Saturday, October 25, 2014

Timmy Failure: We Meet Again

20758102Pastis, Stephan. We Meet Again (Timmy Failure #3) 
October 28th 2014 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from YABC and reviewed there.

Timmy has been let back into his old school, although Principal Scrimshaw informs him that he is on probation and that any infractions will lead to permanent expulsion. Timmy's glad to be back with his best friend Rollo, but not pleased to see that his arch nemesis, Corinna Corinna, is not only still at the school but also will be his partner for a huge nature project that will make up a huge portion of his grade. Timmy has been approached by another student, Angel, who claims to have the "Miracle Report", a nature report from years ago that received an A+++++ that was found but now is missing. Timmy also has to deal with his mother dating his baseball coach, even though he feels that baseball is an unnecessarily violent game, and with Total, his imaginary polar bear and partner in his detective firm. When the school camps out in the wilderness to gather specimens for the nature project, Timmy's investigation comes to a head AND he must save himself from the dreaded scrum bolo chihuahua by the most horrendous and dreaded of means.
Strengths: The very first day of school, a student came in and asked me when this book would come out. He was thrilled to get the ARC. Few of my students read the comics in the newspaper, so are unfamiliar with Pastis' Pearls Before Swine, but they do love notebook novels, and they do love this series. I was glad to see the inclusion of a massive school project instead of a school election, dance, or something about bullying. I still remember that in the fourth grade (and this has been over 40 years ago!) we had a huge project about animals. I only got an A++ on mine because my pictures weren't very good! I've even camped with middle school students, so that was realistic as well, and does not appear in too many books. The reason my students love the books, however, is more because of the goofy stuff-- riding around on a Roomba vacuum, Flo the Librarian with his motorcycle gang attire, and even Total.
Weaknesses: The polar bear still bugs me. Is he real? No? Sometimes it seems that he is.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Guy Friday- Walking Wounded (Vietnam #5)

21534902Lynch, Chris. Walking Wounded (Vietnam #5)
Scholastic, 28 October 2014
E ARC from Netgalley.com

As we start this last book in the series, Rudi has been killed by a sniper. Morris is there when it happens, and asks to be sent back as the mortuary escort. Beck has to stay at his job, and Ivan has been separated from his unit and runs into trouble trying to get back to it. Morris is significantly shell shocked, and has some trouble dealing with his family as well as Rudi's back in the US. Anti-Vietnam sentiment is running high, but Ivan's younger brother is getting ready to go back to war, even though Ivan is thought to be missing in action. Told from multiple view points, this story covers Morris' grief at Rudi's death, Ivan's continued fighting in Vietnam, Beck's sentiments, and even s few snippets of Rudi's perspective.
Strengths: Very good descriptions of what it was like to be fighting in Vietnam. Lynch must have some military experience of his own, or he has done extensive research, because his books have the most harrowing descriptions of war. The depiction of various levels and types of PTSD in this book are fascinating.
Weaknesses: I was a bit confused at the beginning of this, and felt like I had forgotten something that must have happened in a previous book. Spoiler alert: (highlight to see) Has Ivan killed Rudi? Why? Does this appear in another book? Still, the books holds together well, and is an excellent addition to even a middle grade collection, certainly essential for high school. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

I've been working on a Power Point about diversity in Children's literature, and came across this NPR article, As Demographics Shift, Kids' Books Stay Stubbornly White.


Within that article, it linked an article in the Saturday Review entitled "The All-White World of Children's Books".

What alarmed me was that that article came out the year I was born. After fifty years, we are still struggling with finding books with diverse characters.

The other thing that really bothered me as I was working on my presentation was the paucity of MALE writers of color in just about every ethnic category. This might be one of the reasons that Betsy Bird was so upset in this article: 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People?

This sheds a lot of light on why there was a big push to get Varian Johnson's The Great Greene Heist preordered.

I've been looking for male authors all morning. For every Walter Dean Myers, there are about five to ten female African American writers. That's great, but since my focus is books for boys, I've been alarmed. Even at Kidlitcon, the group was overwhelmingly female, with the only male representatives being the awesome Mike Jung and ... Mr. Tanita Davis. Tanita's husband helped with technical issues and photography, and we had a great discussion about The Pagoda Building, but I don't know his name.

