room to sneak out from time to time.

The science is handled nicely; I'd definitely categorize this as science fiction rather than fantasy. Professor Reese has a job at a college that includes meetings and classes, and it's good to see a woman shown in a high level science job. In real life, she would probably have college students serving as her lab assistants, but Jordie and TJ do a good job in that role, as well as with walking Baxter.

This is somewhat reminiscent of Bunker's Felix Yz, Kade's Bot Wars,  Boyce's Cosmic or Scaletta's The Winter of the Robots in that there are adventures with some scientific twists, but the inclusion of a dog as well as Professor Reese sets this off in a category all its own.

I'm debating purchase for my library-- the mystery is a bit week, and I don't think the cover will entice my students to pick this up. It's just not quite the right flavor of either dog book or science fiction. Definitely take a look at it, though.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Love Double Dutch!

27508719Spicer-Dannelly, Doreen. Love Double Dutch
April 3rd 2018 by Random House
E ARC graciously provided by author upon request

Kayla and her friends jump double dutch and plan to spend the summer in their Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood preparing for the National Jump-off at Madison Square garden. Kayla knows she's good enough, so when her parents, who have been fighting a lot, tell her that they are sending her to her aunt's in North Carolina for the summer, she's crushed. There's nothing to be done, however, and Kayla and her little brother Cameron are ensconced at their Aunt Jeanie's large and beautiful home in a well-to-do neighborhood. It's been deciding that while Cameron and the younger cousins are going to be helping install a pool in the yard, Kayla and her cousin Sally will be attending a summer sports camp. Sally, with whom Kayla has fought in the past, isn't thrilled about this, but Kayla is glad to see that there is double dutch! She signs up for a team with Sally before she finds out that her cousin was kicked off her team, the Bouncing Belles, and that the teammates are all very mean to her. Sally reluctantly agrees to participate, and Kayla rounds up Marissa and Tina to complete the team. The other girls haven't jumped before, but intensive practice, along with Kayla and Sally's superior skills, bring the team up to speed. The Double Deuces are able to perform well enough at the local competition that sponsors are willing to send them to the competition in New York... if the Belles combine with the Deuces. With the help of two coaches who have a history of their own, all of the girls are able to come together and assemble a routine for the national championship.

In addition to excellent details about double dutch, a sport which seems to be enjoying a resurgence, there is a lot of very good friend and family drama. Judging from the number of my daughters' friends who had parents who divorced during their children's middle school years, this is a life changing event that affects many middle grade readers. Visiting cousins for the summer also comes with challenges, especially when the North-South dichotomy that is so much a part of the African-American experience comes in to play. I did especially enjoy that, for a change, the socioeconomic status of the family in the South an improvement over the family in the North! Usually, the "big city" offers more advantages than the usually rural South, so this was a nice twist.

The meanness, jockeying for social position, and competing over boys that occur in so many of the interactions that tweens have are realistically portrayed. Kayla has a crush on Charlie, but not just because he's cute. She also likes his confidence, and he is undeterred that she is not pink and sparkly like her cousin. There are some sweet scenes, like the one at a school dance, that will definitely appeal to lots of middle grade readers.

The sports details are excellent, and I learned a lot about the different facets of competition, from timed jumps to putting together routines. While it seemed slightly unusual that girls new to the sport would be good quickly enough to travel to a national competition, it makes for an intriguing story line. There was also some information about step-dancing that might intrigue some of my readers, since there are some teams at our high school. Double dutch is not popular in my area, but since so many of my readers like sports books, I think they will enjoy the aspects of jumping that are similar to other sports-- teamwork, grueling practices, and competition.

My least favorite part of the book was probably Kayla's sassy attitude, but it certainly does make an impression on her aunt, cousin and new friends! While it's a bit over the top, she does grow quite a bit over the course of the book, and does learn to get along with others much more effectively.

This first novel is a welcome addition to the body of humorous, realistic sports books and is an excellent purchase for all middle school libraries. Kayla's struggles with family, friends, and teammates will captivate readers, and her love of double dutch might cause some of them to dust off their jump ropes!

