Saturday, March 23, 2019

Maybe a Mermaid

Cameron, Josephine. Maybe a Mermaid
March 26th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Anthoni Gillis and her mother have moved frequently as her mother moves up in the ranks of Beauty and the Bee cosmetics. When her mother moves up a level, she takes Anthoni on a long-promised vacation to Showboat Resort at Thunder Lake, a place she spent six "perfect" summers at when she was a girl. When the two arrive, the whole place is in disrepair and is being run by Charlotte Boulay, the now elderly daughter of the owners. Anthoni's mother reconnects with her childhood friend, who isn't really interested in spending time together. Anthoni hopes that she and the daughter might become True Blue Friends, but that doesn't work out either. Instead, Anthoni starts hanging around with DJ, and the two discover some secrets about the resort and Charlotte. Back in the day, Charlotte was the Boulay Mermaid, but how she managed the act is something Anthoni doesn't understand. Since Anthoni's mother's business is not doing well, the two plan to move to Chicago when their time is up at the resort, and Anthoni hopes she can make a friend before they go. When she tells a potential friend that she can show her a REAL mermaid, Charlotte graciously agrees to help, but when the show almost ends in disaster, Anthoni is forced to face some difficult truths.
Strengths: I am a complete sucker for run down resorts and especially Storybook Forest theme parks. The setting was awesome, and I didn't even mind the horrible flashbacks I had to swimming lessons in the lake! Anthoni and her mother's various positive mantras were great fun, and I also had some Amway flashbacks-- my parents sold it briefly, and I helped with the various demonstrations of the products. Anthoni and DJ had just the right level of supervision that they were safe but were able to get into some trouble! The inclusion of information of vaudeville was fun. There should be more middle grade novels about vaudeville!
Weaknesses: I couldn't pin down the timeline. Charlotte seemed like she would be about 90, but the mother would have been at the resort about 20 years ago. I didn't think about it too hard, but something seemed not quite right.
What I really think: I liked this, but I'm not sure how much appeal it would have. I have reached the point in the year where I have no budget left. If I got a copy of this for free, I would put it in the library, but I'm not entirely sure I'll buy it. And yes, I get a LOT of books that I send to other schools because I know my students just won't pick them up.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Size of the Truth

Smith, Andrew. The Size of the Truth
March 26th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sam has some unusual characteristics. He's small for his age, especially since his parents had him moved ahead to 8th grade at the beginning of 6th.; His father seems to think he will go to MIT and be a famous scientist, but Sam just wants to cook. His family runs Lily Putt, a putt putt golf course, where he and his father often hand out wearing kilts, not usual garb for Texas. He was also "the boy in the well" and the community has not forgotten that when he was four years old he spent three days stuck in a hole. He does have a good friend, Karim, but is leery of James Jenkins, who was there during the well catastrophe that left Sam with an understandable claustrophobia. James is also there to save Sam when he is pushed into a locker by 8th graders, and the two slowly warm up to each other. Sam is determined to enter the town cooking contest, and he finds out that James, whose father owns a local restaurant and is bound and determined that James plays football, is an excellent ballet dancer. The two try to work toward showing their families that they are very successful at what they do; it's just not what their families WANT them to do.
Strengths: I enjoyed reading about how hard it was for Sam to be skipped ahead two grades, and was glad he had a good friend in Karim. James was a very intriguing character, and his never-smiling, nodding demeanor was spot on for an 8th grade boy! The two have a very realistically evolving friendship, and even their past problems are worked in well. There are a lot of weird but funny moments-- survival camping with the father, time at the putt putt course, a school dance, and the fair at the end of the book make this a fairly amusing read.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of chapters that are flash backs to when Sam was in the well, where he was befriended by a talking armadillo named Abernathy who helped him survive. These sections were rather strange, and didn't really add anything to our understanding of Sam and his problems. This was somewhat reminiscent of the hallucinatory scenes in Karen River's The Girl in the Well is Me, which many people liked.
What I really think: I'm going to ask some students about this one. I really like the parts of the book that did not have the armadillo in them, but I would like to know if middle grade readers will dislike that part as much as I did.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Tin

