Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Pumpkin War

Young, Cathleen. The Pumpkin War
May 21st 2019 by Wendy Lamb Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Billie lives on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, and her family has bees, llamas, and some crops. Every year, the community has a pumpkin race, and Billie has been the champion most years. Last year, her best friend Sam beat her, and the two have had difficulties for a variety of reasons, even though they reigned as polka king and queen at the last year's festival. Sam has gotten his pumpkin seeds in early this year, but Billie is facing many challenges with her family. Her mother goes into labor early and brings home a colicky younger brother for Billie and her sister Marylee, and a grandfather she has never met shows up unexpectedly. Billie sells honey at a local farmer's market, so much of her energy is focused on her hives, and the family llamas (who spit a lot!) are her responsibility as well. As the summer progresses, she and her friend Cami work on their pumpkins and hope for the best. Can Billie make sure her family gets along, her pumpkins are successful, and her friendship with Sam gets repaired?
Strengths: I loved the island, agricultural setting, and all of the details about what it would be like to live on an island. For example, when Billie's mother goes into labor, they have to call the doctor AND the ferry. Her family life is also great-- both parents are alive, she has a grandmother who babysits (there needs to be more of this in middle grade!) and hangs out with them in her diner. I even liked the estranged grandfather and his wish to reconnect. Summer books are always good to have. The cover is very nice.
Weaknesses: I wish I had known more about Billie's original fight with Sam. The conflict is spot on, and similar to one I had in third grade with Mark T.--deep and unending anger leading to strained personal interactions-- but as a reader, it would have helped to know more about what started it. In the case of Mark T., he stole and broke my purple crayon. I appreciate a good grudge, but they are hard to understand from the outside.
What I really think: While I think it's great that Billie's grandmother is Native American from the Ojibwe tribe, I cannot personally say if the information presented about the culture is correct. According to the publisher, "the book was read for accuracy by Robert Flashingbird, a member of the Eagle clan who is a tribal historian for Red Cliff and the Ojibwe expert at the Madeline Island Museum."

I love books about farming, but my students are less interested. This has been compared to The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me by Sara Nickerson and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, and those books have not circulated well, so I am a bit conflicted about this one for my library. 

There are actually more books about pumpkin farming than you might think!

Meyerhoff, Jenny. Pumpkin Spice (Friendship Garden #2) (2015)

Kaya, Anna, and Reed hope their pumpkin, Herbert, will take home first prize at the Windy City Pumpkin Fest, but when Herbert suddenly disappears, the friends must catch the thief in time for the festival.
Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite (2017)

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

Springer, Kristina. Just Your Average Princess (2011)

Working in her family's pumpkin patch every year, seventeen-year-old Jamie has dreamed of two things--dating co-worker Danny and being crowned Pumpkin Princess--but her beautiful and famous cousin Milan's visit may squash all of her hopes.

Bauer, Joan. Squashed (1992)

Humor, agriculture and young love all come together in Joan Bauer's first novel, set in rural Iowa. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Morgan's life would be almost perfect if she could just get her potentially prize-winning pumpkin to put on about 200 more pounds—and if she could take off 20 hopes of attracting Wes, the new boy in town.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Durst, Sarah Beth. Spark.
May 14th 2019 by Clarion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Quiet Mina comes from a large, noisy family. When her storm beast egg starts to hatch, she is excited to bond with the animal and train it to help control the weather in Alorria, which is always temperate and beautiful because of this control. When Pixit is hatched, he turns out to be a lightning beast, which doesn't seem to fit with Mina's personality. Nevertheless, the pair are soon sent off to the capital to train at the Myrtis Lightning School. Once there, she makes friends with Jyx and her dragon Chauda, and starts to think that she might not be in the wrong place. When on a training flight, several members of the school get blown off course and end up on the other side of the mountains, where they are forbidden to be. There, Mina meets some of the outlanders who rescue her and help both her and Pixit heal and get home. They tell her that the ten-year storms that they have on their side of the mountain are deadly, and Mina starts to realize that they might be connected to the ten-year festival that is going to occur soon. On a class trip to the city, she runs into the prime minister by accident, and asks about this coincidence. The prime minister is outraged, but luckily one of the teachers is sympathetic and aware of the situation, and sends Mina back to her family for a week so that the prime minister won't be able to hunt her down. Back at school, Mina realizes that she can't remain silent about the storms on the other side of the mountain, and she starts an awareness campaign. This results in the school being locked down and the festival being moved up, which could prove deadly to her friends on the other side. The students take their dragons across the mountains and rescue people, and also take them straight to the festival, storm-buffered and weary, to explain their plight to the public. This gains popular attention, and the prime minister is forced to shut down the festival and finally address the concerns about the storm dragons altering the weather.
Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, a flying pet dragon,  a magical school, and evil adults who must be thwarted. Add to that an appealing main character who remains quiet but still manages to be powerful, sparkly flying dragons, and a tween saving the day... if it had a few explosions, it would be perfect. But at least there are a couple of fires. Seriously, this is a great dragon novel.
Weaknesses: I was never entirely sure how the dragons changed the weather (although there was an explanation), and why this made the weather on the other side of the mountains worse. Not essential to the story, but I was curious.
What I really think: I don't buy a lot of medeivalish fantasy because there is just so much of it, but books like this, that have all the elements middle grade readers crave and are fast paced and exciting, definitely have a place in my collection, and readers who are waiting for the next Tui Sutherland Wings of Fire book may be placated by this!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 20, 2019

MMGM- The Usual Suspects

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.