35297612Lupica, Mike. Team Players (Home Team #4)
April 3rd 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Cassie, whom we last saw in Point Guard, is ready to play softball now that school is out and 8th grade is over. Her dad is coaching, and a new girl, Sarah, joins the team. The problem? Sarah is on the autism spectrum and really struggles to communicate with the others on the team. This adds to the ever growing girl drama of which Cassie is very tired. Her friends Jack and Teddy have their own problems on their baseball team-- their coach is also a player's father, and seems to think that the team's purpose is to provide a vehicle for the glory of Sam. He's a difficult and unhelpful coach for all of the other boys, which makes practice and games not very fun. Sarah is an excellent player, but blows up when things seem unfair-- in one instance, a player calls the ball but then misses it and blames Sarah. Cassie is the only one who believes Sarah, so the team is divided. Cassie tries really hard to be friends with Sarah. The boys also work through their problems with the coach, who is eventually let go, leaving Jack to coach the team to victory.
Strengths: I was glad to see a portrayal of a character on the autism spectrum playing a sport, and Lupica's descriptions of Sarah's behavior certainly fall within believable bounds. While Sarah's problems with dealing with her teammates are worse than most of the students with whom I have worked, autism is a spectrum, and no two students react the same way to things.
Weaknesses: Slow and sad. See below.
What I really think: Again, I wish these were less message heavy and more fun. This was on the long side, and could have been shorter without the constant rehashing of problems. My readers who like sports books generally like something more fast paced and fun. Yes, there can be problems (Deuker's Heart of a Champion, about a boy dying of cancer, is a perennial favorite), but the Home Team books seem to discuss the problems too much. I'll purchase, because this is book four in a series by an author my students love, but it's not my favorite.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Wizard for Hire

35909705Skye, Obert. Wizard for Hire
March 6th 2018 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC from Netgalley

Seven-year-old Ozzy remembers living in New York with his scientist parents Mia and Emmitt, but the family is now enjoying an idyllic life in the forests of Oregon. Sure, they are surrounded by unpacked boxes, but life is good until strange men come and kidnap his parents. Not knowing what else to do, Ozzy continues to live alone in the mountain cabin. When he discovers Clark, a mechanical talking crow, he is less lonely. He also finds tapes that his father left, detailing some of the psychological experiments that he and Ozzy's mother were doing in New York. When he turns 14, he decides to go to high school, and hops a bus. He just goes to classes, and the teachers accept him for a while. Eventually, he decides to find his parents, and calls the number he finds in the local paper  under "Wizard for Hire". This puts him in contact with Labyrinth (Rin, nee Brian), who claims to have spent time in the wizarding realm of Quarfelt, and says he'll try to help. With the use of his ex-wife's car, Rin finds some details. Before long, Sigi, a girl Rin met at the beach and in the high school, shows up and offers to go track down a contact Ozzy's mother mentions on one of the tapes. Soon Sigi (who has some surprising parentage), Ozzy and Rin are on their way to track down Charles Plankford and figure out the mysteries of Ozzy's past.
Strengths: This is definitely my favorite of Skye's books. The story is far fetched but intriguing, Ozzy is an interesting character, and Rin's backstory is rather fascinating. Ozzy's entry into high school life is funny and endearing.
Weaknesses: This was the sort of book where I would happily read for 50 pages, then the story would bog down a bit and I'd put the book down to clean a bit. Read another 50 pages or so until the story slowed again. In order to make this a middle grade book, about 100 pages would need to be cut. This seems more like a Young Adult title, along the lines of Vizzini's The Other Normals or Pierson's Crap Kingdom.
What I really think: Since this actually isn't a fantasy book, aside from Clark, and I may not purchase it. It's a bit longer and slower than what my students usually like.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, April 02, 2018

Happy Spring!

This was the sight that greeted me on the last day of spring break, and goes pretty far in explaining why I had trouble getting motivated to read books being published in July! Most days it rained, so Sylvie didn't get as many walks as we normally take.

We have one good week to check books out, but for most of April, the library will be closed for testing. I no longer complain; testing must be done, a schedule is developed, and we do what must be done. It doesn't help that when testing is over, there are only a few weeks before all of the books are due for the end of the year!

The highlight of break was Julie Falatko's Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School. (Scholastic, 29 May 2018) "Tiny carrots wrapped in bacon" is my new favorite phrase.

Hope everyone is weathering the end of winter, reading a lot of good books, and having very few surprises!

