Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Tomb

36952564Bodeen, S.A. The Tomb
September 25th 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
Public library copy

Kiva is being raised in ancient Egypt, and one of her best friends is the prince, Seth. However, since his mother's passing, he has not come to school and has distanced himself. Kiva is training to be a healer, so when an earthquake causes some damage and injury to her community, she tries to help. However, Seth passes away, and she is not able to do anything. She realizes that her mother is going to allow her to be sacrificed and put into Seth's tomb in order to accompany him to the afterlife. She thinks she has two months to plan her escape, but she wakes up on what seems like the next day only to find that it is the day of the funeral. Things get weirder after that, and Kiva finds that her whole life has been a lie. She and Seth are really in stasis on a space ship, her mother is a hologram, and she's really from the US of the future and not from Egypt at all. Not only that, but the ship the two are on is in trouble, and when they go to find a part for the ship on one of the other units sent forth to evacuate the Earth, they find nothing but trouble. Will they be able to save their ship, or even themselves?
Strengths: This is a great length, has a nice light romance, and definitely is a good example of kids saving the world. I'd like to see more science fiction/space adventure, and Bodeen always does such a good job at putting scientific details into her work.
Weaknesses: I kept thinking of Haddix's Running out of Time, which starts with a similar premise. The Egyptian details are not quite right, which is addressed by Seth later in the book, but which made me uneasy and made it hard to get invested in the story, somehow.
What I really think: This cover would not be appealing to my readers (I have several similar ones that just don't circulate), and it's hard to get into the book at the beginning, so I think I will pass, even though Bodeen's other works do very well in my library.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 12, 2018

MMGM- Blended

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.

Draper, Sharon. Blended
November 6th 2018 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Isabella's parents are divorced, and she lived with her mother in Cincinnati while her father worked in California. Now he is back, and they switch off weeks, meeting at a local mall for the trade off. With her mother, who works as a waitress, she lives in an apartment and has to worry about vehicles working, but with her father, she lives in a posh house in Indian Hill. Her mother's boyfriend, who is white like her mother, confesses that his family was very racist and abusive when he was growing up, and he feels bad that he was too scared to oppose them. Her father's girlfriend is an interior decorator who has a son, Darren, who is older than Isabella. As her parents' relationships become more serious, Isabella gives more thought to her identity, as well as to her blended family. At school, she has some good friends, and doesn't think much about her racial identity until one of her friends is threatened and everyone at school is thinking about race. Isabella's big concern is playing piano, but when she and Darren stop for ice cream at the Hyde Park Graeters before her big recital, they run into problems that end tragically.
Strengths: This was a good attempt to bring current social concerns to a middle grade level. Draper has done a lot of more Young Adult books with these themes, but her younger books haven't addressed them as much. I have a lot of students who are biracial, and there are not many books (Frazier's Brendan Buckley and The Other Half of My Heart being notable exceptions) directly addressing the difficulties that sometimes arise. It was especially interesting that Isabella herself identifies more as black.
Weaknesses: This is almost two books; one about the blended families, and one about the racial issues. I liked that they were presented together, but at almost 300 pages, it was a lot of information, and the two topics didn't always flow smoothly.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, if only for the descriptions of Cincinnati (they HAD to be meeting at the Kenwood Towne Centre!) and the cover!

Fun fact: I'm pretty sure that when I did a student teaching experience at Walnut Hills High School in 1989, Draper was teaching there! We never met, and all I really remember is the cigarette haze in the faculty room and my cooperating teacher telling me that if I ever saw a fight starting, I was to run and find "a man with a tie".

O'Brien, Ann Sibley and O'Brien, Perry Edmond.
After Ghandi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance
November 6th 2018 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Starting with a complete but brief description of Ghandi's works and continuing with additional, updated information about current social movements, this book covers a variety of people and protests from around the world. Each chapter starts with an illustration that highlights the year of the protest, a description of a particular occurrence, a description of the problem and the method of resistance, and then a brief biography of a key figure, illustrated with that person's portrait. This is a nice way to reinforce the information, and made the book move very quickly. There were some events with which I was familiar, but a lot with which I was not. I can see this being a very useful book for research, pleasure reading, or for inspiring students to participate themselves. One notable omission, no doubt due to timing, is the student protests following the Stoneman Douglas shootings.
Strengths: This author also did the fabulous novel In the Shadow of the Sun-- it took me a bit to make the connection! I really liked the way that the various movements were discussed, and the chapters were just the right length. This would also be very helpful in a high school history class to balance out the textbooks, which always concentrate on WAR instead of social history!
Weaknesses: While I can understand the financial reasons for having drawings instead of photographs for each event, it was really not the same. Photographs would have added a LOT to this book. Perhaps in another ten years, for a new edition!
What I really think: This new edition is in paperback. I will try to find a hardcover, but I don't know that it would get used enough to worry about it wearing out.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Island War