Broaddus, Maurice. The Usual Suspects
May 21st 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Thelonius is a bright kid, but his behavior has sent him to a special education unit where the few students there are Emotionally Disturbed. The teacher is old and tired, and most of the work is on the computer. Thelonius' mother is very supportive and not happy with his shenanigans, and is having him tested very soon. His friend Nehemiah is also in the class; his family is less supportive, and he tends to have episodes where he runs around the classroom screaming. Thelonius' misbehavior is usually more deliberate, and he will occasionally pit classmates against each other and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. One of the teachers in the class, Mr. Blackmon, is wise to his ways, but tries to figure out what motivates this otherwise bright student. When a gun is found in a park near the school, the principal is eager to find out who is responsible... and rounds up the usual suspects, which include Thelonius and his classmates. Determined to find out who is responsible, Thelonius and Nehemiah investigate, going up against school bully Kutter as well as the mastermind who employs him to do her dirty work, Marcel. It's tough to get out of class long enough to talk to others and find clues, but this doesn't stop Thelonius. He eventually solves the mystery, but prefers to get the school evildoers in trouble for the gun instead of the actual suspect.
Strengths: This certainly had a fresh, new cast of characters, and treated them with an equal amount of respect and humor. ED units usually have much more troubled students, but this unit was realistic, and certainly represents a population that hardly ever makes it into #MGLit books. Thelonius is a somewhat more troubled and devious Big Nate. That he is surrounded by well meaning adults is fantastic; his mother, Mr. Blackmon, and the best principal, Mrs. Fitzgerald, that I've seen for a long time! (Well, other than Mac Barnett's Principal Barkin, who really endeared himself to me!) I love how she addresses the fact that the pull out program isn't working, and has made plans for some mainstreaming and resource room programs.
Weaknesses: There were some things, like the slang and the names (Tafrica, RaShawn) that seemed a tiny bit unlikely, and a few differences in how the school was run that gave me pause (Thelonius hadn't been tested but was in a pull out program?). But you know what? Mr. Broaddus tells us that he volunteers a lot at his children's school, so I will believe that he is reporting accurately. It's just different from my school. I did occasionally get so caught up in Thelonius' behavior that I lost sight of the mystery, but the behavior is what will draw students to this book.
What I really think: I have some students who need this RIGHT NOW. I will definitely be purchasing, and this will be popular with fans of Big Nate, Charlie Joe Jackson, and Maldonado's Tight. Odd combination, but one that is badly needed!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

She's the Liar

Cherry, Alison. She's the Liar.
May 28th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Abby is glad to be at Brookside Academy, the boarding school her older sister Sydney attends, because she had some rough times at her previous school. Looking forward to reinventing herself, Abby decides that she will "fake it 'til she makes it", try new activities, and change her life in the same way she mentally changes her name to Abbi. She knows how to read social cues and knows that she should be outgoing, friendly, and accept invitations, but it's wearing to have to be "on" all the time. Abby has to go before the student committee to request that the blinds in her room be repaired, and finds that her sister Sydney is the hear of the committee, and in charge of making many of the decisions that affect students at the school. Sydney also seems to be incredibly mean and manipulative, and all of the students know not to get on her bad side. After Abby's request is approved, she is approached by others to serve as a proxy for other requests, since the thought is that Sydney will grant all of Abby's requests. Abby is stunned by her sister's lack of support; when Abby tries out for the play, her sister is very dismissive, and Sydney also sabotages the play using some of the requests that Abby herself brought before the committee. Sydney is trying to protect Abby from embarrassing herself, but never makes that clear. Abby decides that she will run for the position of 6th grade officer on the committee, gets elected, and starts to make changes that undermine Sydney's authority. Will the sisters be able to survive boarding school and also maintain their relationship despite the pressures of their classmates?
Strengths: I love that Abby has a strategy for dealing with changing her life, and the more she works at being more outgoing and taking part in activities, the easier it gets. The girl and friend drama is always a popular topic, and there are not a whole lot of US boarding school stories, which my students think are utterly exotic. Sibling problems could use a lot more attention in #MGLit. This showcased theater, student government, and other activities in a fun way.
Weaknesses: I was never entirely sure why Sydney was SO utterly mean, but then the E ARC cut off the ends of some pages, and I might have missed an explanation there.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. If I based all of my purchases on what is read most frequently, over half of my collection would be humorous stories with friend drama, since I have a core population of readers that will read a book similar to this one every single day. I have to have a more well rounded collection than that, but I'm always glad to read books like this one.