MMGM- Class Action

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.

35721861Frank, Steven B. Class Action
April 3rd 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sam is tired of homework. It's not that he wants to do nothing but play video games when he gets home from school-- he wants to be outside, build things with his dad, play piano, and do things OTHER than homework for hours and hours. His friend Alistair would use his time to cook, and Catalina wants to memorize Pi to a thousand digits past the decimal. When Sam finally gets fed up with one project too many threatening to ruin his weekend, he gets suspended for causing a disruption in class. When his older sister, Sadie, points out that he can't be suspended without due process, a thought takes hold. Could he really protest homework and take it all the way to the Supreme Court? With the help of his neighbor, Mr. Kalman (who is a retired lawyer who had worked on school cases before), the group (including friend Jaesang) make plans. They raise funds (by selling California Mission projects as well as science fair projects!) to finance their court cases, and lay their plans very carefully. Mr. Kalman's knowledge of the legal system is very helpful, but the case is thrown out by the two lower courts before the group heads to Washington. By this time, there is a huge show of support by children throughout the US who have as their rallying cry the fact that studies have not shown that homework is helpful, and that students need to have free time to process information and to be curious individuals. Can Mr. Kalman and Sadie manage to not only research the case well but argue it effectively?
Strengths: This is definitely Avi's Nothing But the Truth for the new millenium. Frank does an excellent job of making Sam's case seem like it might actually be something that the courts would take on, and Kalman's approach is great. There is even an overview of the "justices" and their different backgrounds that is quite fascinating, and gives a lot of insight into how an actual case might be considered. The fact that Sam and his friends want their free time for productive purposes helps. Parents are supportive, even though Sam's case costs his mother her job as a realtor! The plot moves along quickly, and is just a lot of fun. Frank's experience in an actual middle school classroom is evident. Will definitely purchase.
Weaknesses: Selling projects made me a little uneasy. While I've heard that the Californian Mission projects are very problematic, delving into academic dishonesty wasn't the best way for the children to earn money.
What I really think: I taught middle school Latin, and cannot imagine any 6-8th grader learning that subject without any homework. Just... doesn't work. Considering that I found the basic premise of the book didn't hold, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. This is a testament to Frank's writing, and the target demographic will be delighted with the idea of doing away with homework in a way that I definitely was NOT!

35638833Albee, Sarah. Dog Days of History
March 27th 2018 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by Media Masters Publicity

Want to know lots of interesting details about the history of domesticated canines? Look no further than this great book. Beautifully illustrated, this comprehensive study covers information about dogs from ancient times to the present. In addition to the narrative descriptions of the role dogs have played in human households, there are plenty of sidebars and inserts with fun facts about man's best friend. Readers who enjoy Guinness or Ripley's books will find this just as amusing (although not as gross!), but students who need facts for history reports will also find plenty of information. Like this author's Poop Happened and Why'd They Wear That?, Dog Days is full of interesting information. This is one of those books that would be an excellent present before a long car ride-- it might keep children from wanting to stick their heads out of the windows!

35924694Kalicky, Anne. My Life in Smiley
April 3rd 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Max is documenting his sixth grade year in France with a journal that he doesn't want his parents or his older sister to find. He and his best friend Tom are trying just to keep up with everyone else and not get hurt by the evil Raoul. As we follow their progress through the school year, we see them as their class travels to a nursing home to sing, the boys try to come up with low cost holiday presents, they start to notice girls in their class, and their British pen pals visit for sightseeing in Paris. There are frequent trips to Britanny to visit grandparents, and outings to the car wash and other errands that sometimes don't end the way we think they will. Like a French version of Kinney's Wimpy Kid or Pichon's Tom Gates, Max's adventures are all slightly embarrassing but generally pretty tame.
Strengths: I've gotten to the point where I flinch with nearly every book I pick up, because they have all become so depressing. This was blissfully free of death and depression. It was fun, addressed real concerns that students have, and offered a window into French culture. Mayonnaise on pasta? Field trips to the Eiffel Tower? Fishing with grandparents in Brittany. Skiing during winter break? All very privileged, but also quite a relief. The emoticons will immediately draw students to this. In return, I think it only fair that we send Stick Dog books to France.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been MORE details of what it is like to go to school in France! A lot of it sounded much to American!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The cover alone makes me smile.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Not if I Save You First

35238072Carter, Ally. Not if I Save You First
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Maddie's father is a Secret Service agent who is protecting Logan's father, the president of the United States. "Mad Dog" and "Rascal" manage to get up to all kinds of trouble in the White House, finding secret passages and spying on dignitaries. When Russian spies try to kidnap Logan's mother, Maddie's father manages to save the First Family, but is injured himself, as is Logan.