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Island War
October 23rd 2018 by Holiday House
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Izzy and Matt both end up on a small Alaska island in 1941. Izzy's father wrote travel logs until his death in a car accident, and her mother is a bird watcher, so the two decide to continue with plans he made to live on the island. Matt's gruff father rips him from a pleasant life on the East Coast with his mother and gives him a kayak, as if that would take the place of his own beloved boat. The two don't get along at first due to some misunderstanding, and both find it difficult to settle in to such a different life. It doesn't help when Pearl Harbor is bombed and the US enters into war. Rumors are that their island could be attacked, but when Japanese soldiers show up at their door, steal their food, and make life difficult, it is still a shock. The occupation goes on for several years, until the Japanese decide to take the residents back to Japan. Both Matt and Izzy are away from their homes when this happens, and don't get on the boat. Izzy goes to Matt's house looking for food, and plans to stay there for a while, so is surprised when he shows up. The two form an uneasy alliance and survive, along with a dog who was left behind. When the island becomes a battle ground, they must rely on their survival skills even more to remain safe until they can be rescued.
Strengths: This covers an unusual aspect of WWII, and is a good length. The story is intriguing and moves at a good pace, and readers who enjoy problem novels or survival tales will find this one amusing. This is very similar in tone to this author's Genevieve's War.
Weaknesses: Having read Seiple's Ghosts in the Fog a while back at Gratz's Grenade more recently, I wanted a much more action packed story. I also didn't like either Matt or Izzy.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since I always need more books on WWII for an 8th grade unit, but am personally a little disappointed.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Steeplechase Secret (Free Rein)

Lane, Jeanette. The Steeplechase Secret (Free Rein)
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Zoe and her family have moved to Bright Field Stables from California. Her mother is from the small island in England, and is glad to return home, but Zoe has some trouble with settling in. She is thrilled to be able to have access to horses, and has made some good friends (Jade and Becky), but also has to deal with Mia, a wealthy girl who is rather mean. When a developer starts to resurrect a steeplechase race course on the island, the girls are all intrigued, especially since there are some cute boys whose parents work there. Mia's father is influential, so she is asked to participate in some of the first races, leaving the other girls to spy on her since they aren't included. They also feel that something isn't quite right about the way the renovation and planning are going, and get themselves in a fair amount of trouble while investigating.

This is apparently based off of a British television series that is being shown in 2018 on Netflix. While I haven't seen the show, and wish I had read more information about Zoe's move to the island, the novelization stands up well on its own. Scholastic has a good eye for shows and movies that young readers are watching, and as much as I enjoyed Partridge Family mystery series when I was young, I really can't fault them!

Zoe's close relationship with her mother and her sister, Rosie, is especially nice to see, and she does still talk to her father via Skype, which is a reality with which many children have to deal. Jade and Becky are fairly stock characters, but Mia is quite sympathetic even though she isn't always nice. It's a pleasant change to see a rich, mean girl portrayed as a human being rather than just a literary device, and it speaks well that Zoe tries to understand the other girl's perspective.

Horse stories have a small but steady fan base, and it's always good to see a new one. Jessie Haas' Rescue is one of my recent favorites, and I love Hapka's Ponies of Chincoteague series. Free Rein, with it's wonderful Raven, will be a big hit with readers who either ride horses or would like to, and who also can get their teeth into a good mystery.

Friday, November 09, 2018

No Slam Dunk

Lupica, Mike. No Slam Dunk
November 6th 2018 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Wes loves basketball-- practicing to be the best takes his mind off that fact that while his father did come back from fighting in Afghanistan as promised, he came back wounded, uncommunicative, and increasing involved in drink. Wes' mother, a high school librarian, is very supportive of Wes in every aspect of his complicated life, which is good to see. He also has a counselor, Mr. Correa, who checks in with him and occasionally plays some hoops. When one of the really good players on his team, "Dinero", starts to focus on his own game at the expense of his teammates, Wes tries to work with him. Dinero's father thinks his son can make it to the NBA, so is angry at the coach when his son is benched for grandstanding or not giving his teammates enough opportunity to play. Since Wes is struggling with his father's erratic behavior, it's hard for him to also deal with trouble on his team. Luckily, other teammates, the coach, and his mother help him work through his various problems. After his father has a crisis and deeply embarrasses Wes during a game, things start to change for the better.
Strengths: Lupica has an excellent formula for alternating sad stuff about Wes' father with descriptions of basketball games, practice, or playground scrimmages. This makes the book a lot easier to get through. I really liked how Wes had a good support network, and it made him be able to miss his father but also be somewhat sympathetic. As a coach, I see dysfunctional parents and how they affect students all the time. I had a father come to a meet, realize his runner wouldn't be doing anything for an hour, and then leave, loudly proclaiming "I don't have time for this sh**." It happens, and this is the constructive sort of sad that can be helpful for students to read.
Weaknesses: Not really a huge weakness, but Lupica usually has some really great female friends or teammates of the main characters, but I missed that in No Slam Dunk.
What I really think: I know there are people who are not fans of Lupica or of promoting white male writers, but if we are supporting young readers, we have to think about what they like to read. Interestingly, the kidlit community is all about giving children as many graphic novels as they would like to read, to the exclusion of all else if necessary. I find that far more readers only want sports books, but many teachers and librarians claim quite proudly that they "don't read sports books". I have some problems with this. When I started this blog in 2006, I had a focus on "books for boys", but had to drop that focus because people (mainly authors, interestingly), were very rude about it.