Kenny, Padraig. Tin
March 26th 2019 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Christopher is an orphan boy who works for Mr. Absalom, an engineer who creates mechanicals, a 1930s version of robots. These mechanicals are not perfect, and are all children, according to the English laws of the time. The group ekes out an existence, doing work and repairs for income. Mr. Absalom even tries to sell one of his works, Jack, but that falls through. When Christopher is injured, the truth is revealed-- he is not human, but mechanical like his friends. Not only that, but he is of such high quality that it is suspected he is the work of Philip Cormier, an engineer who produced excellent work but who fell into disrepute when his work on war machines with Blake went badly wrong. The inspectors come and remove Christopher to the care of Blake's son, and Mr. Absalom's mechanicals are ordered to be deconstructed. Instead, they run away to find Cormier, who can claim Christopher as his own work. They find Cormier in a community of damaged mechanicals, and manage to convince him to help. This involves breaking into the agency that oversees mechanicals and stealing the Diviner, a device that can locate separate units. They track Christopher down, but Blake's son wants to continue his father's work, which included "ensouling" mechanicals, which is illegal. There is an epic fight between Blake's creations and Absalom's group of friends, who are sorely outnumbered. With determination, grit, and Cormier's help, can they win their freedom?
Strengths: The world building in this was very good, and the post WWI setting was different and effective. I loved that WWI served as a motivation for much of the mechanicals' roles. The characters are all well developed and distinct, and get along in a very charming way. Estelle, as the lone human, is understanding of the plight of her friends. Cormier is excellent, and Blake is disturbing. There are lots of twists that kept me turning the pages.
Weaknesses: I love a good battle with machines imbued with the souls of rats and lots of crunching of steel machinery, but the inclusion caught me by surprise. Blake was more evil than I expected, and this took a dark, dark turn. Granted, I adore the kind of nasty, vindictive revenge Estelle exacts on Blake, but it was a little unexpected.
What I really think: I did not think I would like this, since Steampunk books, even excellent ones like The Fog Diver, don't do well in my library, but this really sucked me in. I think I will purchase a copy, and hand it to my die hard fantasy fans as a change of pace.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Kidlitcon Providence

Heading out after work today to Providence, Rhode Island for Kidlitcon! I'm moderating a panel on Saturday afternoon: "Reaching Readers Part II: The Gatekeepers- (This panel continues the discussion on how to reach readers from the perspectives of librarians, teachers, and booksellers. How do you get the right book to the right kid? What strategies help you figure out what makes a book “right”? Gender, diversity, politics, and economics all come into play, making these simple questions a lot more complicated than they might seem at first!)

Super excited to be doing this with Melissa Fox, Sam Musher, Cindy Rodriguez and Carla Molina.

There are so many authors, bloggers, and people who deal with children's books coming to this event, and it's always great to meet new people and see (as my younger daughter puts it) my "creepy internet friends"! She's still not convinced that Charlotte is a real person.

I am a little worried that I will get lost on the way to Providence. I can get lost in my own town! Luckily, I am bring my daughter Claire with me, and she is generally good at getting places. And she has a smart phone.

Since I do not have a smart phone, I won't be posting things on Twitter or Instagram. If you've ever wondered why I only tweet before 7 a.m.-- that's why! Social media is blocked at my school during the day, as it should be, so that's about the only time I get to post.

I'll try to have some highlights on Monday! (Well, Tuesday. We're driving back on Monday.)

And yes, if students are reading this, there ARE people at my house, and Sylvie is guarding it. I always tell them NOT to post on social media when they are away from home, lest someone break in.

Onward!

The Astonishing Maybe

Grimes, Shaunta. The Astonishing Maybe
Published March 26th 2019 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gideon's family moves from New Jersey to Logandale, Nevada just in time for the long, hot summer. When he sees a neighbor girl out rollerskating wearing her bathing suit over her clothes and a baby blanket around her neck like a cape, he doesn't have a whole lot of hope for the summer. Roona turns out to be fairly nice, however, and since the two are going into 7th grade in the fall, Gideon spends some time hanging out in her backyard, putting his feet in the baby pool. Roona's life is difficult. Her father, who is in the military, hasn't seen her for years, and her mother once had an episode that resulted in her being sent to live with an aunt and eight cousins for a summer. Roona is concerned that her mother is unhappy again, and worried because her mother bakes pies and cakes for other people. If she's sad when she bakes them, disastrous things happen. When her cookies are served at a school meeting for incoming kindergartners that Gideon's parents and sister Harper attend and the meeting ends in fights and the police being called, Gideon thinks Roona's worries are worth listening to. He gets talked into taking a bus to the Nellis base near Las Vagas with her, so that she can talk to her father and try to get her mother some help. When the two arrive, secrets about her father are revealed, and the two's parents are called to retrieve them. This does not endear Gideon's parents to Roona, even after he explains her predicament to them. When it looks like Roona will be sent back to her aunt, she shares fears about this happening with Gideon, and he knows that he needs to find her some help. He goes to Miss Oberman, a favorite teacher of Roona's whom they met at the local nursing home during an ill-conceived attempt to try to get a pie back from Miss Oberman's mother. When Roona needs help, both Miss Oberman and Gideon's family are able to step in and keep her safe while her mother gets the treatment that she needs.
Strengths: It was refreshing to read a middle grade book where the character moved into a new house and was more concerned with finding a friend than with the house being haunted! I liked Gideon because even though he wasn't wild about the idea of moving, he was willing to try to make a friend. The details about the summer in Nevada were interesting. The families were both convincing. Gideon didn't tell his folks too much about what was going on with Roona, and they reacted accordingly, but once he shared more with them, they were willing to help. The road trip details were good, and there were several good plot twists. I especially liked that Gideon did the right thing to get his new friend the help she needed, and that a teacher ended up being the "trusted adult" that was essential to Roona's well being.
Weaknesses: Wasn't quite sure where the whole "magical baking" thing was going, but once Roona's situation got more serious, this was dropped.
What I really think: The cover on this makes the book a hard sell. It is generally the sort of sad book my students like in February, especially since there is a road trip involved, but the cover makes it look too happy.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Friendroid

