Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary #1)

17661402Monahan, Hillary. MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary #1)
September 2nd 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Jesse is determined to get her girl friends Kitty, Anna and Shauna together to try to summon the ghost of Mary Worth. She has done her research; gotten letters from her Aunt Dell, tried to talk to women who managed to summon her, and figured out what wards will keep the girls safe. Of course, as with any of the unquiet dead, Mary is not content to come and wave howdy to the girls; she tries to drag Shauna into the mirror with her and claws her shoulders very badly. The girls, especially Anna, are terrified and want to stop the nonsense, but Jesse persists. Shauna realizes that she can now see Mary in other mirrors, and when Mary comes after her at school, she contacts Cody, who was haunted by the ghost for years. Cody lives behind windows covered in pig blood and black paper to remain safe, and cautions Shauna that no one Shauna knows or cares about is safe. Perhaps there is a way to figure out why Mary still haunts people 150 years after her death? The girls investigate a church, but get discovered by the police and sent home. Soon, though, very bad things start to happen. Mary is loose in the world and severely injures one friend and kills another. Secrets are revealed about Jesse's motivations, but the mystery is not resolved, since there is a second book in the works.
Strengths: My 6th graders would be perfectly happy if I handed them Stephen King, but I would soon be out of a job. I realize that they want scary books, but they don't need human-on-human violence, bad language, or TOO much gore. This struck a good balance, and I thought the author's post about the topic was illuminating. This is gross-- Mary's ghost is oozing, bloody, muddy and maggot ridden. She slashes people with her fingernails, and there are horrible smells and bugs. There aren't any flying body parts, but  this is a bit scarier than Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, because it's based more in reality. Buying horror for middle grade students is quite the process.
Weaknesses: There are some odd turns of phrase, and I didn't feel that this was as psychologically scary as it could have been, and I would have liked to know Jesse's motivation for summoning Mary much sooner. However, I can see Monahan being a great success as her writing matures.

Three Marys Tote Bag
The students are not going to have the same association with the name Mary Worth as I did!

Monday, August 25, 2014

MMGM-- Pet Fish on the Covers!

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards Remember, the Cybils Awards committee are LOOKING FOR JUDGES! Click here to get information and apply. Remember also that the Middle Grade Fiction organizer is a lovely person to work with. (Ahem, that would be yours truly!) If you are a book blogger with a middle grade focus, a writer of middle grade, or a teacher, librarian or parent who spends a lot of time delving into this area and blogging about it, please consider applying.

19156898Holm, Jennifer. The Fourteenth Goldfish.
August 26th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Ellie is having a hard time. Her divorced parents are both into acting, but she doesn't have any interest in it. Her best friend has taken up volleyball in a big way. She has found, much to her chagrin, that her goldfish did NOT outlive all the other goldfish that children in her class got in elementary school-- her mother just kept replacing them. When her mother shows up with a teenage boy in tow, and he claims to be her grandfather Melvin, Ellie is tossed into an unbelievable world where her grandfather has isolated the compound needed to reverse the human aging process... from a jellyfish. It's believable, since the young version of Melvin has many of her grandfather's quirks, and he is intent on breaking into the lab where he worked and getting the jellyfish and research back. With the help of Raj, who looks threatening but is actually quite helpful, the group set off to get the things out of the lab, and along the way, Melvin and Ellie come to terms with many facets of their lives.
Strengths: Okay, maybe I have gone over to the dark side because this was one of those books that language arts teachers love because it has Valuable Life Lessons, but this was FANTASTIC. It's short, has a lot of action, will appeal to all readers, has some cool science, throws us right into the situation with the grandfather so we don't even blink about suspending disbelief, and brings us my favorite thing to read about... a close grandparent, and one which the main character gets to hang out with when he is her own age. Awesome. I've liked Holm's other books like Boston Jane and The Creek, and this was just charming.
Weaknesses: The day is coming very quickly where we won't be able to tell grandparents from children. Melvin comes back and wears polyester pants, cardigans, and other "old man" clothes. However, my parents are even older than Melvin and regularly wear jeans. They'd probably come back hipper than my daughters!