Yes, I have Hena Khan's basketball series, as well as Amar'e Stoudemire's and the Barber brothers'. When there are sports books written by culturally diverse authors, I will buy those as well. But if we are trying to get books to ALL readers, we can't ignore those who prefer sports books just because a disproportionate number of the books are written by white males.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Series Books- A Rant

It's a big question for school librarians. How invested do I want to get in a series? If Sands' The Blackthorn Key runs to nine books that are all four inches wide, do I want to persist past book three? How bad a librarian am I if I don't? Then again, The Nancy Drew Diaries are really popular, so I have 16. But what happens when they are no longer popular? That's a lot of shelf space. Coco Simon's The Cupcake Diaries at thirty books? Nope. Got to 20 and called it a day. Even the public library only has e books for the others. Don't get me started on Somper's Vampirates. Seven books, and the first is completely in tatters. Only two people have ever read the last two. Argh!

I keep reminding myself that publishing is, in fact, all about making money, and NOT about making school librarians happy. If this is the case, do series that go on interminably really make money? I'm not seeing it. If an author does well, I would (were I a publisher) have them write different series of maybe five books each. Like Rick Riordan. The first book in a series HAS to sell better, since I will frequently purchase two of a popular series, to insure that I have a copy when one falls apart.

Any thoughts on this?

Keene, Carolyn. The Haunting on Heliotrope Lane
January 2nd 2018 by Aladdin (Nancy Drew Diaries #16)
School library copy

Might have had to arm wrestle a sixth grade girl for this one. Well, actually, there was a Scholastic WISH book that she wanted that I also needed to read, so we each took one and plan to trade!

Nancy and her friends have heard rumors that the house on Heliotrope Lane is haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Furstenberg, who died of a heart attack... but was it caused by her son, with whom she had a contentious relationship and who is now missing? Local children have been breaking into the house and trashing it, and a girl named Willa and her brother Owen approach Nancy about a friend who visited the house and is now volatile and odd. Nancy and her friends visit the house even though it is wrong to do so, and end up getting taken to the police station, although their parents are even tempered about it. There's something going on, but it takes Nancy a while to track down the forces behind the "haunting" and make things right.
Strengths: Like the Phoebe Rivers' SaraNormal series, there is something wickedly addictive about these, more so than any other Drew series I have! I keep saying I won't buy anymore, but then a reader comes and asks for the next one because the public library doesn't have them in anything but e book form, and I break down and buy it! On the up side, these don't need to be read in order, and they are a great length for a mystery. This volume was one of the best-- nicely creepy!
Weaknesses: Mrs. Furstenberg's house is very clearly described as a "small ranch-style home" with light blue shingles that "had probably been a cute little house". What is this on the cover?
What I really think: Love. Slow but steady circulator. Money well spent. Students read. That's what we want in middle grade books, isn't it?

Simon, Coco. Cracks in the Cone (Sprinkle Sundays #2)
May 1st 2018 by Simon Spotlight
Library copy

Tamiko enjoys going to her friend Allie's mother's ice cream shop to work every Sunday. It's the only chance she gets to hang out with Allie and with their friend Sierra. It's fun to work in the shop, too, making ice cream sundaes and dealing with customers. However, soon things are not always fantastic on Sunday. Tamiko has great ideas for things like unicorn sundaes, but Allie gets in a snit about spills, wasted ice cream, and being nice to customers. Tamiko isn't worried about these things until she starts to understand the realities of owning a business with a very small profit margin. She tries to keep waste to a minimum, but she also doesn't care to be talked to by Allie's mom when she is late or has a problem with customers. She is busy with other things, so she considers stopping her work at the shop. Hint: There are at least four more books planned for this series, so I don't think that will happen!
Strengths: I love these because they are just well done and easy to read. Tamiko's concerns are realistic, as are her reactions. (What tween really understand sprinkle wastage?) Books where Children Do Things are always fun and empowering, and if they involve unicorn ice cream sundaes, all the better. The parts about dealing with difficult customers would have been useful to me when I worked in two stores in the mall in high school!
Weaknesses: I really hope this stops at ten books or less.
What I really think: Had a 6th grader waiting for this while I had it home to read! The covers are bright and happy and help a lot!