Weirdly, I also had Erin Dionne's new Secrets of a Fangirl on my Nook, started it, then switched to reading this by mistake, so for a while was a bit confused, thinking it was similar to The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt (2010) which is by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (2013) is by Dionne. This is how I know I need a nap after a grueling Kidlitcon trip!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Glitch

Graley, Sarah. Glitch
May 14th 2019 by Graphix
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Izzy and her best friend Eric have been waiting a long time to play the new version of Dungeon City, and have a sleepover and epic pizza party planned, but when the disk arrives earlier in the week, Izzy can't stop herself from playing. When she gest sucked into the game, her life becomes complicated. In the game, she is helping the robot Rae save the fictional world from Big Boss, but in real life she is sleeping at school, ignoring Eric, and running afoul of her parents. Staying in the game has more and more appeal, since the stress there seems more exciting and less real. When her parents go away for the weekend, Izzy knows she should reconnect with Eric and have their party, but she is at a critical juncture in Dungeon City. When Eric comes to Izzy's house while Izzy is out looking for her, Eric gets dragged into the game. While Izzy has realized Rae is evil and escaped, Eric is in danger of getting drawn further into the game. Can Izzy save the world AND her friend?
Strengths: This is a perfect mix of pictures and text, and the story moves along nicely. There are not as many video game based books as there should be, and a graphic novel one is even more brilliant. The illustrations are appealing, the length is right, and in full color, this will never get back to the shelf.
Weaknesses: This shows that I am old. My deep, primitive brain expects the gender binary and tries to assign it. Rae's a robot, so using "they" for that character, okay. But Eric has very feminine features (including the "girl" eyelashes), so I just got confused. I am trying very hard NOT to assign gender, but it's difficult to break habits of a lifetime. Also, were Izzy's parents NOT controlling her screen time. Hmmm.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, probably two copies, but I am not the target audience.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Zombie Ate My Homework (Project Z #1)

Greenwald, Tommy. A Zombie Ate My Homework (Project Z #1)
May 14th 2019 by Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Norbus Clacknozzle escapes from a government holding facility, he doesn't remember much before the Kinders rescued him and took him home. Once in their house, they tell him that they feel the zombies kept in the facility are being mistreated, but they are going to take care of them. Their son, Lester, isn't thrilled with having a zombie in his house until a girl he likes fawns over Norbus when they are out shopping. The Kinders suggest to Norbus that he should have a different name, so he reluctantly accepts Arnold Z. Ombee as his new identity. He wears blue contact lenses to hide the tell-tale red line in his eyes, and claims that he is staying with the Kinders because his parents are traveling. He also has a host of health ailments that explain his pallor, intolerance to all food but jelly beans, and inability to particiapate in gym class. There are many students who are very mean to him because of his differences, but he is befriended by the upbeat Kiki as well as Evan. Evan had cancer as a child and has some lingering health issues because of this, and also has a prosthetic leg. Children are mean to him as well. It takes Arnold some time to acclimate himself to being in a human setting, and it doesn't help when the other children become suspicious about his background. It doesn't help when Arnold is threatened and starts to ooze foul zombie sweat, or when he delivers to zombie zing to ward off an attacker. When Arnold's secret comes out, will he be able to stay with the Kinders?
Strengths: I loved the discussion about wanting to be true to oneself but needing to change in order to be safe. Personal identity is a huge issue for middle grade readers, so Arnold's desire to remain true to his zombie self will resonate with readers. It's interesting to have a character be a survivor of childhood cancer; Evan is one of maybe three middle grade characters I can think of who have a prosthetic leg. I appreciated that because one of our cross country runners has one. The Kinders are good parents, and their motivation for taking in Arnold is a nice twist at the end. There is another book coming out in September 2019, Zombies are People, Too.
Weaknesses: There should have been more middle school romance. Greenwald is a past master of that in his Charlie Joe Jackson books, and very few authors rival him on this topic.I'm never a fan of quirky names, and there were some inconsistencies; Arnold doesn't quite understand the human world, but claims he can't throw a dodge ball very hard because his arm has been weakened by a recent flu shot.
What I really think: I just weeded Kevin Emerson's fantastic 2008 Oliver Nocturne series, which had a similar feel to it. Sadly, my students have been allowed to watch The Walking Dead, and when they want zombie books, they want a LOT more blood, gore and violence. Think Higson's The Enemy.  I would definitely purchase for an elementary school, but will pass for my library.

Don't feel bad, Mr. Greenwald. I didn't buy Sonnenblick's Dodger and Me, either.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Accomplice (Theodore Boone #7)

Grisham, John. The Accomplice (Theodore Boone #7)
May 14th 2019 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Theo's friend Woody Lambert is having a hard time. His mother works two jobs, there's very little food in the house, and his older brother Tony isn't setting a great example for him regarding school work or general behavior. When Woody accompanies Tony on his pizza rounds, they meet up with Garth, who asks them to go joy riding, complete with beer. After having a few too many, Garth goes into a convenience store and comes out with more beer... and over $200 that he "borrowed" from the clerk. The boys do not get far before they are arrested and put in jail. Garth's family has money, so he is out on bail, but Woody's mother doesn't have the money. Theo gets out of school a lot to check on Woody, and even tries to meet with his public defender to get information, but is unsuccessful. Since his parents aren't criminal lawyers, they are not able to help very much. Luckily, one of the boy scout leaders is a Youth Court advocate, and is able to be of some assistance. In the meantime, Theo defends a lop eared Rabbit who is accused of breach of peace, and is again triumphant. Eventually, after a number of difficulties, the Lambert brothers are free, and plan to use this experience as a wake up call to do better in school.
Strengths: There are very few, if any, legal thrillers for tween readers, so students interested in law and criminal defense find these to be a must read. Theo has supportive, alive parents who give him a lot of leeway as long as he gets his homework done, and that is also rare! Theo and his classmates are good friends, the other adults are helpful, and there is a lot of information about posting bail that will be new and informative. The rabbit case was good comic relief.
Weaknesses: This is not as much of a mystery as the other books, and is more concerned with getting Woody and Tony free, which might disappoint some readers.
What I really think: Grisham is a good writer, but I enjoy his adult books more than his middle grade ones. He just isn't as convincing with the middle grade voice for me. My students don't notice that much.