18782850 Gephart, Donna. Death by Toilet Paper
August 5th 2014 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Benjamin's family is really struggling. His father died of cancer, and his mother is working as a waitress while trying to finish up her school work and tests to become an accountant. Their rent is due, and the landlord has been sympathetic, but if they don't pay soon, they will be evicted. To top it all off, Benjamin's grandfather, Zayde Jake, has moved in with the family and his senile dementia is becoming worse. His friend Toothpick, who likes to mess around with film makeup and produce his own horror movies, is supportive of Benjamin, as is Toothpick's father, and their neighbor Mrs. Schneckle helps out, too. Benjamin comes up with several plans to earn money, including selling candy bars at school, even though it against school rules to sell anything that isn't officially sanctioned. He also enters a lot of contests and manages to win a few things like a grill or a year's supply of oatmeal, but he and his mother need something a little bigger to tide them over.
Strengths: Extra points for the fun facts on toilets at the beginning of each chapter! While this was essentially a sad book, it really drew me in and kept me reading, in the same way that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn did. How bad will it get? What will Zayde Jake do next? Will the family really be evicted? There are lots of funny moments, too. In general, a great middle grade book, and the bits of Jewish culture are something that is a bit rare these days. (Although that's one subgroup I really see very little of in my library.) I especially liked that Benjamin and his mother were still struggling with the death of the father but were continuing on with their lives in a productive fashion. Realistic, but hopeful in a way that many books are not.
Weaknesses:  I would have given this five stars if it weren't for a stereotypical bullying scene. Yes, it was pivotal to the plot, but we've all been there and gotten the swirly. The ending is a bit deus ex machina as well, but the target demographic won't necessarily see these weaknesses.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Family Ties

17797303Paulsen, Gary. Family Ties (Liar, Liar #5)
July 22nd 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

Kevin is still trying his best to impress Tina, on whom he has such a crush that he thinks about marrying her when he grows up. What better way to show his commitment  to the future than helping his somewhat odd Uncle Will plan his wedding, or helping Tina's friend Katie with their family life project for which they choose to take care of a popcorn "baby" and document its care? In true Kevin fashion, he is bound and determined to do everything on his own, which is good, because his busy working parents seem to just shake their heads over the growing chaos in the house as they rush to escape to the sanity of their offices. Kevin also promises to have an entry to the school arts fair, but doesn't leave himself enough time to get everything done. Like the other books in this series, impossible and hysterical situations abound.
Strengths: These books are fantastic for reluctant readers, or for readers who just want a short, funny book to last them a day or two. Paulsen has a great turn for comedy, and the different dysfunctional family members alone are a marvel of character descriptions. Kevin makes himself the center of all events, which is a very middle grade view of the world. From the vibrant covers to the wacky endings, these books have all the successful elements of middle grade literature!
Weaknesses: It was slightly creepy how convinced Kevin was that he would marry Tina when they grew up. Do middle school boys really think this way? I'm even afraid to ask!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons, plus a PSA

Have to admit-- now that my 1960s honking huge television cabinet is gone, I'm ready to replace the tube television from 1993. With the HDTV box, antenna, VCR and DVD player hooked to it, it's nearly impossible to turn on. This means that the girls and I don't watch a lot of television, which is good. Most of what we watch is on the computer, through Amazon Prime. Maybe it's bad to support Amazon, but since they have a lot of BBC programs I couldn't get elsewhere, it makes my day. I'm looking into a 29" Smart TV so that we can watch some programs together and not have to huddle over a laptop. Maybe for Christmas!

The biggest objection that both girls had was that with an LCD tv, it would be mounted up too high and they couldn't lie on their stomachs and watch television. Not that they do it anyway. So we compromised, and have a table for the television that isn't too high!

17801394Telgemeier, Raina. Sisters.
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

In this companion to the autobiographical Smile, Raina's family is spending a week driving to a family reunion in Colorado. As anyone who has ever had to live through a long car trip with family knows, Raina, Amara and Will don't always get along the way that their mother would like, (Their father is flying out, thereby missing the trip. Smart man.) As events occur on the road trip, there are flashbacks illustrating how the siblings' relationship has progressed over time. Once the family gets out to Colorado, there are more dynamics at play, including ones that may affect the future of Raina's family.
Strengths: This book could be about the life cycle of an earthworm, but since it is illustrated by Telgemeier, readers will pick it up. I don't completely understand the appeal, since I'm sure these books would not be very popular as straight prose, as they are mildly but not overly depressing. I've gone through at least three copies of Smile, although Drama doesn't check out quite as much. This will circulate.
Weaknesses: It would be nice to have a more solid idea about the year that this occurred-- there are some historical references that would be clearer.