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Hurrican Katrina Rescue- Ranger in Time #8

36127398Messner, Kate. Hurricane Katrina Rescue (Ranger in Time #8)
Published June 26th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ranger, a failed rescue dog (squirrels are so distracting!), has a first aid kit that sends him through time to help children who need him. In this latest installment, he is sent to the Ninth Ward to help out Clare Porter. Clare is home alone with her grandmother after her father has gone to get gas for the car so they can evacuate. Her mother and brother are already visiting relatives away from the city. Clare starts to panic when her father doesn't come back, because her grandmother struggles with dementia and Clare remembers the stories her father had told about other storms that required the family to hack through the attic roof with an ax and wait there for rescue! As the waters begin to rise in the house and her father has still not returned, Clare puts together some provisions and takes her grandmother into the attic. It's hot and stuffy, and the smell of the sewage water rising is overwhelming. At one point, her grandmother is able to be taken by helicopter, but there isn't enough room for Clare. At least she has Ranger with her to wait. It seems like a good idea to make it to her father's row boat that is tied to a nearby shed and therefore bobbing in the dirty waters, and Clare is able to help several people get to the Superdome area before the boat is damaged. Because of Ranger's rescue dog abilities, she is soon reunited with both her grandmother and her father, so Ranger's work is done.

This series does a nice job at covering a variety of historical events through the eyes of Ranger and a middle grade protagonist. While the difficulties are not downplayed, Katrina is not portrayed as too scary, and some of the survival tips Clare uses are good ones to know. Really, take bottled water with you even in the car on the way to the grocery, just in case!

 The author's notes at the end, complete with some black and white pictures of places mentioned, are very helpful in bringing this event, which occurred before most middle schoolers today were born, to life. Clare and her family are representative of the population of this area, and the notes also indicate that the Ninth Ward has not really made as much progress in bouncing back from the event as one would hope.

There have been a good number of history books written about this time period, but not many for readers in elementary school. There is Brown's nonfiction graphic work Drowned City : Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, as well as many short nonfiction books about the event, as well as lots of fiction:  Tarshis I Survived Hurricane Katrina, Herlong's  Buddy,  Wood's Saint Louis Armstrong Beach, Smith's Another Kind of Hurricane, , Volponi's Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans, Philbrick's Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina, Paley's Hooper Finds a Family: A Hurricane Katrina Dog's Survival Tale, Rhodes' The Ninth Ward, and Lamana's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. Interestingly enough, a disproportionate amount of these books involve dogs, so Ranger is in good company!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Waiver Day

For Election Day, our school district releases students from coming to school, and the staff has professional development. I usually deliver a "100 Great Books" presentation.

The August presentation can be found here. Slideshare.org is closing, so I'm trying to find a good way to share these.

Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die (Max Tilt #2)

Lerangis, Peter. Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die (Max Tilt #2) 
July 24th 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After finding an enormous treasure with his cousin Alex, Max's family has built a big new house and is enjoying their good fortune, especially since his mother's cancer is in remission. However, Max's friend Evelyn's scleroderma worsens, and he and Alex travel to London for the funeral of Basile. While there, they meet Basile's niece, Bitsy, and find that there may be a secret cure, the clues to which are in the London Reform Society archives in a paper left by Verne himself. With the help of their uncle Nigel, Max, Alex and Bitsy set off on an 80 Days Around the World style adventure to find the ingredients for a cure they hope will help their friend. Unfortunately, Nigel leaves them to go out on his own and collect the ingredients before they do, but this does not stop the friends from a whirlwind adventure through Greece, Siberia, Nepal, South America and Antarctica. Their quest takes on even more urgency when Max's mother's cancer returns, and eventually, his father calls him back. Luckily, they have found all of the ingredients, but after using them successfully on Max's mother and Evelyn, some go missing, insuring that more adventures will occur.

Readers who enjoy puzzles, clues, and cross continent travel reminiscent of the Cahill's and Vesper's adventures in The Thirty-Nine Clues series will enjoy riding along with Alex, Max and Bitsy as they try to beat the clock and gather exotic ingredients from even more exotic locations. The fact that they have unlimited funds due to their previous adventures makes the travel portion of this seem more possible!

Max is on the autism spectrum, which leads to occasional odd behavior that surprises new people they meet. His emotions have smells, he interprets things literally, and he sometimes asks awkward questions. This is not a huge part of the plot, just an added richness in Max's character, which is a nice way to add diversity to an adventure series.

I often recommend that readers alternate series while waiting for the next book in a new series to come out, and Max Tilt is a fun addition to an action/adventure line up that includes Stokes' Addison Cooke Vegas' Pyramid Hunters and Nix's Time Twisters.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 05, 2018

MMGM- On Blood Road

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.