Fast forward six years. Maddie and her father are living in a shack in Alaska. She has learned a lot of survival techniques, but is angry that Logan has never answered any of her letters. How do you go from being best friends to not talking at all? After Logan evades his security detail one time too many, his father comes up with a plan-- send him to Alaska, where he won't be able to post inappropriate things on social media or sneak out to parties. Neither teen is thrilled, but start to get settled in. Maddie's father is called away suddenly to deliver supplies to someone before the storm. When Maddie and Logan venture outside, Maddie is attacked and Logan thinks she is dead. Logan is abducted by a young Russian man he calls Stefan, and marched across the landscape toward a plane. Fortunately, Maddie has survived, and follows Logan. Eventually, she is discovered by Stefan, and the three fight their way to an unknown location, but Maddie and Logan manage to break away. Both are injured and weak, but trying their best to save each other. Who is behind the kidnapping, and will the two manage to survive... and to save their friendship?
Strengths: Carter excels at creating strong characters who have excellent fighting skills. Maddie would fit right in with the Gallagher Girls, and could teach them a thing or two about wilderness survival. Logan is fairly clueless, but well meaning. The two clearly care for each other, and there is some light romance... if they weren't so busy fighting for their lives, they would clearly share a lot more cozy moments. This was a great balance of excitement, spies, and snuggling.
Weaknesses: The cover is a bit odd. It looks like Jell-o in the snow. Also, I was somewhat confused by all of the political twists. Not sure how I feel about Russians being the bad guys-- it makes me think of my own teen years. I guess they are the bad guys once again!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing! Always glad to see something new from Carter, and both Maddie and Logan were upbeat in the face of all of the dangers of the wild.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Olga: We're Out of Here

Gravel, Elise. Olga: We're Out of Here (#2)
March 13th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Olga and Meh are back after their exploits in Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere. Olga and her friend Chuck are enjoying playing with the strange and smelly pet, but Olga becomes concerned when Meh starts exhibiting strange symptoms. The creature has weird growths on its belly, smells even worse, is picky about food, and is generally lacking energy and enthusiasm. Even the Lalas try to help care for the sick pet, but nothing seems to make Meh better. It's hard to find a vet for a possibly alien creature, and Olga does consult Dr. Spiffle, only to find him taking selfies with her pet and offering no real answers. Luckily, a turn of event points out what was wrong with Meh, who quickly recuperates.

This is a goofy notebook novel, with very little text and lots of cartoon style pictures. Meh's background leads to all manner of wild conjecture, which is accompanied by appropriate drawings. Olga thinks aout what she would do with a herd of Olgamuses, she dreams about traveling to Meh home planet, and even gives us information about scientists in her somewhat oddball way.

I did enjoy the fact that when Meh got sick, Olga consulted her local librarian, Ms. Swoop. Ms. Swoop is a tattooed, hipster librarian who manages to give Olga a little bit of advice, as opposed to Mr. Gumstrap, a librarian who doesn't think children should be allowed in the library and whose lips are the same color as his face. (Which really shouldn't be held against him; it happens to many of us!) She also has the supportive store owner, Mr. Hoopah, who supplies her with olives and other sundries for Meh. Olga's parents are absent from the story.