18339702 Candlewick Press. Super Supper Showdown (Fizzy's Lunch Lab)
May 13th 2014 by Candlewick Entertainment
Copy from YABC and reviewed there.

In this hybrid story/cookbook, we find the characters from the PBS show involved in a competition. Fizzy is sure that Avril and Henry would prefer to have a fresh, tasty and wholesome meal, whereas Fast Food Freddy is sure that they would prefer something deep fried (and possibly on a stick). The two cooks come up with a menu, complete with recipes for the healthy food, and cook the meals, taking time to explain things like "eating the rainbow", which  means getting a variety of colors from fruits and vegetables, NOT eating multicolored jelly beans. There's good information about the role of different kinds of food in a healthy diet, fun facts, amusing pictures, and other information about foods and choices that make up a healthy diet.

This is based on a PBS web series by the same name, which also has games, recipes, and other internet content. While this had no appeal at all to me personally, I could see having my children watch it if they were younger. Of course, since they only got one half hour of screen time daily, they'd have to watch an episode one day and do the games the next.

The whole time I was reading this, I was humming the following to myself. If you remember Time for Timer, you will find that you know more of the lyrics to this than you care to!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guy Friday-- My Friend The Enemy

20578925Smith, Dan. My Friend The Enemy
August 26th 2014 by Chicken House
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Also reviewed at YABC.

When a German plane crashes in a field near Peter's house in the English countryside, he and the other children in the area are enthralled. When the adults have cleared off, Peter and Kim, an evacuee, search the plane and find a "souvenir" handgun as well as the body of one of the pilots. Other children have seen a parachute go down, so Peter and Kim search for another German soldier, and find one. He begs them not to shoot him, and the children decide that if they turn him over, the Home Guard might well kill the man, who is injured. They put him up in a pheasant coop that Peter's father (who was a gamekeeper for Mr. Bennet's estate and is currently a pilot) built and attempt to bring him food and mend his injuries. The war has caused everything to be rationed, so this is not an easy thing to do. Kim becomes a great friend to Peter; even though she is a girl, she dresses like a boy and is fearless. The two spend a lot of time with Erik, the flyer, and come to understand that he is just like Peter's father and Kim's brother, who are fighting even though they don't particularly want to. The people in Peter's village continue to look for the downed flyer, and a local bully makes Peter's life even more difficult, although Mr. Bennett has taken a shine to Peter's mother and brings the struggling family much needed supplies. The children know that they can't keep Erik a secret forever, and a tragic accident leads to his discovery.
Strengths: While there have been plenty of books about children taking care of enemy soldiers, this one seemed fresh and very interesting. The details of life for the British during the war is told in vivid detail in a way that will be applicable to young readers, and the slow realization that the Germans are just the same as the English is well done. Even the minor sub plot of Mr. Bennet's interest in the mother was a nice touch. The cover is fantastic, so I will definitely buy a copy for y insatiable WWII readers.
Weaknesses:  While Kim was a fantastic character, she seemed a bit anachronistic, and I kept wondering where she managed to get the boy's clothing she wore and who allowed her to cut her hair.

21561025 McKay, Sharon E. The End of the Line
August 19th 2014 by Annick Press

Five year old Beatrix is riding on a train in Holland where brothers Lars and Hans are working. When the Nazis board the train and take her mother away, she is left behind, and Lars claims that she is his niece.  There's nothing to do then but to take her home and figure out how to care for the girl, unless the brothers want to turn her over to the Nazis. They ask their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos what to do, and she gives them advice and helps them out. She also visits every house in the neighborhood to announce the arrival of the men's "niece", also mentioning information or infractions that the neighbors might not want the Nazis to know about, to ensure that they won't inform about the girl! The war continues, and the makeshift family pools their resources to survive in the best way that they can.
Strengths: This was a very sweet, short book that will be excellent for some of our students who need a book about the Holocaust for our eighth grade unit on that historical time period, but who are of a more delicate sensibility. I liked McKay's more young adult books, but this is a great one to have as well.
Weaknesses: There could have been a little more information about the war and occupation, although this is a difficult balance in a book for younger readers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Million Ways Home

