Friday, December 15, 2017

Funny Kid For President

34848496Stanton, Matt. Funny Kid For President
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edleweiss Above the Treeline

Max frequently runs afoul of his burly teacher, Mr. Armstrong, but is appalled when he is accused of pooping in the storeroom! Everyone thinks that Max did it, and when he is hauled before the principal, Mrs. Sniggles, instead of getting into trouble, he is encouraged to run for class president so that Mrs. Sniggles can meet regularly with Mr. Armstrong and a student to hash out problems. There hasn't been a president before, and Mr. Armstrong hopes to get his own candidate to win. Max and his friend Hugo try to figure out a way that Max can use his assets to an advantage, and decide that being funny is the way to go. As the election process progresses, candidates start to drop out, and Max suspects a plot behind it. Can he figure out a way to win the election as well as to clear his name after the poop incident?
Strengths: This is a slam dunk for readers who like humorous notebook novels. The class election is not as annoying as some I have read, and Max is an oddly endearing character. The illustrations are clear and well done, and the length and character development are perfect for the target demographic.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to believe that Mr. Armstrong was so evil, but he was brought to justice. Mrs. Sniggles was well meaning, but very odd. Perhaps it's just the Australian origin of the story.
What I really think:  Even though there were too many bodily function jokes for ME to really enjoy this, I have to admit that we did have an issue with a student pooping in the building some years ago! The "mad crapper" or "public enemy #2" not only pooped in the middle of the library stacks, but also in the gym locker room. And yes, I picked the poop in the library up with a tissue, thinking it was... anything else. So, it could happen!

32333185Foster, Stewart. Bubble
May 2nd 2017 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public library copy
Joe has lived in the hospital near Heathrow Airport from a very young age because of an unnamed condition that compromises his immune system and would lead to his death if he breathed in regular air or ate regular food. He has an older sister who visits him, but she's studying to be a doctor and has little time, and his parents were killed in a tragic car accident when he was small. He has an online friend, Henry, who lives in Philadelphia and has a similar condition. Joe does talk to the nurses and orderlies in the hospital, and has computer access, but doesn't seem to do terribly much in the way of schooling or socializing. Once a year, a television crew comes to document his life, and he does take an ill-considered trip outside the hospital with one of the workers. Joe is frequently very ill, and this is described in great length. He always seems to recover, but his future looks bleak.

Strengths: It's pretty amazing that the author was able to fill up 345 pages of Joe's exploits when he really didn't do very much, and there aren't a lot of details about just what is wrong. Readers who adore Lurlen McDaniel might like this one, and although it is British, it is still understandable to US readers.
Weaknesses: Nothing really happens, and there's just layer upon layer of sad. I was also a bit surprised that Joe's day wasn't more regimented, with school and various educational experiences. There should have been a social worker or someone overseeing his care, especially since he is an orphan.
What I really think: If Joe were my child, I would have taken him to the beach for a lovely picnic years ago so he could feel the sand and sun. Not everyone is meant to live long lives.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Open If You Dare

33158535Middleton, Dana. Open If You Dare
October 17th 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Birdie and her friends Ally and Rose have always hung out together, running through their neighborhood and setting up camp on a small island near their homes. When school is out, they spend their summer doing what they have always done, but with a sense of dread hanging over them. When 7th grade starts in the fall, Rose will be back at England and the other two will be at separate middle schools. Rose is irritated with her parents; she considers herself more American than British and doesn't want to leave her friends and return to wearing a uniform to school. She's also tired of being constantly expected to practice violin, and has a huge crush on a boy in their class, Romeo. Ally has her ups and downs on her baseball team, but Birdie is obsessed with a box that the girls have found on their island. It contained an Allman Brothers band concert ticket from 1973, a mood ring, and a cryptic notes saying that the writer, as well as someone else, was dead! Using the clues from the note as well as talking to neighbors, visiting a nursing home, and venturing to the public library, Birdie manages to uncover some information that leads her to believe there wasn't actually a murder, but discovers that solving the mystery is a good way to pass the summer (besides babysitting her younger sister Zora) and make her peace with the changes that the coming year will bring.
Strengths: I was close to Birdie's age in 1973, so I thought this one was fun. My best friend and I had a island in the woods where we set up a camp. Ten years ago, when my daughter was this age, she could have talked to original residents of our current neighborhood. There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this. It wasn't a murder mystery, but it was charming, and the tween drama is very true to life. The twist at the end was fun as well. Very good conversation between Birdie and her mother about how Birdie feels she fits in as a child of a black father and white mother.
Weaknesses: A teenager would not have had a mood ring in 1973. They weren't produced until 1975, and they were on the expensive side. Also, I don't think a mood ring would still change colors after being in the damp ground for that long. They're pretty delicate. I can't believe a public library would store old books. It works out well for the mystery, but nobody has that kind of storage space. Children aren't going to know these things, but they also might not like the cover.
What I really think: Oh, like Beil's Summer at Forsaken Lake, I'll have to buy this one, and will recommend the heck out of it.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday: Just Like Jackie