As a feminist, I have long struggled with focusing on books for boys. If we need books to be windows and mirrors, as Mitali Perkins talked about, we have to have people of all descriptions writing and being written about!

Unfriended

20893312Vail, Rachel. Unfriended.
25 September 2014, Viking Juvenile

Truly used to be friends with Natasha, but after Natasha dumped her in 6th grade, she started hanging out with Hazel, who is a bit quirky, while Natasha joined the popular table and now (in 8th grade) has lunch with Brooke, Lulu, Jack, and Clay. When Natasha asks Truly to eat lunch with her group so they can work on a History Day presentation, Truly leaves Hazel without so much as an apology or backward glance. This isn't good, because Hazel is not only quirky; she's smart and quite vindictive. Truly treads cautiously in the new group, not believing that Natasha is up to any good, and having a pretty low sense of self esteem. Jack, who accidentally injures Truly at lunch, takes a liking to Truly but isn't quite sure how to let her know; Natasha and Clay have broken up, which makes it hard for Brooke, who may like Clay herself. Everyone has problems that they don't necessarily share with the group-- parents out of work or divorcing, difficult or absent siblings, trouble with school work. Natasha supposedly says nasty things online about some of the group, and then Truly picks up the reins and starts posting pictures and unflattering messages-- or does she? This is why you should never share your passwords with friends-- someone has broken into her accounts and used them to sow dissension in the group. Told from six different view points, this is a good picture of what happens when middle school students don't use social media responsibly.
Strengths: Very accurate picture of the ins and outs of middle school. The awkward romances, the using of secrets against people, the quirky students who cause a lot of their own problems. The messages about using social media are fairly good as well. Also, a painfully correct picture of some of the really awful History Day projects that unfold. No group plays with people playing multiple characters, people. Just don't do it!
Weaknesses: Maybe I was just too tired when I read this, but there were a lot of unanswered questions for me. Entirely possible that I was too tired! There were parents whose business was going under, parents possibly divorcing, a student struggling with school-- didn't feel that we got a lot of answers. I wasn't quite convinced of the resolution between Hazel and Truly, either. I had a friend who stopped talking to me after 6th grade, and we never really spoke again! Good book, just wish some of the multiple issues had been tidied up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Secrets of the Mountain Dog- #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Cover image for Secret of the Mountain DogKimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Secret of the Mountain Dog.
28 October 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Jax lives on a mountain in the Catskills, but because of an accident that her younger sister, Kizzy, had, her mother is reluctant to let her explore outside her own yard. When a very large but tame dog shows up, Jax is glad of the excitement, and hopes that she can talk her mother into keeping the well-behaved animal. Jax also realizes that the building further up the hill from her home is now occupied, and when she travels up there, finds that it is a Buddhist monastery. The elderly Rinpoche and his student, Yeshi, are hoping to reopen it to other monks so that they may study. There is one problem, though-- there is a statue of a demon that has gone missing. The two hope to find it, but others from around the world are looking for the statue as well. Jax is glad to help go through boxes as well, and enjoys hearing about Buddhism from Yeshi. When the monastery is threatened, Jax defies her mother to go help, and learns a lot about how to deal with life.
Strengths: There are not a lot of books that talk about Buddhism, and this introduces some main concepts of the religion without being overly preachy. There is enough action and adventure to offset the philosophy. I was fascinated by Yeshi's story. This is similar to Kimmel's The Legend of the Ghost Dog, and vaguely reminiscent of some Peg Kehret stories.
Weaknesses: We never do find out where the dog has come from! Also, I loved Kimmel's Lily B. books so much that I want all of her titles to be that sort of book!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Magician's Fire (Young Houdini #1)