PART ONE: Theodore Boone: The Accomplice

May 6 – InRandom – Review
May 7 – Homeschool on the Range – Novel Study
May 8 – Min Reads and Review – Spotlight
May 9 – Picture Books to YA – Listicle: Non-fiction books + TV Shows for kids who are interested in law

May 13 – Reading Corner for All – Crossword/Word Search + Review  
May 14 – Two Points of Interest – Review
May 15 – Homeschool by the Beach – Creative Instagram Picture
May 16 – Little Homeschool on the Prairie – Review

PART TWO: Alex Rider: The Secret Weapon

May 20 – Createexploreread – Creative Instagram Picture
May 21 – Alohamora Open a Book – Review + Playlist
May 22 – Somethewiser – Review + Video Clip
May 23 – Lost in Storyland – Listicle: Teenage Spy Survival Guide

May 27 – @gobletoffiction – Creative Instagram Picture + Review
May 28 – Randomly Reading – Review
May 29 – Amanda Seghetti – Creative Instagram Picture  
May 30 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Memorable Moments in Alex Rider History

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Place to Belong.

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Place to Belong.
May 14th 2019 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Hanako's family spent WWII in an internment camp, lost their home family business, and cat, and decided after the war to return to the father's family in Japan, on a farm near Hiroshima. The father hasn't returned to Japan for almost 20 years, but his parents are thrilled to see everyone. They are tenant farmers, so are barely scratching out an existence in a post war environment where food is scarce. Hanako and her brother arrive without even their meager luggage, since it goes missing after they get off the ship from America. Their father manages to get a job translating for American troops, who often pay him in cigarettes and bacon grease, which can be traded for rice. The mother helps around the house and occasionally in the fields, where the grandparents work long, grueling hours planting, weeding, and removing bugs from crops. Hanako goes to a local school, but her Japanese is not very good and her long hair and clothing immediately brand her as an outsider. The family subsists on carrots and other plants, grasshopper, and tiny amounts of rice, some of which they get for trading the American butter and sugar the children are allotted. Hanako feels very sorry for a local boy who is barely clothed and missing an ear. His parents were killed in the atomic bomb, and he is caring for his sister, but he also badgers Hanako for food and even breaks into the house and steals rice the family needs. He certainly has it much worse than Hanako's brother, who whines for peanut butter and "good food", seemingly oblivious to the situation in which the family has found itself. Eventually, the parents realize that things are much worse in Japan. They want to go back to America but can't, and work with a lawyer who is trying to put together a class action suit to repatriate them. This falls through, so the hard decision is made to send the children back to live with an aunt until the parents can return.
Strengths: Years ago, I went through a Pearl Buck reading phase, so the crushing rural poverty in Japan was very familiar. The post war landscape, however, was not, and I found this to be fascinating. It makes sense that a fairly large number of Japanese Americans family left the US, but I had never read about it. The details of the family's history, the grandparents' existence, and Hanako's feelings of not fitting in anywhere are all vivid and well done.
Weaknesses: This is very long, and repeats itself a lot. There are a few pictures, but not enough to justify the length. A picky distinction, I know, but this would have been a lot sharper with 100 fewer pages.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, as this covers a very unusual bit of history I knew nothing about. Our 8th grade studies WWII, so interested students might want to take a look at this.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dragonfell, The Queen's Secret

Prineas, Sarah. Dragonfell
March 26th, 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rafi has always been a little different, but he and his father scratch out an existence in their small village, where his father weaves cloth. When two suspicious looking characters, Gringolet and Stubb show up at their door and talk about cottages in a neighboring village being set on fire, Rafi treats it as a threat. His angers flares... and Stubb is badly burned. This brings a visit from Mr. Flitch, the owner of the biggest factory in Skarth, who claims that Rafi is "dragon touched" and must come with him for his own safety. When Rafi refuses, Flitch threatens to exact revenge on the people of the village, so Rafi runs away. It's true that Rafi looks a bit wild, and doesn't feel heat or cold like most people do, but he's still surprised when his father tells him of an event that happened when Rafi was small. A dragon called him up to the Dragonfell, and breathed fire on Rafi's father when he tried to take Rafi away. When Rafi meets the quirky Maud on his travels, she is not worried about his differences, and the two (along with an ever growing number of goats) make their way to Skarth. They steal a book that outlines the whereabouts of the few remaining dragons from Flitch's office in the factory, and end up on the run in a vapormobile from Flitch's minions. They end up at the Ur-Lair, where Rafi is able to communicate with the dragons and find out more about Flitch's evil plans to hurt the dragons and further his factories. Surprising things surface about Maud and Rafi, but in the end, the villagers in Rafi's community decide to try to side with the dragons and eschew the progress that Flitch promises.
Strengths: Dragon books have their fans, and this one included some new dragon lore. That dragons all hoard something, but not necessarily the same thing (blue flowered pottery, clocks, books, mittens and knitted things!) was particularly fun. Rafi and Maud have a good working relationship, and the twists concerning their identities were unexpected. The setting is a bit different from most medieval dragon books; I can see how the industrial revolution could have contributed to the extinction of dragons. Prineas's writing is always solid, and this moved along at a brisk pace.
Weaknesses: I was confused as to what the essential message was. Dragons are good, but industrialization is bad? Why was Flitch so evil? Couldn't the factories run without the dragons?
What I really think: This wasn't anything particularly fresh, but fans of dragon fiction seem to always want to same sort of Anglo-Celtic setting with thatched cottages and plots revolving around dragons being endangered. I'll probably buy it, but I didn't enjoy it as much as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart or Dragons vs. Drones.