Readers who like funny, quirky notebook novels like Shreve's Stan and the Toilet Monster, Skye's The Creature from my Closet and or Kowitt's The Principal's Underwear is Missing will enjoy the further exploits of Olga and her stinky pink pet.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 30, 2018

Battle for Bearhaven (Secrets of Bearhaven #4)

34051363Rocha, K.E. Battle for Bearhaven (Secrets of Bearhaven #4)
September 12th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Spencer has enjoyed being with the bears in Bearhaven, especially with his friend, Kate, but the bears have not had an easy time of it. After rescuing his parents in Hidden Rock Rescue, Spencer still has to deal with the evil Pam and his sidekick Margo, who have planted microchips in over 80 bears and have created an evil army to try to wipe out Bearhaven. They're doing a good job so far, and have attacked and set fire to the settlement. Spencer has managed to escape and gone with eight bears to his friend Kirby's house to try to formulate a plan. He calls his parents, who want him to get on the TUBE and get to them, but Spence really wants to take Pam down. The group has found an injured bear  doorstep and rescued her, removing a microchip and treating her head wound. Sneaking into Pam's camp, Spencer and Kirby manage to drain a lot of the tranquilizer darts, but there's still a lot of work to do in order to save Bearhaven from those who wish it ill.

This was nonstop action, and a very clean fight showcasing good against evil. All that Spencer has learned about the bears comes into play, and his dedication to saving the bears and their world is admirable. The bears certainly are fighting as well, which is even more difficult since Pam has managed to turn so many of them into his evil army.

This definitely feels like the last book in the series, because so many of the loose ends are tidied up. Spencer's parents are safe and able to assist him a little, the bears have to move on from the destruction of most of their settlement, and Pam is dealt with. I did appreciate that Kirby was brought in on the action, since she has been a stalwart supporter of the bears and of Spencer.

Fans of Hunter's Warriors or Seekers series will enjoy the animal portion of this series, but readers who just like a good action and adventure tale with lots of fighting will appreciate that Spencer can actually communicate with the bears. Series seem to do better when they are shorter than five books, so that readers don't lose interest, so Secrets of Bearhaven delivers a compact punch of world building, conflict and speedy resolution.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Opening Day! and The Parker Inheritance

35960184Gramling, Gary. The Baseball Fanbook
April 3rd 2018 by Sports Illustrated
ARC provided by publisher at ALA

Did you know that today's MLB opening day is a bit unusual? It is the first time in fifty years that all of the teams have games scheduled, so it really an opening day for everyone. Why they haven't done this since 1968, I have no clue, but then, clueless would describe most of my sports knowledge!

This is why The Baseball Fanbook is such a great resource.  Like The Football Fanbook, this is packed with all manner of information. Record breakers, team histories, old and new players with particular talents, an entire section on baseball skills and how to better your game, and odd facts like why baseball teams wear white uniforms at home and gray ones on the road. (Although we can only hope the laundry situation has improved!)

I was most impressed with the number of teams in the Midwest that have existed at their current locations for over 100 years! I do find it incomprehensible that the Cleveland Indians didn't change their name 50 years ago (the Burning Cuyahogas, anyone?) and am completely baffled that they haven't changed their mascot.

If you can't get to a game today, reading The Baseball Fanbook is the next best thing.

Johnson, V35238085arian. The Parker Inheritance
March 27th 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Candice's grandmother was a city official in the small town of Lambert before she fell into disrepute. She thought there was treasure buried under the tennis courts and had them dug up. When no treasure appeared, she was relieved of her duties. Candice and her mother are spending the summer cleaning out her grandmother's house after her death, and Candice has some letters that indicate there is still a treasure out there. It's a rough summer-- her parents are separated, and her home in the city is being readied to sell, and there's no one to hang out with in Lambert while her mother is working on her book. Luckily, she finds bookish Brandon, and the two bond. She eventually shares the secret of her grandmother's letters with him, and the two follow the very detailed clues, learning a lot about the racial history of the town in the process. Will they finally find the treasure for which her grandmother was searching?
Strengths: This offers an excellent view of what life was like in the 1950s for blacks in the South, and it was good to see this through the eyes of modern children. Candice's life has some challenges, since she misses her grandmother and her parents' separation has a bit of a twist to it, but her parents are supportive and present, and the mood is generally upbeat. The clues they follow are interesting, and the mystery itself is deliciously convoluted.
Weaknesses: This took me about four days to read. I kept putting the book down and then thinking I was finished. This could have used some tighter editing to make it shorter and more fast paced. I wish the subplot with Brandon being bullied had been left out.
What I really think: This reminded me VERY strongly of Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught. The investigative process was similar, it involved civil rights, but the end of the mysteries were different. I will buy because this author is popular in my library and the cover is great.

Ms. Yingling