A Million Ways HomeWinget, Dianna Dorisi. A Million Ways Home
 August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Poppy lives with her Grandma Beth, since her botanist parents were killed abroad when she was a baby. When her grandmother has a stroke, Poppy ends up in a children's home, where she is not happy. When she tries to go and visit her grandmother on her own, she ends up in the wrong place and witnesses a convenience store robbery that ends in a fatal shooting. Unfortunately, she has given her name to the shooter, who escapes, and ends up in police custody for her own safety.  A young detective, Trey Brannigan, takes Poppy to live with his mother, who took in foster children until the death of Trey's father. At Marti's house, she is able to feel cared for and have interests other than her grandmother, especially the troublemaking Lizzie, who is doing community service with her mother at an animal shelter. There, Poppy meets a dog, Gunner, who is slated to be euthanized because he is thought to have bitten several people. Poppy works with him, and gets one of Trey's coworkers to train him for the police narcotics unit. In the meantime, Poppy is afraid that if she identifies the shooter, she will have to go back to the home, so she withholds information. When her situation worsens, she has to decide what the best thing to do will be, for herself and everyone involved.
Strengths: This was really a page turner, and I enjoyed it. My students love problem novels, and this certainly qualified for that, but there was also a bit of a mystery as well. Great cover, nice details about working with dogs, as well as information about foster care and nursing homes.
Weaknesses: A lot going on here. I could have done without the drama involving Poppy's parents, and it was especially sad, if realistic, that the shooting at the convenience store was fatal. Definitely would have left out the brief story of Trey's neighbor who was killed. Yes, these details provide motivation for the characters, but it also makes the book a bit confusing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Call for Cybils Judges!

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

If you've missed the call for Cybils Judges and would like to be considered, head over to the site now and sign up. I am the head of Middle Grade Fiction, so if you read a lot of this type of book and would like to read a lot more, head over and fill out the application.

An excellent post on the intricacies of being a panelist was put up by the lovely Charlotte over at Charlotte's Library. There were around 150 books that the first round panelists needed to read last year; second round judges get 6-8. While some copies are sent to judges, we need to find most of them on our own.

Like anything worth doing, it's a lot of work, but it's a great opportunity to meet other like minded individuals who love books, get a fantastic overview of the books that were published in the last year, and to think critically about what books are well written AND appeal to young readers!

Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting

18507795Dionne, Erin. Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting
July 10th 2014 by Dial

In this sequel to Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, we find Ollie whisked off to a scout camp to lie low in the aftermath of finding the stolen art with Moxie. Ollie is a little apprehensive to join an existing troop of boys he doesn't know, but likes the idea of geocaching and participating in a game of attrition where boys are tagged "out". There is the added thrill of mysteries on the small islands outside of Boston, and these become even more intense when the park ranger's daughter, Grey, shows up. What is the ranger really doing? And how much trouble will Ollie and his new friends get in while they break camp rules to investigate?
Strengths: Lots of adventure in the woods, complete with highjinks that are against the rules. A touch of historical information. I've been reading a lot about Graff's Absolutely Almost and how it is new and innovative that Albie is a "regular" kid-- Ollie certainly was regular in this book.
Weaknesses: I loved Moxie, and missed her character tremendously. This book didn't have the same element of danger, the mysteries seemed scattered, and something just didn't click for me.

This does, however, get HUGE points for #WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- Ollie is half Vietnamese (and has bad asthma), the scoutmaster is Fuentes, the parent volunteer is Gupta, and this boys include a Spezzano, Vargas, Pryzyblowicz, Ramirez and an Imprezzi. Troop leader Washington has dreadlocks. The ethnic makeup of Boston must be much different than the ethnic makeup of central Ohio-- we have a growing Somali, Hispanic and Ghanan population, but still have a vast majority of students with names like Williams, Taylor and Brown!
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