George, Jessica Day. The Queen's Secret (The Rose Legacy #2)
May 14th 2019 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC from Netgalley

Thea is back, but things are still not right in the kingdom. A photographer has been sent "by the Crown" to take pictures of the horses, but Thea begins to realize that the man means the king and not the Queen Josephine. There is a sickness going around on Thea's side of the wall called "the Dag" because the sufferers have a cough that is like a dagger in their chest, and people are starting to suspect that the horses may somehow be causing it. A team of scientists also arrive to try to find a cure, and the doctors (who are all women) even include Thea and Jilly in their research. When Keth and other members of the Horse Guard become ill, more work falls on those who are well, and the situation becomes more and more serious. There is also the threat of a war with Kronenhof, and the suspected involvement of Thea's evil mother. Thea manages to make some important discoveries, but there is to be one more book in the series to finish things up.
Strengths: A three book fantasy series with strong female characters, Rose Maidens, evil mothers, and HORSES is perfect. It has enough of a fairy tale feel that fantasy readers who like Zahler, E.D. Baker, and Leisl Shurtliff will love this one. The medical research was great, and I loved that all of the doctors were women. Jilly and Thea are a great pair, and they get to travel all over as couriers, and The Way makes it possible for Thea to communicate with horses, even at a distance! This was a quick and fascinating read. Warning: if you want to give this as a give to an avid reader, wait until all three books are out and give them all together!
Weaknesses: Have to admit to a little fantasy amnesia about the first book and all of the details abotu Thea's mother and the genesis of the kingdom's split over horses. That's just me-- younger readers will remember everything, especially the horses' names!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It's not a series that will fall to pieces in two years, but will manage to hang on and circulate steadily for about twenty, which is my favorite kind of book because it's money well spent!

Monday, May 13, 2019

MMGM- Finding Orion, Sports Biographies!

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.

First of all, the new Alex Rider short story collection byt Anthony Horowitz is out tomorrow (Candlewick Press). If you have not read Stormbreaker (2000), you are missing out on the number one book in my library over the last 15 years! I have probably bought about  20 copies; I currently have ten in the collection, and there is only one on the shelf. They're so good that I may buy a copy of Secret Weapon for myself so that when I am old and feeble I can get people to read it to me, and I can close my eyes and sigh happily over Alex's tea with Mr. Smither's, gasp when he jumps off a cliff in Afghanistan with a horse, and wish that there were an entire book about how his uncle Ian Rider because a spy after reading Christmas at Gunpoint! He also goes parasailing, is kidnapped by a drug dealer, and is involved in several other adventures. Horowitz, as he does in Foyle's War, never gives us too much insight into the workings of Alex's mind, so that just means we need MORE BOOKS.

Anderson, John David. Finding Orion
May 7th 2019 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rion Kwirk's family members live up to their name. The father is a flavor chemist who works at a candy factory, younger sister Lyra is obsessed with the dictionary, and older sister Cass loves performing. The family is sitting down to dinner when the doorbell rings, and it is a singing telegram. The clown who delivers it informs them that their grandfather Papa Kwirk (aka Jimmy), has passed away. They are all in shock over the inappropriateness, and the father is on the phone to his aunt Gertie, who corroborates the clown's message. Soon, the family is off to Greenburg (with Cass' pet boa constrictor for comfort) to attend the FUNNeral that Gertie claims includes all of Jimmy's last wishes. There is a barbershop quartet, high school marching band, and a meal served by food trucks. There is also a touching eulogy by a girl Rion's age, Tasha, who spent a lot of time with Jimmy. It's not the standard send off, but townspeople share happy memories of Jimmy with the family, and they are a bit comforted. When Gertie shares that there is a scavenger style hunt to find Jimmy's ashes, however, they are not. The father is done with the nonsense and ready to go home, until the first clue starts to make sense. He takes the children out to the house where he grew up, digs in the yard, and finds the next clue. Despite their misgivings, the family is in, and continue pursuing the clues. This brings up many issues from the past and highlights the often dysfunctional relationship the father and Jimmy had after Shelley, their mother and wife, passed away. Each clue sheds a bit more light on what Jimmy experienced and how it impacted his son, and the family is able to work together to understand that even though things can be tough, family means sticking together.
Strengths: I enjoyed the small town setting and the fact that the immediate family was working together. The grief is not overly sodden (they didn't see Jimmy very often, which brings up a whole different kind of grief), and the death of a grandparent is something that many middle grade readers experience. Rion's light romance is fun as well. The book is generally amusing, even with the death, and Anderson always does a very touching story.
Weaknesses: This would have been far more effective without so many quirks for the Kwirks. Every time the name was mentioned, I flinched a little. Had Jimmy and Gertie been the only odd ones, it would have underscored the difficulties the father and son had, and made this seem more realistic. The sub plot with the criminals following the family was unnecessary.
What I really think: Hard NOT to like a book by Anderson, and perhaps young readers will not balk at the goofy names, aunt's vacuum cleaner collection, and general weirdness, but it made the book less effective for me. Will most likely purchase.