Vaughan, M. M. Friendroid
March 26th 2019 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Danny has had trouble making friends at school, and prefers to hang out at home playing video games. His mother, a nurse, is supportive and worried, and while his father isn't in the picture, he does have an older cousin Vito who is there if he needs him. When he talks to the new boy, Eric, the two have some common ground, and slowly start spending more time together. Eric is a bit socially awkward, but has an uncle who sends him trendy clothes and gadgets, so he's friends with some of the more popular children. His parents are both obsessed with making friends and having the right possessions, and don't seem to be worried when Eric is seemingly gravely injured, which makes Danny's mom worried about him. She encourages him to spend more time with Eric, who is soon nicknamed "Slick" because of his preference for this brand of shoes. Slick tries to make Danny more popular, giving him clothes and helping him with his social media presence, and soon both boys are hanging out with the wealthy Ethan. After Slick passes out at a sleepover, his friends become concerned about him, and the truth comes out. Slick is really an android. With Vito's help, they start an investigation and try to figure out what is going on with Slick's life. This puts everyone, especially Slick, in danger, since he and his family are being used as surreptitious advertising by the evil Jeopardy corporation. Danny hopes that he can save his friend from the loneliness and lack of family he experiences, especially when he realizes that Slick's code is sometimes overwritten and false memories are put in place. Will he be able to help the only friend he has ever known?
Strengths: This is definitely a fresh premise-- androids living among us to sell us things by word of mouth? Fun! The ins and outs of popularity in middle school are realistically portrayed, and working in gaming and social media is timely. Danny is an interesting character, and seeing him warm up to Eric, who is very quirky, is heartwarming. As the book progresses, we get a bit more action and intrigue. Good use of drones as well!
Weaknesses: This switched perspectives in a slightly confusing way, and was ultimately a really sad book!
What I really think: I'm debating this one. On the one hand, having a friend who is an android will appeal to middle grade readers, but there is a lack of FUN things that would come from having a friend who was an android. This was also a bit on the long side.

The Magical Unicorn Society Official Handbook
Selwyn E. Phipps (Illustrations), Helen Dardik (Illustrations), Harry Goldhawk (Illustrations), Zanna Goldhawk (Illustrations)
September 18th 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
Public Library copy

The running joke at my school is that I am a Magical Unicorn. This is how I can do everything I do-- read a lot, remember students' names, fix all technology. I did have students ask about unicorn books in a recent survey, and I had to look at this one from the public library.

I think I'll buy it. It's really gorgeous, with beautiful illustrations in lovely colors. It breaks unicorns down into different types depending on where they live, and discusses habitats and eating habits. It's much more serious than Stuff Unicorns Love; it seems unlikely to me that unicorns would eat so much sugar!

Readers who love the different types of dragons in Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series will adore this short, well illustrated tome. In fact, they may need a copy for themselves.

Monday, March 18, 2019

MMGM- Focused

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.

Gerber, Alyson. Focused.
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Clea really wants to do well in school, and thinks it is her own fault that she doesn't get all of her work done and forgets to study for some things. It's hard enough to get out of the house in the morning, but if she would just buckle down and worked harder, she would do okay. It's hard to juggle school AND chess team, but she loves to play, especially since her best friend Red is on the team with her. When she fails several assignments, the school contacts her parents and suggests that Clea get tested for ADHD. Clea is angry-- she's not one of THOSE kids who cause disruptions and use ADHD as an excuse-- but her parents take her anyway to try to figure out why she struggles so much. In the meantime, Clea makes a new friend in teammate Sanam, and realizes that Dylan isn't as mean as she thought he was... and she may actually "like-like" him. There's a lot of drama about who will be able to compete in chess team tournaments, and dealing with a mean-girl teammate doesn't help, although the advisor, Mr. Lee, is very understanding. When the diagnosis comes in, Clea is given a number of coping strategies as well as medicine to try. The medicine doesn't help at the beginning, but after she gets used to it, she finds that her condition was also behind some of her problems with her friends, because she would get frustrated and angry quickly, and blurt things out before thinking. Clea learns to advocate for herself with her teachers, asking for her accommodations of extra time or a different environment to complete tests. She also gets used to budgeting her time and using logs and timers to keep herself on track. Things aren't perfect, but Clea feels much better about being able to handle middle school.
Strengths: This had some great characters-- I was a big fan of younger sister Henley, who was struggling with speech difficulties. This is something I haven't seen in middle grade literature much. The parents were very supportive, even though the father was out of town most of the week for work, and that was nice to see. Sanam, Red, and Dylan are all good characters, especially since they are generally understanding, but occasionally still get irritated with Clea. The most interesting part to me were the details about testing, medication, and coping strategies. Like this author's Braced, these are woven into the story in a way that doesn't slow it down.
Weaknesses: While the details of the chess tournaments make sense, and it was good to see Clea playing the game for several reasons, it slowed the story down for me.
What I really think: I will be very glad to have this in my collection. I actually have a girl who plays chess and is a very similar student to Clea. Not often that there is such an exact match for a student to see herself!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Mozart Girl