Watkins, Steve. On Blood Road
October 30th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Taylor Sorenson is a typical rebellious teen of 1968, sneaking out of his posh apartment to hang out with friends in the Village and generally irritating his mother. When she decides to go visit his father, who works with the government and is stationed in South Vietnam where he has a major but undisclosed role in the war operations, he isn't pleased that he has to be away from his friends, but decides to make the most of his travels by sneaking away from the embassy to go to a Tet (New Year's) celebration at Bunny Bunny Go Go. Unfortunately, he is intercepted by military police, who tell him the party goers would just rob him blind, so he's better off at home. Even more unfortunately, gunfire erupts, the MPs are killed, and Taylor is held hostage by the North Vietnamese Army. He makes friends with an older man named TJ, who helps him survive initially, but who doesn't last long. Taylor eventually ends up in the care of Phuong, Trang, and Vu, who brutally march him across the countryside. Luckily, both Phuong and Taylor speak French (not unlikely in the 1960s) and are able to communicate. Phuong is fairly nice, although Trang and Vu are not, and after Taylor saves Phuong from drowning, Phuong treats him a bit better, although she is very dedicated to the reunification of Vietnam. Even though it may have cost her her entire family, Phuong believes in this mission and wants to get Taylor to the Hanoi Hilton so his presence can be used as leverage against his father. Crossing a war-torn, defoliated country side is dangerous, and Taylor and Phuong barely survive by eating snakes and other creatures they can find, often becoming violently ill. As they approach their destination, will Taylor's father's connections be able to rescue Taylor before it's too late?
Strengths: Like this author's Sink or Swim, this has a lot of good details about the gruesome fighting, devastation caused by bombing and chemical weapons, and techniques for torturing prisoners. Not details I want to read, but my readers who like books about war definitely do. I appreciate it when these details are offset by discussion of deeper philosophical ones about how to treat others (Taylor saves Phuong because, in part, it's the right thing to do. Plus, his other captors are meaner!) and the cruelty of war in general. This had a nice balance, and the structure of it will make it appeal to readers of outdoor survival adventures as well.
6481978Weaknesses: This is petty, but a boy named Taylor is 1968 just about made me put the book down. No! He would have likely been Jim, Mike, Bob or Bill. The rest of the historical details seemed fine, but that tiny bit made me want to doubt them! More seriously, it was hard to get a good handle on Phuong's and Taylor's views of the war and how they changed, because so much was going on. That's okay-- the target demographic doesn't care so much about Taylor's relationship with his father and their differing views of the war, but I would have been interested.
What I really think: We have enough books about World War II. Really. Vietnam and Korea, and especially Desert Storm and Afghanistan need more books. The cover of this is fantastic, and I'm super glad to have a copy, since the best thing I have other than Chris Lynch's Vietnam series is Gail Graham's 1972 Cross-Fire: A Vietnam Novel (Pantheon Books).

Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Prophet Calls

35734765Sumrow, Melanie. The Prophet Calls
November 6th 2018 by Yellow Jacket
ARC provided by publisher

Gentry lives with her very extended family in a small community in New Mexico. They are led by the Prophet, and her father is one of the elders in the community. He has three wives, and many children who attend school in the Prophets house, since he has been in prison for a few years. The boys learn survival skills, and the girls learn homemaking and other skills that will make them good wives and mothers. Gentry isn't happy that she has to stop playing games when she turns 13, but she's even more upset when a new pronouncement from the Prophet (who calls the community weekly with his revelations) forbids women from leaving the community at all. It's too dangerous, but Gentry and her brother Tanner are set to compete in a musical competition, since they both play violin very well. Gentry's father even gives her a new violin, so she is okay with Tanner's plans to sneak out. The outside world is a little scary, but there are some nice people, and the bluegrass song the siblings play is well received. However, there father shows up at the competition to take them home, and things do not go well when they get there. Tanner is sent away from the community as an apostate, and Gentry is punished. She is very angry, especially when her older sister Meryl is pressed into a hasty marriage with one of the older men, and her sister Amy's record player is taken away as being a tool of the devil. When the Prophet decides that Gentry's father can no longer control his wives and children, he is sent away, and his wives are reassigned to other men. Gentry and her family end up being sent far away from their community to another one, and when Gentry finds that she is going to be forced to marry a boy she dislikes, she finally decides to strike out on her own, with the help of some relatives.
Strengths: This is a timely novel about religious oppression of young women, and about one young woman who is brave enough to confront her oppressors. It was well written and descriptive, and Gentry's relationship with her young relatives is warm and supportive, especially since the adults are all too wrapped up in their religion to do the right thing. The lengths to which Gentry and her siblings and cousins go to escape are intriguing and exciting, and readers who like books where children are abused will find this to be a new topic that is not much discussed.
Weaknesses: Is this offensive to religious people? I am not in a position to judge. To me, ALL religions are the dictates of men thinly disguised as "the will of God". While this is a fictitious religion, will people in religions that severely limit the rights and experiences of women feel that this is a strike against them as well? Or would they stay far enough from this sort of book that they would never know about it? While most people would agree that marrying off girls at the age of 13 is a bad, bad idea, I just had a weird feeling that religious people might feel this book is also denigrating their own beliefs.
What I really think: This was very much like The Child Bride of Short Creek, a 1981 movie with Diane Lane and Christopher Atkins. It was certainly a page turner, but I'm not sure how big a demand there is among my students for books about polygamist sects.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 03, 2018

The Callback (Maddie Ziegler Triology #2)