Wetzel, Dan. Stephen Curry (Epic Athletes)
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from... I'm not sure where. That happens occasionally.

My general policy is that I only buy biographies once the person has passed away. 1982 biography of Michael Jackson, anyone? When I took over my library, there were a few sports biographies,  and after about five years, the people are no longer known and the books stop circulating. When teachers assign biography projects, they want students to read about people who had more lasting impact on society. I did purchase a few of the On the Court books by Matt Christopher; they were PermaBound, and fell apart within a few years.

I love sports stories. I love biographies. Why is it SO HARD for me to purchase sports bios?

This new Dan Wetzel series will be an exception. Yes, the people are still alive. Yes, the books may stop circulating in five years. But for $14.64 for a 150 page hardcover, I think that these will get enough use to justify their purchase.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it was more like a story than a biography. There are lots of details about what it was like for Steph (steff) growing up. His career was not particularly easy, and the theme of perseverance is well developed. There are some illustrations that accompany the text, and an "Instant Replay" in graphic novel format at the end. The other books in this series cover Alex Morgan (whose novels are very popular with my students), Serena Williams, and Tom Brady, with books about Lionel Messi and LeBron James coming out in November 2019.

Great length, great pacing, apparently popular athletes. Could we please get one on Michael Jordan? For some reason, my students have been constantly bugging me for books about him, and the two I have are twenty years old!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Up For Air

Morrison, Laurie. Up for Air
May 7th 2019 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

As the last day of school rolls around, Annabelle is stressed because she is doing poorly yet again on a test, and she fears that she will loose her scholarship to the fancy private school she attends. She excels at swimming, and being at the pool helps her handled the other stressors in her life. These includes her mom and step dad, Mitch, who are good about picking her up for rides, supportive of her learning disabilities, and strict about her behavior, but who just don't quite understand her. Her best friend, Mia, is obsessed with school work and does well, but also jealous of Annabelle's more teen-like physique, and her friend Jeremy is going to spend the summer at a geek camp. Annabelle is asked to be on the high school swim team, even though she just finished 7th grade, and she is thrilled to be recognized for her ability, AND because Connor is on the team. Connor flirts with everyone, but Annabelle is still excited that he offers her a ride to practice, gets her phone number, and texts her occasionally. When Annabelle gets a letter from her father, whom she hasn't seen often because of his alcoholism, she starts longing to be with him, since she can't remember much about their interactions. Annabelle starts spending more and more time with the high school students, to the chagrin of Mia and Jeremy, and gets into trouble with them one evening when they try to get into the pool of a local celebrity. The high schoolers bail when she gets hurt, although Jeremy wisely calls his mother to pick them up. Annabelle's thumb is broken, so she can't swim. Mia and Jeremy are angry with her, she's grounded, and her mother is talking about sending her to the local school after a meeting to discuss adjusting Annabelle's academic accommodations. Overwhelmed, Annabelle decides to travel into the city to see her father, seeing him as a safe haven. This doesn't go well, either, and she's finally able to have a conversation with her mother about the things going on in her life.
Strengths: I loved the fact that Annabelle had a crush on Connor, who was just a little older than she was, and that he paid attention to her. I also loved the fact that it didn't work out between the two of him, and that Annabelle was realistically crushed when he had a girlfriend. Crushes and relationships are a much more important part of the middle school experience than one could guess from middle grade literature! The swimming details are good, and it's always good to have books about students in sports. The family drama is also realistic-- Mitch is a good step dad, and Annabelle likes his daughters, but she still has fond memories (as well as bad ones) about her father.
Weaknesses: While I enjoyed this one, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I thought there would be more swimming details, but the swim team time was taken up more with the drama. The learning difficulty hook was similarly disappointing-- aside from being tutored during the summer and having to meet with the principal about accommodations, this does not get much mention. I was hoping for another book similar to Gerber's Focused, but with swimming! For friend and family drama, this is excellent, but I had set my  mind on "swimming" and "learning difficulties".
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The swimming is great to have, but I'll have to hand sell this to readers who like friend and family drama.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Two Cats and a Baby, The Good Egg

Watson, Tom. Two Cats and a Baby (#4)
September 25th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Life is good for Stick Cat and Edith now that their owners Goose and Tiffany have married. Stick Cat enjoys the gourmet meals, and puts up with Edith's eccentricities. Now that there is a small human around, though, Edith is not happy. It takes attention away from the big humans, it cries, and it isn't going away. Stick Cat is okay with it; he is a very easy going, philosophical cat. When Grandma Cobb comes to visit, Edith is excited, since she loves to play with Grandma's long necklace and get attention. Of course, the stupid baby is much more interesting, and Edith feels slighted. When Grandma accidentally gets locked in the bathroom, though, both cats understand how important it is to get her out. The baby is safe, and they try to keep her warm and happy, but Grandma is very upset. Highjinks ensue, and the cats try to get Grandma out of the bathroom and back to her babysitting duties.

Stick Cat is about the only cat I would trust not to kill me (I have to admit I am more of a Stick Dog fan), and his long suffering endurance of Edith is always amusing. He saves the day, of course, and must deal with Edith and the baby as best he can.