Nickel, Barbara. The Mozart Girl
March 18th 2019 by Second Story Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nannerl has just turned 12, and is somewhat sad about her childhood being over. She is also angry that even on her birthday, her talented but tempestuous brother Wolfgang gets all of the attention. While her father allows her to perform along with him, if time runs out, Nannerl is always the one who does not get to play. When the family embarks on a tour of Europe, Nannerl hopes that she will be able to take her symphony to Bach, whom they are going to meet, and help her get it published so that she, too, can be famous. Instead, she spends a lot of time having to help with household chores, work on technical passages of other people's work, and suffer the injustice of being a second class citizen merely because of her gender. She misses her best friend, but does make some new acquaintances, including Sopherl, the sister and wife of other musicians who no longer speaks or performs in public. After Bach laughs at her attempts at composing a symphony without even looking at her manuscript, Nannerl is inspired by Sopherl to finally to take matters into her own hands and bring her work into the public eye against all odds.
Strengths: This was well written, moved quickly, and gave a lot of details about the performances that the Mozart children gave in a variety of European cities. There was a lot of positive girl power, even though Nannerl doesn't have any luck in getting much for herself. This reminded me a bit of some Carolyn Meyer of Ann Rinaldi fictionalized biographies, or the Scholastic Royal Diaries.
Weaknesses: While younger readers won't pick it up, I found Nannerl's tone a half a bubble off. This is the challenge of writing historical fiction; understanding how people felt about social mores of the time. Yes, Nannerl would have been frustrated at her lack of opportunities, but she would also have been less surprised at the unfair way in which she was treated.
What I really think: This is only available in paperback, so I think I will pass on purchase for my library, although I enjoyed reading it myself.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Julius Zebra

Northfield, Gary. Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians(#3)
March 19th 2019 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After Rumbling with the Romans and Battling with the Britons, Julius and his menagerie of friends are back, having routed Septimus and sent him on his way. Julius, however, would like to catch him, so sets off on his ship, only to be tossed about by a storm and washed up on a beach. Glad to be alive, the group is less glad when soldiers arrive. Luckily, the Egyptians mistake Julius for the horse god Heter, and gladly take him to the palace to install him as pharaoh. Brutus, Julius' wayward brother shows up as well. As usual, Julius gets himself in all manner of scrapes and misunderstandings. Heading to Memphis for his installment, his plan is almost derailed. Luckily, the group is close enough to home that their savior comes from a surprising source, and they are alive to head off on new adventures.
Strengths: There is a lot of fairly accurate information about the ancient world, and it's amusing to have a humorous novel incorporate the topics that are covered in a rather dry way in 6th and 7th grade social studies.
Weaknesses: I have trouble keeping the large cast of characters separate, even though they are different types of animals, and there are pictures of them. Perhaps character development is a bit lacking? Shocking in a goofy notebook novel, I know.
What I really think: The fact that these are published in Great Britain let me imagine for a little while longer that the Classics are still an important part of the British educational system, even though I have some serious doubts about whether Latin and Ancient Greek are still taught to tweens anywhere on the planet. (Nota bene: I was a Latin teacher 25 years ago!)
Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 15, 2019

Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam

Townley, Alvin. Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jeremiah Denton was a naval aviator who was shot down and captured by the North Koreans in 1965, and was held for eight years. This follows his time in various prisoner of war camps, including the Hanoi Hilton. Since Denton was an admiral, he managed to secretly contact other prisoners and make sure that they remained connected and focused on their mission to return home with honor. The North Koreans maintained that the Americans they captured weren't prisoners of war, and therefore cared for under the Geneva Convention, but were instead criminals, and were treated incredibly harshly. The prisoners managed to communicate with notes on small scraps of paper, code, and Morse code tapped out on the prison cell walls. The armed forces have a strict code for people taken prisoner, that they shouldn't give away classified information even if tortured, but the North Koreans were so cruel that they did eventually break some men and forced confessions out of them. Denton gave a filmed interview at one point, and had the strength to blink out "TORTURE" in Morse code! Very little news of the outside world got to the prisoners, but they tried to keep faith that they would eventually be released. As the war dragged on, their families came to resent the military's insistence that families remain quiet about their loved ones who were prisoners, and the POW-MIA association managed to change the government policy on the treatment of these soldiers. After that, the treatment in the camp got a little better. Denton was finally put in a room with another man, easing his feelings of isolation, and food, hygiene and medical treatment became a bit better. The extreme torture ceased. It wasn't until 1973 that an agreement was reached and POWs were sent home. Denton finally made it back to his family after eight years, and went on to be elected to the US Senate.
Strengths: This was perfect. I have so many students asking for books about Vietnam, and the POW experience was a big part of that. This goes into some detail about the torture, and is a great overview of the experience without getting into the more horrifying aspects of the torture. I hadn't been aware of the secrecy surrounding the POWs; I was eight in 1973, and was just starting to be aware of current events. I remember POWs coming home, but wasn't sure from where. While Denton's experiences are the focus of the book, there are lots of other prisoners showcased. There are a decent number of pictures and maps to help readers understand the set up, and relevant supporting historical details are inserted when they are needed. This is just what I needed. Now, may I have one about the Korean Conflict?
Weaknesses: The pages of the E ARC turned so slowly that I read another whole book while waiting for the pages to turn, which was frustrating and made it a bit harder to get a good grip on the events. I'm looking forward to seeing a print copy.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be constantly circulating. Excellent treatment of a topic that is little covered in middle grade literature.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Blake, Ashley Herring. The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James
March 26th 2019 by Little, Brown
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sunny has had cardiomyopathy for two years, but has just been told she will have her heart transplant. The woman who has raised her, Kate, knows that she is afraid, but is supportive. Once Sunny has the surgery, Lena, her biological mother shows up. Lena was a friend of Kate's, but struggled with alcoholism after the motorcycle death of Sunny's father, and gave up custody to Kate. Kate owns a bookstore on an east coast island, hangs out with long time friend (an crush) Dave, and is over protective of Sunny. When Sunny is recuperating, she is allowed an outing to the beach. There, she meets Quinn, whose mother is a marine photographer who is staying on the island for the summer. The two quickly become fast friends and decide that they will embark on a "kissing quest" to find a boy to kiss for the first time. Sunny has fallen out with her friend Margot over a secret that Margot blabbed to members of her swim team after Sunny got sick, so she is glad to have someone to hang out with. Lena visits, and Sunny is finally able to get some information about her past. As she spends more time with Quinn, Sunny begins to realize that she would really rather kiss Quinn than a boy, but she doesn't want to lose her friendship. The physical recuperation goes slowly and hits some rough spots, and the emotional recuperation does as well, especially when it comes to Kate and Lena's relationship. Eventually, Sunny is able to be true to herself, Quinn, and even Margot, and forges a new normalcy for herself and her family.
Strengths: Aside from Pitchford's Nickel Bay Nick, I can't think of any books that deal with a child who has had a heart transplant. The medical details and plot are a nice foil for the family and relationships issues; any one of these alone could have become boring, but together, it made for an intriguing tale. The problems with Margot are realistic, as are the problems with Lena. There are more and more young readers with nontraditional families, so it's important to see this reflected in the literature. Quinn and Sunny's relationship is similar to the one in this author's Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, and my students enjoy that book.
Weaknesses: Sunny and Quinn are both very nervous about liking girls, which lends a more YA level of angst to a middle grade story. Realistic, and liked by the target demographic more than by me. Even in my middle class, Midwestern school, students (especially the girls) seem to be completely unphased by students who identify as any manner of LGBTQ+. Still, all stories are different. I'm just old enough that I have no patience for angst in any relationships, fictional or otherwise!
What I Really Think: I will definitely purchase, and it is nice to see an LGBTQ+ story that doesn't involve heavy drinking and way more details than anyone needs to know.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Stick Dog Gets the Tacos (and Saves My Day)

Some days are just tough as a teacher. Whether it's that all of the children who had the flu are back in school but still not feeling great, the fact that spring break is less than two weeks away, or the start of the new grading period, students were unkind yesterday. They were especially unkind to the study hall monitors, and I pulled two 8th graders into the library to cool their heels for a bit.

Both were failing every class, yet had brought no books or supplies to last period study hall. One's life plan is to work at a video game store he frequents. Had he asked the management if they hire people without high school diplomas? That would be a good place to start. The other was going to drop out of school at 14 to work in his father's business, which would be passed to him. He had not asked his father if there were any academic expectations, and he felt he did not need to learn math or anything else because he would have people do everything for him. He did not need to be kind to people, because no one would ever tell him what to do, and he would tell other people what to do.