Ziegler, Maddie. The Callback (Maddie Ziegler Triology #2)
October 30th 2018 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Harper is settling into her new life in Florida after The Audition and is finding a way to work with a new group at dance. She has made a good friend in Lily, but Riley continues to be pointlessly mean. Each girl in the group is being considered for a solo and has to do one-on-one lessons to prepare, and of course, Riley thinks she should get it. At the same time, Harper gets involved with a school production of The Little Mermaid, and has a dance there. She works with some of her classmates on their routines, and enjoys that, but is struggling with her solo. She is also trying to spend more time with her younger sister Hailey, and keep up with her school work. This is not an easy task when you're at the dance studio every night! In the end, Harper realizes that she is not putting as much emotion into her dancing because she is trying to be technically perfect.
Strengths: Julia Devillers' writing is strong, and "drama" is certainly something I get asked for a lot. Students don't necessarily want death and destruction, they want the mean girls, the friend drama, the light romance. This fits the bill, all while wearing sparkly leotards and tulle.
Weaknesses: Ziegler appeared on a show, Dance Moms, until 2016, so I don't know how long she will remain a popular figure. Even without her celebrity, however, there is a decided lack of middle grade fiction dealing with dance, so this will be useful.
What I really think: Even though I did tap, ballet and jazz in my misspent youth (the last class I took was in sixth grade, when I was traumatized by the one shouldered leotard with glitter fringe!), I just don't get intensive dance. I know so many girls who spend their middle and high school years doing practically nothing else, then never danced again once they got to college. This made it hard for me to get invested in the book.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, November 02, 2018

Attucks and Out of Bounds

37901946Hoose, Phillip. Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City
October 23rd 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In the 1940s and 50s, while baseball was slowly integrating, basketball was still definitely segregated, especially in the hoops-crazy state of Indiana. Even small town schools built enormous gymnasiums for basketball, and Indianapolis had Butler University's huge facility, Hinkle Fieldhouse. In one neighborhood of the city, however, there was not a huge gym. The area surrounding Attucks High School was almost solely African Americans, many of whom were economically disadvantaged. The community took great pride in its school, however, and had excellent faculty and good students. They worked on putting together a good basketball team as well, even though it was hard to get other schools to play, and then it was hard to get referees who would make fair calls. Even once they got through a season, they were not allowed to play in tournaments. Once Coach Ray Crowe took over the team, he encouraged his players to be their best, and started to recruit players who were not necessarily the most well-to-do students. The team started doing better and better, and the success of the Attucks team fed the passion for basketball already well-developed in the state. Once Oscar Robertson was on the team, it did better and better, and soon so much attention was being paid to the team that some of the discrimination eased up.

This was an interesting mix of basketball and Civil Rights history, and Hoose (whose research for this started in 1986, with tape recorded interviews!) does a great job of balancing basketball descriptions with Civil Rights issues. When I got tired of reading about basketball, there would be historical information to keep me interested; when students are reading this, they will get bored with THAT, and be glad of the basketball, so it's perfect! I learned a lot of things, like why basketball season runs when it does (after the harvest to before spring planting!) and why the Harlem Globetrotters exist (black basketball players were not common  in the NBA until well after 1950).

Hoose also does a great job of trying to explain the cultural zeitgeist of Indianapolis, and adds a lot of good details about the daily life of the players he discusses. This is an excellent book for middle grade readers who love basketball and a sneaky way to get them to learn about the history of Civil Rights, much in the same way as Maraniss' Strong Inside teaches them about a slightly later period.

38533015Delle Donne, Elena. Out of Bounds (Hoops #3)
October 16th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elle is finally becoming organized, partly because of the scheduling phone app her friend installed, and is learning to balance basketball, volunteering, walking her new dog, and socializing. However, she's still struggling with basketball. She doesn't think she's doing a great job, and her coach is on her case. Not only that, but another girl on the team, Bianca, is outwardly hostile and aggressive about Elle being the forward while she is not. It doesn't help that Elle's friend and neighbor, Blake, is "going out" with Bianca. Her other teammates are supportive, and her coach explains that she thinks Elle can be really good, which is why she is hard on her. Still, it's not fun anymore. Around Thanksgiving time, Elle's family has a great weekend, and soon after Elle decides that basketball just isn't her thing right now. How will her friends and family take it when she breaks the news?
Strengths: There are so many middle grade books with Serious Problems that I'm thrilled when I see one with smaller problems that loom large in the middle school mind. Mean girls, balancing one's time, dealing with family and homework and friends... all concerns that we forget can be devastating. Sure, it's not death or dismemberment or destruction, but middle school readers will definitely identify with Elle's struggles, and it's good to see her work through most things successfully, if not quickly or easily. There are so few books about basketball with female protagonists, so it is great to see this series!
Weaknesses: This comes fairly close to some hand-wringing angst, but at least that's usually when Elle is able to step back and have some fun. I hope she has more success in the next book, though!
What I really think: I enjoy this series, and would love to see Delle Donne do a book or two for slightly older readers addressing slightly more mature problems.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Air Raid Search and Rescue

Sutter, Marcus. Soldier Dogs #1: Air Raid Search and Rescue
June 5th 2018 by HarperFestival
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Marcus and his family have moved to the United Kingdom for his father's job, and are unfortunately caught their during World War II. His older brother Matt has joined the army, and left his dog, Chief, with Marcus. The family has taken in a German girl, Rachel, as part of the attempts to provide homes for Jewish refugee children via the Kindertransport. When the city where they reside, Canterbury, is targeted by the Baedeker Blitz movement the Germans instituted to knock out British landmarks, the children are afraid. They are prepared, and know what they need to do in case of an attack, but it is still not a comfortable thought. When their mother has to tend to a neighbor lady who has gone into labor, Marcus and Rachel are on their own. Luckily, they have Chief by their side, so are able to not only follow their family evacuation plan, but to help find people caught in the rubble. When both children are in a precarious situation, can they count on Chief's skills to be saved?