Grandma Cobb was delightful, and there aren't many depictions of grandparents babysitting in middle grade, so it's something nice to see. The pictures, as always, are simple but amusing, and Grandma's floppy hat and amazing necklace help to save the day as well.

Readers who like their notebook novels with a large side of animals will love Stick Cat. Hand this to fans of Ahn's Pug Pals, Surovec's My Pet Human, Proimos's  Apocalypse Bow Wow and of course, Falatko's Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School.


I like to think that I understand middle grade literature, and, more importantly, what middle grade readers want to read. Sports books or all kinds, radioactive pocket pets, villainous principals, and cheesy romances are all things that I can appreciate from an eleven year old perspective. I have even managed to write thoughtful and critical reviews of about a dozen Geronimo Stilton books for Young Adult Books Central, and since they have the same exact plot and character features every single time, this is no mean feat. ( I had two students who moved to our school from Gujarat, India and thought Geronimo was the best thing ever, and this was a way to obtain those books for them!)

Sometimes, though, I just don't get it. Bogbrush the Barbarian (2010)? I wrote a review so mean that I couldn't even post it. Other people liked the book, but I just didn't understand. I think this is true for the following book. It's the mixture of twee (Really? I had to read the phrase "Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types" more than once?), underexplained on-trend political correctness (I understand that Barney prefers nonbinary pronouns, but I'm not sure if my 6th graders would), and just plain odd (see book description below) that made it hard for me to enjoy this.

But that's just me. Other people seem to enjoy these books, especially the graphic novel series on which the novels are apparently based. See? Unfamiliarity with the entire series does not help in this case. So read this one for yourself and decide if it is something that would be a good fit for you.

Tamaki, Mariko and Allen, Brooklyn. The Good Egg (Lumberjanes #3)
October 30th 2018 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Summer is wearing on for the Lumberjanes; cabin cleaning must be done, and there is a slight feeling of ennui before the exciting appearance of  Miss Annabelle Panache, who is going to help the campers put on plays, all based on classic fairy tales with a scouting twist! This is all very fun, but Ripley has other concerns. Previously, she had found a nest with very large golden eggs which also included a basketball sized egg to which she took a liking. Calling it "Eggie" and checking on it frequently, Ripley is fond of the egg, but when the other eggs hatch and it doesn't, Ripley puts it in another nest. Unfortunately, the egg is stolen out of that nest, and Ripley hears Rosie the counselor and Bearwoman (a shape shifter who inhabits the woods near the camp) talking about Eggie being taken by the Order of the Golden Egg. Determined to find her friend, Ripley tries her best, but sinks into despondency. Meanwhile, work proceeds on the various plays. Eventually, Ripley and Barney decide to go in search of Eggie, even if it means a run in with the Order. Given the nature of Eggie, will they be able to find it before it is too late?

This is a continuation of both a graphic novel series and two other illustrated novels, and familiarity with these will help. There are a fairly large number of characters, and while they have distinct characteristics, not all of them make large appearances in this volume. Jen, who breaks into nervous laughter at the slightest provocation, Ripley, and Rosie and the Bearwoman are the focus of this volume.

The illustrations are appealing, although since they are rendered only in shades of red, Ripley's blue hair isn't well represented! They have a manga-like feel and add to the descriptions of the diverse, powerful scouts. They are goofy when they need to be (e.g. Miss Panache)

The camp itself is set in a fantasy world where griffins, shape shifters and other mythical creatures often appear without much explanation. Readers who enjoyed the graphic novels or books like Stevenson's Nimona, Brooks' Sanity and Tallulah or Wang's The Prince and the Dressmaker will find this a pleasant way to while away some reading time.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Guy Friday- Surface Tension

Mullins, Mike. Surface Tension
Published May 8th 2018 by Tanglewood
ARC from Kidlitcon

Jake is out on a long, early morning bike ride when he slams into the door of a tanker truck and is knocked unconscious. He wakes up in the hospital not remembering too many details about his life, so when a girl in a hijab enters his room, he believes she might be his girlfriend Laurissa... until she tries to kill him! His mother thinks he is hallucinating, and as  more threats to his well being occur, no one believes him. His actual girlfriend Laurissa does, and tries to help him piece together what seems to be his part in the explosion of a plane right after take off. In alternating chapters, we also see the experiences of Betsy, who tries to kill Jake. Her father is a member of the Sons of Paine, and they are trying to make it look like Muslims are committing domestic acts of terrorism, therefore creating ill will towards them. Betsy wants to make her father happy, but after several failed attempts to kill Jake, starts to wonder WHY she wants anything at all to do with her father. Jake is under threat from several different groups, and keeps getting involved in horrible accidents, but his mother still doesn't believe him. Can he figure out how to stay safe and how to keep another plane attack from happening before someone finishes him off?
Strengths: This had a lot of action and adventure, and reminded me a little of Klavan's The Last Thing I Remember. It's one of those rare books with a high school character that stays middle grade appropriate. I liked the twists and turns of the plot, and my readers who have worked their way through all of the Alex Rider books will love this one. The biking is great, too, and groups like the Sons of Paine are a timely topic. Laurissa is an especially fun character-- Jake is too often concussed and spaced out to be all that well developed.
Weaknesses: The first scene where Betsy tries to kill Jake is a bit edgy (she climbs on top of him, purportedly for hanky panky, but tries to squash him), and there are some evil policemen, but it's not as violent as Camp Valor.
What I really think: There seems like a sequel could be in the offing, and I would be glad to read it. Definitely purchasing. We need more thrillers (and murder mysteries!) for middle grade readers.