22113151
Nicholson, Simon. The Magician's Fire (Young Houdini #1)
October 7th 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Young Harry Houdini, an immigrant to New York City from Hungary who makes his meager living shining shoes, tries his hand at a variety of magic and escape acts with the help of his friends, the wealthy but unsupervised Artie and the musician from New Orleans Billie. When an older magician, Herbie, looks to be ill and then disappears from his room in the theater where he works, Harry and his friends investigate. Suspicioun first falls on the Bulgarian magician Zell, but when it turns out that Zell is one of Herbie's friends, the trio of friends must use all of the tricks at their disposal to identify and then thwart the real kidnappers. When they are eventually triumphant, they are approached by the Order of the White Crow, and their adventure is just beginning.
Strengths: Lots of good descriptions of magic acts and lots of daring escapes from a variety of harrowing situations, combined with a decent mystery set in late 1800s New York City. Houdini is an enduring historical figure who will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Weaknesses: The mystery was a bit weak-- very simple and linear, and I saw it coming a mile away. This might not bother the target demographic, but I expected something as complicated and mysterious as Houdini himself. I also found it hard to believe that a struggling street child would have befriended a wealthy boy, but stranger things have happened.

Monday, October 20, 2014

MMGM--The Alias Men (Double Vision #3)

20602953Bradley, F.T. The Alias Men (Double Vision #3)
October 14th 2014 by HarperCollins
E ARC graciously provided by author upon request!

Linc is sure he is done with working for Pandora, and he's concentrating on his family problems, which include sharing a room with his grandfather. When he is once again approached to find a Dangerous Double, he's willing to take on the challenge as a way to get back at his lookalike nemesis, Ben. The fear is that the hat (which can make its wearers invisible) will be used to steal a drone-system prototype so the thief can sell it to a terrorist group. This time, the Dangerous Double is a bowler hat once owned by Charlie Chaplin. While trying to break into a costume repository on the property of Sterling Studios, Linc is spotted by famous director Nigel Floyd and asked to be in a movie that is a homage to silent films. Since he missed out on getting the bowler, this is a great opportunity to follow the trail of the artifact and to uncover the probably thief, Ethan Malais. Several people on the film, which is struggling due to financial difficulties, are suspect, and Ben manages to work his way into the situation as well. Luckily, Linc has help from his costar, the lovely Savannah Stone, as well as the various operatives at Pandora. Can Linc find the hat before it is used for evil?

Sequel to Double Vision and Code Name 711.

Strengths: This is a great action and adventure series that is also funny. I had a sixth grader whose mother was a little concerned because he was wanting to check out a lot of adult mysteries from the public library, and while he was a strong reader, she wasn't sure the content was appropriate for him. I recommended the first in the series, and he loved it. This book in particular has a lot of good funny moments involving Linc's family, the expected action and adventure, and a nice potential romance.
Weaknesses: Ben's presence wasn't quite as necessary, and I'm not sure from the ending whether the series is over or whether it will continue with Linc going to be trained as a spy!

Follow along with the Double Vision: The Alias Men blog tour:
Oct. 6-10The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow features Double Vision: The Alias Men with a review, author interview, plus aGIVEAWAY..!
Oct. 13: Linc hangs out at the great Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. Linc talks about spy techniques he picked up on his Pandora missions. And there’s another GIVEAWAY
Oct. 14Double Vision: The Alias Men is released! Have a virtual party at the YA Sleuth blog…! And follow F.T. on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for more kid spy fun.
Oct. 16: F.T. Bradley gives you Five Ways to Bring MG into The Classroom at the Unleashing Readers blog, plus a GIVEAWAY.
Oct. 17: Linc is interviewed by Lizzy, Fairday and Marcus over at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog. A fun post!
Oct. 20Buried in Books lets F.T. Bradley talk about the Double Vision trilogy…
Oct. 20: Also this day, the fabulous Ms. Yingling reviews Double Vision: The Alias Men on her blog for Marvelous MG Monday…
Oct. 21: Another favorite blog, YA Book Nerd, hosts F.T. Bradley and the Double Vision trilogy, plus a GIVEAWAY
Oct. 21: F.T. Bradley hangs out at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis
Oct. 24: F.T. Bradley gives tips for parents of reluctant readers, Seven Ways to Get Your Kid to Read, at Pragmatic Mom’s blog, plus a GIVEAWAY!
Oct. 25: At the Nerdy Book Club, find F.T. Bradley’s top 10 books for reluctant readers...


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



Weekend Reading

Still recuperating from Kidlitcon, as well as Cross Country season, so gave myself permission to read a lot of books I had on my TBR and not review them. A lot of these were books in a series that came in our latest shipment of new books, but I also worked my way through some books about eating disorders, since my sixth grade girls started out the year interested in problem novels instead of working their way up to them in seventh grade!