I had another student who is very bright but also failing all of his classes; I suspect from conversations with him that he frequently stays up until 2 a.m. playing video games.

I am great with recommending books. I rock at helping with research and projects. I even have my successful math moments, if there is a moment to warm up. But parenting children who are not mine? It's really tough. It was tough enough with my own girls. They're grown, and even though I think I did a good job, there's always that doubt. Enough that I don't want to have to parent other people's children. A friend posted this article on Facebook, and I couldn't agree more. (Even though I'm a bit alarmed by the whole mom.me web site. A lot of articles about people seeming surprised that parenting is difficult. Hmm.)

SOOOOO, I was very glad that the Westerville Public Library sent the following book to me. Seriously, if there are people out there who don't have Stick Dog, they are missing out. Stick Dog is brilliant. And kind. And funny. And even if Karen (the dog, not me), has her reasons for thinking that Stick Dog is not very bright, she is so wrong. Stick Dog is more clever than all of us put together!

Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Gets the Tacos. (Stick Dog #9)
February 5th 2019 by HarperCollins
Public Library Copy

When Karen comes back from looking for barbecue potato chips in a garbage can that a dog is being abused, the whole group takes off to save it. Karen says that children are hitting it with a stick. And it's in a tree. Stick Dog has his doubts, but the group is first distracted by the idea of climbing trees (all "those whisker-twitching, nut-munching demons would be practically extinct" if Poo-Poo could climb trees!). When they get to the house where the abuse is occurring, they realize that the dog being hit with a stick is actually a toy unicorn that the people call a piñata. Children at the house then proceed to hit a birdie with racquets, and the dogs are convinced there is bird abuse. When the birdie gets caught in a tree, the people are all distracted by it, and leave some guacamole on the table. The dogs discuss the fact that it is probably made of boiled, mashed green birds... and that sounds tasty. They attempt to try some, but the people interrupt and bring out a bag of chips. The dogs get a taste, but are interrupted by a taco delivery. These have a promising meat smell, and while the humans go back and forth between the food and birdie in a tree, the dogs manage to cart off tacos, and even figure out that the piñata most likely contains dessert.
Strengths: Like Pixar films, Stick Dog has a child level and an adult level of humor. Stick Dog is a philosopher, and consummate manager of his tribe. He understands that they are not very smart (Karen thinks she is getting taller, when in fact the puddle in which she is standing is evaporating on a hot day), but never makes them feel bad about it. He works with them on their level to achieve the desired group goals. Plus, there is food involved. And squirrels.
Weaknesses: This lacks the complete and total brilliance of Stick Dog leading his tired band of friends up the hill in Stick Dog Slurps Spaghetti, but really, Stick Dog has no weaknesses.
What I really think: I want to bring Stick Dog and all his friends home and give them nice soft beds and regular feedings of healthy kibble, although I would keep a tiny jar of instant coffee around so Karen could have an occasional tiny sip. And a barbecue potato chip from time to time.

I think I will check all of these out to 8th graders today-- maybe it will change some of the negative energy to positive!