More blather: Started the week with 1,500 books checked out (the collection is 12,451 volumes as of this morning, but I need to do some weeding!), and we are down to 526. All books were due yesterday, but I had two carts of donations to give to students, and that helped. It's amazing how full the shelves get. Once most things are in, I need to check to make sure I have books in series, remove things like Wimpy Kid books that are falling to pieces, and... weed R.L. Stine. The books I have are SO bad-- I have a bunch of PermaBound copies that are at least 20 years old, smell bad, and have pretty much stopped circulating. They are small books, but I must have three shelves of them!

I'm also redoing my graphic novel collection for next year. I have one shelf of picture books that hardly ever go anywhere (again, twenty years old), and some "You Wouldn't Want to Be" books that were hugely popular about fifteen years ago and are "too many words" for most of my students.

Reading tastes in my library have really changed in 15 years. My students are reading younger and younger titles, and a nonfiction book over 50 pages is a hard sell unless it's for research. I've given up on having Guiness and Ripley's books because they fall apart so badly. Our wonderful volunteer, Mr. Woodruff, buys them at Half Price Books, but they only get checked out a dozen times before the cover falls off, so I've stopped accepting them, even from him! I also ran out of space in the 000.00's, so they are on a shelf under the 900s, just sort of festering.

The end of the year is hard! Hang in there, loyal readers!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Just South of Home

Strong, Karen. Just South of Home
May 7th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sarah is thrilled that she and her brother Ellis are going to be allowed to stay home by themselves over the summer, rather than spend time with their uptight and controlling grandmother, Mrs. Greene. Sarah loves space, and has a research project planned, while the younger Ellis plans on constructing model cars. When their cousin Janie's mother wants to go to Hollywood and leave Janie with Sarah's family, Sarah struggles to make the best of the situation, especially since she and her only friend, Jovita, have fallen out. Janie is angry about being left by her mother in a small town Warrnesville, but Sarah tries to show her around. They are both particularly intrigued by Mrs. Whitney, who has a souvenir shop in the Town Square and is trying to revive interest in local history. Leaving Ellis with a neighbor, the girls, along with neighbor Jasper, travel to the nearby ruins of Creek Church. They start finding out that the church's history is intertwined with the Civil Rights movement, and realize that Mrs. Whitney is right about their being "haints" in the area. They have awaken one, a small boy named Abner, and try to figure out what needs to be done to put him to rest. The town, and especially Mrs. Greene, doesn't wish to discuss the troubled racial past of the area, but Sarah knows that it is important to understand the past in order to make peace with it.
Strengths: There are not enough books about children being allowed to be at home while their parents work during the summer, and Sarah's set up is well described. The cousins' relationship is absolutely realistic, and I enjoyed the fact that they both really tried to get along, even though they had different interests. The history, and the tie-in with the family, is interesting and timely. I even liked Mrs. Greene, despite her faults. She meant well. The cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: This would have had more emotional impact without the "haints"; it makes the murder of Abner somehow less real. While my students like mysteries, ghost mysteries are probably their least favorite.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Johson's The Parker Inheritance and Vaught's Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry.

Hurford, Molly. Shred Girls: Lindsay's Joyride
Published May 7th 2019 by Rodale Kids
Copy provided by the publisher

From Goodreads (as I am a bit behind and this was out this week!):

"It's time to ride and save the day!

Lindsay can't wait to spend her summer break reading comics and watching superhero movies--until she finds out she'll be moving in with her weird older cousin Phoebe instead. And Phoebe has big plans for Lindsay: a BMX class at her bike park with cool-girl Jen and perfectionist Ali.

Lindsay's summer of learning awesome BMX tricks with new friends and a new bike turns out to be more epic than any comic book--and it's all leading up to a jumping competition.

But some of the biker boys don't think girls should be allowed to compete in BMX. Now it's up to Lindsay, Jen, and Ali to win the competition and prove that anyone can be great at BMX.
Ms. Yingling

Kids Know Best Blog Tour!

I'm a little late on this (see previous end of year blather), but I am SO excited to be part of the Alex Rider and Theodore Boone campaign. Look at all of these fun things! Spend some time visiting these sites!


PART ONE: Theodore Boone: The Accomplice

May 6 – InRandom – Review
May 7 – Homeschool on the Range – Novel Study
May 8 – Min Reads and Review – Spotlight
May 9 – Picture Books to YA – Listicle: Non-fiction books + TV Shows for kids who are interested in law

May 13 – Reading Corner for All – Crossword/Word Search + Review  
May 14 – Two Points of Interest – Review
May 15 – Homeschool by the Beach – Creative Instagram Picture
May 16 – Little Homeschool on the Prairie – Review

PART TWO: Alex Rider: The Secret Weapon

May 20 – Createexploreread – Creative Instagram Picture
May 21 – Alohamora Open a Book – Review + Playlist
May 22 – Somethewiser – Review + Video Clip
May 23 – Lost in Storyland – Listicle: Teenage Spy Survival Guide

May 27 – @gobletoffiction – Creative Instagram Picture + Review
May 28 – Randomly Reading – Review
May 29 – Amanda Seghetti – Creative Instagram Picture  
May 30 – Ms. Yingling Reads – Memorable Moments in Alex Rider History