31926851Stoddard, Lindsey. Just Like Jackie
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Robinson lives with her grandfather Charlie in a small town in Vermont. It's always been just the two of them. One boy at school, Alex, gives her a hard time, never calling her the name that she wants to be called (never Robin, sometimes Robbie) and making fun of the fact that she looks very little like her African-American grandfather. After she hits Alex yet again, she gets sent to group counseling, which Alex attends as well. Many of the children in the group are  not happy about the latest school assignment, a family tree, because they don't have a lot of information about their families, or are dealing with serious family issues such as divorce or illness. Robbie is dealing with Charlie's worsening dementia. He runs the local car repair business, and luckily has a good assistant, Harold, to watch out for him. Harold, however, is very busy with the new baby daughter than he and his partner Paul have adopted, so Robbie tries to cover her grandfather's condition up as best she can. When she can no longer do this, she finally gets the help she needs.
Strengths: This was a quick and oddly compelling read. So many students have family tree type assignments, and they always worry me for the very reasons mentioned in the story! It is interesting that Robbie and her grandfather don't look alike, and the back stories about the grandmother and mother ring true. This had a Patricia MacLachlan feel to it, with a touch of Miracles on Maple Hill.
Weaknesses: The idea that Robbie would be more stoic and calm like her namesake, Jackie Robinson, was an interesting one, but didn't get developed as much as it could have been.
What I really think: A sad book, but at least a hopeful one. I will probably purchase a copy.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)

13612968Black, Holly and Clare, Cassandra. The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)
October 10th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

Call is in the Panopticon prison after the death of Aaron in The Bronze Key, and since he has the soul of the Enemy of Death within him, he doubts if he will ever be freed. When Anastasia breaks him out and he ends up at her house with his friends Tamara and Jasper as well as Master Joseph and Alex, he knows that there's just no way things are going to end well. Sure enough, Master Joseph wants Call and Alex to bring Aaron back to life so that he can use this skill to take over the world. Call doesn't want to, but there is really no other choice. Using what he has learned at the Magisterium, as well as some journal's belonging to the Maddens, he manages to bring Aaron back, but he's not quite right. Even though Call managed to bring him back without being Chaos ridden, Aaron does not return to his old self. Master Joseph tries to get Alex to bring Drew back, and the struggle continues between the teachers at the Magisterium and the evil forces headed up by Master Joseph. Call survives this book, but how will the fifth and final book deal with the various forces at work?
Strengths: This well-designed fantasy adventure has a fresh twist on children fighting the forces of evil. There's a little bit of romance, and a lot of humor. I especially loved it when Call was in Constantine Madden's room, expected to wear his clothes, and he makes the observation that "He did not want to wear the Underoos of an Evil Overlord."!
Weaknesses: Like many books this far into a series, the middle bit got a bit confusing while all of the various threads were being woven into the plot. I imagine that the last book will be a bit tighter and exciting!
What I really think: This is a really great fantasy series. Enough facets of Harry Potter to make die hard fantasy fans happy, but short enough to be a good introduction to the genre to the more casual reader. A must for any middle school library.

34423751Bachang, Tianxia. The City of Sand
Published November 21st 2017 by Delacorte Press
Copy received from the publisher

From Goodreads:
A multimillion-copy bestseller in China—now available in English! In this heart-pounding adventure, a group of individuals who have come together for an expedition, each with a specific interest, soon find themselves motivated by one common goal: the sheer will to survive.

THE QUEST: To find the lost city of Jingjue, a once-glorious kingdom, along with the burial chamber of its mysterious queen. Both lie buried under the golden dunes of the desert, where fierce sandstorms and blazing heat show no mercy.