A Good Kind of Trouble

Ramee, Lisa Moore. A Good Kind of Trouble
March 12th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Shayla is a good kid who doesn't like to be in trouble. Her older sister, Hana, is outspoken and interested in protests, but not Shayla. She's the kind of kid who will pick up a desk that has been knocked over by someone else so the her teacher doesn't get upset with the class. She likes hanging out with her friends Julia and Isabella, and doesn't understand why other people think it's weird that they are Japanese American and Latinx and not black. There's a lot of friend drama going on, but also a lot of boy drama. Shayla really likes Jace, with his green eyes, but Taylor is constantly talking to her, and even her annoying lab partner, Bernard, seems to be interested in her. After doing well on the timed mile in gym, Shayla is approached by her gym teacher, who is also the track coach, and Shayla joins the track team. Middle school has its tense moments, but near Shayla's West Los Angeles neighborhood there are even tenser moments-- a police officer has shot a black man, and the trial is bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront. At first, Shayla is concerned, but not overly interested, but when a verdict of not guilty comes back, she decides she needs to act. She wears a black armband to school, and brings some for friends as well, even though the principal makes an announcement that wearing armbands is against the school dress code. Shayla doesn't want to get in trouble, but feels that it is important to stand up for her beliefs.
Strengths: This has a great middle school voice and excellent grasp of key middle school concerns. Crushes, lunch table musical chairs, scary classmates who turn out to be okay-- so much good stuff. It was good to read a book acknowledging the black suburban experience, and the struggle of wanting to be accepted by friends. The various romances were also spot on, and Ms. Ramee must have chaperoned a LOT of dances to get those details right! The fact that this covers Black Lives Matter issues against this background is a brilliant way to get more readers to pick up this book.
Weaknesses: So they run track around Christmas time in California? Track does not start until March in Ohio, so I was confused by this. I will not fault this for breaking the unwritten rule that a "diverse friend group" must also include a blonde or red-headed girl! (Am I the only one who has noticed this? Look at the covers of tween books, especially if there are four girls on the cover. There are so many books with ensembles like that, and I'm not sure that is realistic!)(Now I'm distracted and want to go find all of those covers and post them!)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing; if nothing else, this is a very good snapshot of the historical moment of 2019, but it will see a wide readership because it falls squarely in the "drama" category that is so frequently requested by my students.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Hernandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
March 5th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Sal is new to Culeco, a school for the performing arts in Miami, having moved there with his Papi and American Stepmom after his Mami Muerta (the spirit of his mother, who is deceased) kept appearing in their home! He runs afoul of Yasmany, whose locker is next to his, but saves his own skin when the boy bullies him by having a dead chicken appear in Yasmany's locker, but then all traces of it disappear. Gabi is a friend of Yasmany's, but she and Sal hit it off. It turns out that there really was a chicken, but Sal brought it through a wormhole in a locker, and when it returned to its own dimension, all traces of it are gone. When his Mami Muerta appears again, his father (a scientist) tries to find a way to make her not return. He installs an enormous remembranation machine and tries to keep track of the calamatrons that are being left in our dimensional plane by things from other planes. Gabi has a newborn brother, Iggy, who is very sick and has spent the entire month of his life in the hospital, and Gabi wonders how Sal's powers might be used to help him. Sal has Type 1 diabetes, and occasionally has issues with it, but is good about checking his levels and is well versed in how to deal with light headedness and other symptoms. Yasmany is having troubles at home, which make him act out at school. When it looks like Iggy might not make it, Sal and Gabi try to increase their research, deal with their families, and stay out of trouble at school.
Strengths: I really liked the fact that the diabetes was just one factor with which Sal had to deal, and it was depicted realistically and without drama. The Cuban cultural connections are interesting, with lots of descriptions of food, relatives, and some Spanish language phrases. Sal and Gabi are both rather fun and likable characters, and I loved how supportive American Stepmom was. While most of the Rick Riordan Presents has some sort of mythology included, this is more of a science fantasy with Cuban culture, which was a nice innovation.
Weaknesses: There's a LOT going on in this 400 page book, and some of it is not well explained. I never felt very sure about what Sal's father was trying to accomplish, or about how Sal brought things from other universes. Gabi has a lot of "dads" with really odd names (e.g. Grizzly Dad'ums), and that was never made clear, nor was the existence of a robot/android character. The plot is a bit hard to discern with all of these wacky goings-on.
What I really think: If this were going to be a stand alone, I might buy it, but Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe is due in March 2020. There are so many fantasy books, and with my readership, space constraints, and budget, I can buy about a quarter of them. Since I can't get anyone to check out the very similar Margot and Mateo Save the World by Darcy Miller, I think I will pass on purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, March 11, 2019

MMGM- Young Captain Nemo

Henderson, Jason. Young Captain Nemo
March 12th 2019 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Gabriel Nemo lives alone (but with access to a lawyer in case things need to be signed) near the sea, and has access to a state-of-the-art submarine, the Obscure, that he uses to help ships in need. He has two good friends, Peter and Misty, who help him man the ship. When they sneak away from a school fund raiser to save a ship and have an encounter with a giant animal that has inhabited a sunken WWII era plane, Gabriel knows he is going to have to ask his parents, who are living at the bottom of the sea in a lab, for help. They agree to a "school trip" for his friends, and the trio are soon off. Also in on this adventure is Gabriel's sister Nerissa, who has inherited the Nemo gene for trouble making and has spent the last few years with her own ship, the Nebula, ramming illegal whaling boats, so she is wanted by the government. After some research on one of the creatures that they are able to capture,  Gabriel finds that the creatures they saw were "Lodgers", giant, crab-like creatures that feed on plastic pellets in a garbage zone and use abandoned ships for their shells. They can apparently communicate with each other, and when Gabriel tries to recreate the sounds, it calls the creatures to the lab, which they try to destroy in order to save their fellow creature. Nerissa knows that the navy is trying to kill the creatures, but if they try to blow them up, the resultant explosion will be horrific, since their eating habits make them basically mobile oil fields! After an epic battle that involves tremendous planning and skill, crisis is averted, but there are further wrinkles-- Misty is tired of lying to her parents, even though she loves the adventure. Luckily, the Nemos have some resources, and off to start a legitimate school that Gabriel, Misty, and Peter can attend while they have further adventures!
Strengths: I love that this just jumped right into the action and explained all of the backstory in small snippets interspersed with giant, flying sea creatures in WWII planes. Perfect, AND everyone's parents are alive! I was completely in awe of the scenes in the water, both sailing and diving. Wow. I don't know if they were accurate, but they certainly seemed so to me. The details from Verne's Nemo story are threaded throughout in a way that made me want to go back and read the original (okay, a translation!), which is a great thing for young readers up for the challenge. The characters are all great-- I loved that Peter didn't want to get wet (he can't swim!), Misty didn't want to lie to her parents, especially if there were a chance she might end up dead on the ocean floor, and that Gabriel, as much as he loves his adventures, misses his parents. All treated lightly, but effective just the same. Nerissa is an interesting study in opposites-- she's a criminal, but for all the right reasons! The details about the ecology of the ocean are great as well, and might lead to further research. Brilliant all the way around.
Weaknesses: I need more details about the properties of Nemo glass, how that much mother of pearl is harvested for use in the ships, and how the lab is powered! Perhaps that information will be woven into the next book.
What I really think: I was really looking forward to this, and had read a couple really awful books before I picked it up, so I found myself sighing in happiness, relief, and satisfaction while I read this. I had to stop in the middle to do real life things like laundry, cooking, and cleaning, and I was NOT happy until I got back to the book. Isn't that how we want students to feel about what they read?
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Mostly the Honest Truth