Despite the cast number of fictionalized stories about World War II, there have not been a lot of stories about children in towns being bombed since the 1970s. (There were also a lot of stories about evacuating children to the country at that time as well-- think even as far back as the Chronicles of Narnia books!) I had never heard of the Baedeker Blitz, and I love a book that teaches me something. Being in a town that is being bombed was certainly a reality that many children faced, and is as harrowing and exciting to read about as descriptions of fighting battles.

There are a growing number of books highlighting the service of our canine friends, including C. Alexander London's Dog Tags series, Shotz's Scout: National Hero, and Alison Hart's Dog Chronicles, but there is certainly room for more, right along with stand alone titles like Kadohata's Cracker and nonfiction like Weintraub' s No Better Friend . Dog stories, as well as war stories, are of great interest to middle grade readers, and a dog on the cover always makes a book appealing!

I especially liked the relationship between Marcus and Rachel, and Rachel's growing realization that she would likely never see her family in Germany again. Children who were displaced away from their families for their own good often struggled to feel a sense of belonging afterwards, and it's reassuring to think that there were a few children, like Rachel, who were able to find a new family.

At some point, all of the different stories about World War II will have been told, but the last time I checked, this coverage of the Baedeker Blitz is unique, and a thrilling story of a difficult time in British history.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Spirit Hunters: The Island of Monsters

Oh, Ellen. Spirit Hunters: The Island of Monsters
July 31st 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Harper moved to Washington, D.C. with her family and found out about her paranormal abilities in Spirit Hunters. She has made friends with some of the ghosts in a nearby cemetery, and her best friend (also a ghost!) Rose has been freed from being tied to a mirror and can go with her. When the two visit the cemetary, they find that the spirits are missing, and the one remaining boy, Roderick, thinks that something bad has happened to them. Harper doesn't have a lot of time to investigate, since her parents are dragging her and her siblings, Michael and Kelly, to Razu Island, where her aunt runs a resort. At least her new friend Dayo is invited as well. She calls her grandmother and finds out it is likely spirit eaters, but her grandmother can't help because Harper's aunt is expecting a baby any day. On the island, Harper visits her evil cousin Leo, who is looking rough. He claims that a ghost girl is trying to talk to him every night and is disturbing his sleep. Harper meets Holly, a girl who was vacationing with her parents at the resort when they were all killed by the monsters, and learns more and more about how the monsters came to be and whom they are targeting. There is a lot of history on the island, and Harper sometimes has visions through the eyes of the original founder of the resort, Monty. Monty's granddaughter, Olivia, befriends the group, and provides some helpful information. As Halloween approaches and the monsters gain energy, Harper realizes that there is no one to help her, and she must defeat the monsters on her own or watch 13 young people become sacrifices!

Harper's grandmother is a Korean shaman, so the rituals and bells she uses to deal with the spirit eaters are a fresh addition to a traditional story of monsters and demons. It is particularly interesting how the Razu are traced across several different cultures and name changes before they arrive on the creepy, haunted island! This is a much scarier book than the cover would indicate, and I found myself checking behind my ears for mysterious bruises and wishing I could cover my shoulders with a blanket to keep me safe!

There are a lot of characters involved in this story, and I was able to keep them all straight, which means that Oh did a great job at constructing individual personalities for each one, including the spirits. I love Harper's irritated sister and parents, her adoring brother, her supportive friend Dayo, and even her "imaginary" friend Rose, whom she loses. Even Olivia and her troubled family are described just enough that their story made sense and added a lot to the sage of the demons. This sort of reliable character building across the entire population of the book is no easy task!

The draw of this book is, of course, the monsters. They are suitably evil. They glow from the ingested spirits that Harper must release, and are relentless in their pursuit of energy. Harper's growing skills at dealing with them will be interesting to follow in subsequent books, and I love the fact that not all of the spirits she meets are evil-- she runs across a whole range, some of whom are lovely.

Spirit Hunters has all of the best qualities of traditional ghost stories but has a fresh, updated quality with the details of Harper's Korean background and her supportive if somewhat clueless family network.

 Hale, Bruce. Fuzzy Freaks Out (Class Pets #3)
August 28th 2018 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
Fuzzy and the other pets in Miss Wills' class 5-B are getting ready for Halloween. Fuzzy in particular is trying to come up with a plan so he can see all of the costumes this year, and Cinnabun is trying to have the pets have their own contest! She, of course, gets to be a princess. When strange things start to happen in the classroom, Fuzzy suspects that there might be a ghost who is messing up classrooms and making weird noises, but his investigation is thwarted by weekend trips to students' homes and general school activity. Even Fuzzy and Mistletoe have seen weird happenings, with lights going off and shadowy figures lurking. The pets try everything they can find (with some help from the internet) to persuade the ghost to leave, but eventually find who the real culprit is. The custodian, Mr. Darius, doesn't want to set traps or poison to deal with the unwelcome addition to the pets, but his assistant Rhonda has less patience and is ready to declare full scale war. Can Fuzzy make sure that the "ghost" doesn't come to harm?