Bunting, Eve. One Green Apple
Hoping it was a picture book with more content about a Muslim girl in a dupatta fitting in, but it was pretty elementary. Good for younger students.

Chew, Ruth. The Witch at the Window 
Chew, Ruth. The Would-Be Witch 
I still love these, and they do well with my 6th graders who are struggling.

Drew, Nancy. Mystery of the Midnight Rider (Nancy Drew Diaries #3) 
Drew, Nancy. Once Upon a Thriller (#4) 
Drew, Nancy. Sabotage at Willow Woods (#5) 
Drew, Nancy. Secret at Mystic Lake (#6) 
The first two in this series need to be read in order, but the rest don't, which is nice. I like that Nancy is old enough to drive herself around (albeit not in a blue roadster), but the books are for younger readers.

Magaziner, Lauren. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches 
Should have stopped at Mrs. Frabbleknacker. Too young for my readers, and twee in a faux British way.

Margolis, Leslie. Monkey Business (#5)
Annabelle's life has improved financially while her friend Rachel's hasn't. I liked this series, but Annabelle did seem ridiculously privileged in this one.

Metzger, Lois. A Trick of the Light 
Too YA for me, but about a boy with an eating disorder. Odd voice.

Payton, Belle. Double or Nothing (It Takes Two #3) 
Like this series, and in this one, Ava tries out for the boys' football team in Texas and meets opposition.

Segel, Jason and Miller, Kirsten. Nightmares! 
Nothing that knocked my socks off. May pass on this trilogy unless students ask for it.

Sheinmel. Alyssa. The Stone Girl 
Too much marijuana smoking and sex for middle school audiences.

Wolitzer, Meg. Belzhar
Too YA for my group, and time to let Sylvia Plath fade into obscurity.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

brown girl dreaming

20660824
Woodson, Jacqueline. brown girl dreaming
August 28th 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Born in 1963, Woodson traveled from Columbus, Ohio to South Carolina to New York City, living with different family members while problems were worked out. She was part of a pivotal time in Civil Rights history-- everything was supposed to be equal, but it wasn't, especially in the South. Her family had different perspectives on how she should act, and Woodson herself was torn between the different cultures, not feeling that she fit completely into any of them. Her family was very supportive, but faced many difficulties, such as her parents' divorce, the death of several members, and varying levels of prejudice and discrimination.
Strengths: As far as book length memoirs (or novels) in verse go, this was very good, and that's hard to do. The poems are lyrical to read and actually sound like poetry, but also give a good description of time and place and advance the story in a fashion that is not too slow. The feelings of longing and loss are palpable, and the view of history is quite interesting. I am only two years younger than Woodson, but there were very few black people in my school in Ohio, so I knew little of the equality issues during my childhood. I found the story of Woodson's youngest brother getting lead poisoning from eating paint chips particularly interesting-- I remember it being a huge item of concern in the late 1970s, but could never understand why a child would eat paint! (Interestingly enough, one of the projects that my daughter is working on as an intern with the City of Columbus is a lead paint abatement grant program!)
Weaknesses: As beautifully written and interesting as this is, I don't know that students will pick it up. I'll buy a copy, and recommend it, but there are just some books that I cannot gets students to read, and I fear that this will be one. Woodson's fiction is rather hit or miss in my library, with some titles being hugely popular, and others being ignored.

14372480Loughead, Deb. Sidetracked.
November 1st 2012 by Orca Book Publishers

Maddy and Kat have been keen competitors in middle school, but the high school track team is even more fierce, and not everyone who ran in middle school gets on the team. To complicate matters, Maddy's brother Matt is acting rather suspiciously. Someone on the team is stealing things, and everyone is a suspect. Maddy had seen someone bullying Shauna (who is interested in Matt), and thinks that the people behind that might also be stealing. Is Matt involved, too? And will Maddy be able to keep her competitive edge?
Strengths: This had just enough drama to keep readers on edge, and is written in a straight forward style. The bits of romance, as well as descriptions of running are good as well.
Weaknesses: Maddy seems a bit too worried about everything!

 
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