Little, Jody J. Mostly the Honest Truth
March 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

After Jane injures her hand when her father is passed out drunk, she is sent to temporary foster care for the fourth time, this time with Officer D, whom she befriended previously. Officer D lives in a collaborative community called Three Boulders that is far from town and has a kibbutz like system for jobs and caring for the young. After making friends with G and the other children in the community, Jane is still counting the days (12, total) until she can be with her Pop again. Questions arise about how the injury really occurred, however, and after being visited by a social worker, Jane manages to get to town and visit her father. There are problems with Three Boulders as well, since the elderly founder wants to sell the land to pay for his end-of-life care. Jane is desperate to get back together with Pop, although she starts to realize that it might not be in her best interest to do so. With the help and support of Officer D and the other members of Three Boulders, Jane starts to put together a new expectation for normal.
Strengths: I was really intrigued by the idea of temporary foster care, and the idea of a commune type community in the modern day. Officer D is a supportive and caring foster parent, and hearing about former placements Jane had was interesting as well. It was good to see Jane make a friend right away, and realistic that she wanted to get back to her father as soon as possible.
Weaknesses: The Three Boulders community was interesting but a bit odd, and I kept expecting something else to happen with it, like the residents were all really space aliens. They weren't, but something about the whole set up put me on edge. Jane's injuries had a hidden, horrific cause that might be traumatic for students younger than fifth grade to read about.
What I really think: I prefer Galante's excellent Strays Like Us is, and I also have a number of other books with character in foster care, including One for the Murphys, Gill's Scarlet Ibis, Carter's Forever, or a Long, Long Time, Davis' Peas and Carrots, Every Shiny Thing, and Little Bits of Sky.  This had an odd vibe to it, so I may pass. I have a decent number of students who are themselves in foster care, but I usually never know this until they leave, so I try to be careful about the books I have depicting variations of this experience.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Because of the Rabbit

Lord, Cynthia. Because of the Rabbit.
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Emma's father is a game warden, and when she accompanies him on a rabbit rescue, she falls in love with the adorable honey colored rabbit they find. It's not a wild rabbit, and the local shelter has not had anyone searching for an animal that matches the description, so Emma keeps Lapi. The name is short for Monsieur Lapin, the name of a character in stories that her grandfather had told her. Emma has always been homeschooled, but is starting public school for the first time. Her older brother has enjoyed it, but Emma isn't keen on the idea of not having free time after her lessons and having to deal with trying to make friends. She approaches school with the right mind set-- try to fit in, be friendly and nice, approach people cautiously-- but her attempts aren't too successful. She tries to get her project group to come to her house, but the two girls she would really like to befriend don't come. Jack does. Jack is on the autism spectrum, so has some moments when he is difficult for Emma to work with, and he does not help her social standing. They work well, together, however, and Jack even tries to get over his fear of animals in order to pet Lapi. Emma hopes that if she can take Lapi to school for her project, the girls in her class will warm to her, but Lapi might have owners that could claim him. Emma manages to figure out school and eventually feels more comfortable there.
Strengths: Lord uses her own personal background to good effect in this latest book. Her son is on the autism spectrum, she homeschooled her children, and the family fostered rabbits. She consulted with her daughter about the difficulties she faced when entering public school, so this is very effective.
Weaknesses: This was just a little young for my demographic.
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for an elementary school library, but I have a number of similar books that don't circulate much, so I will pass for now.