Books like Birney's Humphrey and Barkley's Critter Club series, and The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson and Ferocious Fluffity by Erica S. Perl, are always popular with young readers. The pets get to see the secret life inside the school or house, and react to it in a way that young readers are not able to. There is a lot of humor to sentient pets, and the personalities (like the oddly Southern Cinnabun and not-so-bright Mistletoe) of the pets make it even more fun to see the human world through their eyes.

Fuzzy is a good manager, and he sets out with a  lot of deliberation to assess the mystery. He corrals his allies, does his research, and is able to deal fairly with the "ghost" when it is located. He also has pretty strong opinions as to what makes an appropriately suitable guinea pig costume-- and it does NOT involve a pink tutu!

The page decorations are fun, and done by Hale himself, which is a nice addition to the book. This series is bound to be a popular choice in classroom libraries and at book fairs. My own daughter still has her elementary copy of The World According to Humphrey (2004), and it was always the book she took to school as a tension reliever during state testing!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fantasy series, book two

37534756Burgis, Stephanie. The Girl with the Dragon Heart.(Tales from the Chocolate Heart #2)
November 6th 2018 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The chocolate shop in The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart is still struggling a bit, since the owner, Marina, cares more about her chocolate creations than pandering to customers, but Silke is handling the publicity and trying to help. Of course, she tells a lot of stories, and is claiming that the Chocolate Heart products are so good that they helped deal with the dragons! The crown princess Katrin hears about this, and has Silke brought to her. She offers her a position in the castle as a sort of spy, which angers the other princess, Sophie. When royal elf visitors come to the palace, Silke finds it hard to control herself, since both of her parents were lost in a trek across Elfenwald when she was very young, which is how she and her brother came to have a used clothing store on the banks. Fearing that no one is being considerate of the dragons, her friend Aventurine's people, Silke tries to help but makes some bad choices.
Strengths: This is a solid continuation of my favorite fantasy novel from last year, and the story continues in a good fashion. Getting a view of the palace workings is different and interesting, and the secrets of Silke's past in connection with the elves is well developed. Katrin has a complicated personality, and Sophie's plight is a bit of a surprise.
Weaknesses: Not as much chocolate, and Silke is probably my least favorite character from the first book. She just doesn't think things through. True to life, perhaps, but somehow it irritated me.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this, but was just not as wild about it.

Nix, Garth and Williams, Sean.
Let Sleeping Dragons Lie (Have Sword, Will Travel #2)
30 October 2018
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sir Eleanor and Sir Odo are back with their respective talking swords. After the death of Sir Halfdan and the appearance of the former king Egda, the kingdom of Tofte is in turmoil. Egda's sister Odelyn is acting as regent for Prince Kendryk, but is going to have her crowned king because he is acting soft in the head, spending his time finger painting. The Regent has sent out unpopular Instruments to announce that the rules are changing, more money must be collected, and their way it the only way, so the knights know they must travel to help Kendryk out. Along with Egda's guard, Hundred, they set off on a perilous journey to Tofte, meeting a variety of threatening and helpful characters along the way. At one point, Biter needs to be repaired, and in the process remembers his former knight, who could be a powerful adversary. When the group finally arrives in Tofte, secrets about the lineage of the kings comes out, unsuspected allies emerge, and a new and surprisingly king is crowned.

Readers who like classic, medieval fantasy books like Alexander's The Book of Three, Rodda's Deltora Quest, Pierce's Alanna, and Wrede's Dealing with Dragons will adore the formulaic medieval adventure quest and its comfortable familiarity. Forests are always dangerous places, having allies in the Urthkins (who control the underground realm) allows them to bypass some of the more dangerous elements, and dragons can be helpful if you approach them the right way... and your objectives serve their purpose.

For all of its traditional elements, there are some fun twists concerning gender roles. Their are no female equivalents of ruling positions-- everyone, male or female, are kings or Sirs. There is a brief mention that Eleanor and Odo might be romantically linkws, but they are far too busy to think about this too much. Everyone on the quest is brave and powerful, and the only one who really needs to be saved is Kendryk... who has some tricks up his own sleeves.

This has many similarities to Flanagan's The Ranger's Apprentice books, but is slightly younger. The talking swords (whose voice is portrayed in an old Germanic style text) and the bats (whose utterances are punctuated thus: "L!o!o!k! l!e!f!t!") add an element of whimsy that will amuse a younger audience.

While I have been enjoying the fantasy adventure books set in other cultures and dealing with other mythology, there will always be a core group of fantasy aficionados who crave more British style Camelot inspired fantasy where there are swords to be wielded against dragons.