THE TEAM: Teenagers Tianyi, who has the ability read the earth and sky through feng shui, and Kai, Tianyi’s best friend and confidant; Julie, a wealthy American whose father vanished on the same trek a year ago; Professor Chen, who wants to fulfill a lifelong dream; and Asat Amat, a local guide gifted in desert survival.

THE OBSTACLES: Lethal creatures of the desert and an evil force that wants to entomb the explorers under the unforgiving sands of China’s Taklimakan Desert forever.

I'm glad I'm not alone on this one. It's fantastic to get books translated from their original language to English so we can learn more about other countries, and I was hoping that this one would have some good details about daily life and the Chinese landscape, like Zhang's The Emperor's Riddle. Instead, it's a rather standard fantasy about tomb robbers with rather unsympathetic characters. I loved this brilliant comment by Josie: "If I'm so bored with a novel that I start hoping the main character will be brutally maimed to liven things up a bit, that's your brilliant indication that I'm not enthusiastic about what I'm reading." I'm going to hand this to one of my readers who goes through 2-3 fantasy books a day, so as an 8th grader really has read just about all of my fantasy books, but I'm not going to put it in the collection. An inordinately large portion of the books that look brand new but have never circulated are fantasy books that are just half a bubble off. I'll see what the 8th grader thinks.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MMGM- Snow One Like You

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

36536177Blitt, Natalie. Snow One Like You
Published 2017 by Scholastic
Purchased through Scholastic Book Clubs

Mia can't wait for this year's Winter Festival in her hometown of Flurry, Vermont, and she's hoping to get her picture taken in a sled at the parade just the way her mother and grandmother did. But this year, there may not be any snow! If the festival is canceled, this could mean bad things for her mom and stepdad's hotel, which relies on this yearly surge in business. Her best friend Lark doesn' understand quite how important the festival is, but Mia finds an ally in Yoshi, whose father has moved the family to Maine to escape the pressures of being a weatherman in California. Mia has to deal with her young step siblings and her free spirit dad and his wife. Mia tries everything she can think of to keep the festival moving even if there isn't any snow, but will she be able to save the day?
Strengths: Clearly, when I read the Scholastic Book Club flyer I was sucked right back into 7th grade and felt an overwhelming compulsion to order this. The cover is cute, the story has the right blend of girl power and romance, and it has an "exotic" setting for someone in Ohio. Considering that Taylor Garland's two Celebrate the Season books have been going out every single day, only to be returned by a girl who has brought her best friend with her so the friend can check it out immediately, I am not the only one charmed by these upbeat holiday themed stories.
Weaknesses: This is one of those books that is only available in paperback from the Scholastic Book Clubs. NOT FAIR!!! I want a pretty hardcover for my library!
What I really think: Waiting desperately for a prebind to be available from Follett.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sad Birds

33946654Kadarusman, Michelle. The Theory of Hummingbirds
October 16th 2017 by Pajama Press
E ARC from Netgalley.

Alba is recuperating from what is hopefully the final surgery to correct her club foot, and she's very excited to get the cast off-- so excited that she is making plans to run in a cross country race. Her doctor even says she will be able to do anything! She mentions her plan to her friend Levi, who suffers from very bad asthma, but he isn't quite as sure about it. He is much more concerned that the librarian at their school, for whom they do a lot of work, has discovered a worm hole in her office and might be in danger of getting pulled into another dimension and being unable to get back. Alba is also concerned that her mother might find Dr. Schofield attractive, since it has always been just the two of them. When Alba finally gets the cast off, she starts right into physical therapy, but when Levi again disputes her ability to compete, the two have a falling out. Will Alba be able to run, or at least walk, in the race, and will Levi come around to supporting her?
Strengths: I loved that Alba was able to work with the runners even when she couldn't run-- she was keeping times. I also enjoyed the librarian, and the work that the children do in the library is realistic. At one point, the principal shoos them out because there is no one there to supervise them. Alba's medical issues are well explained, and she meets her challenges with positive but not candy coated thoughts. In a note at the end, the author explained that she herself had been born with a club foot, although hers was corrected at an earlier age.
Weaknesses: The characters read much younger than sixth grade. It was very clear that the librarian was not traveling through a worm hole but was resting in her office. I assumed she was eating her lunch while sitting on the floor because it was the only time she could get peace. Levi's worry and insistence on this theory seemed more like the reaction of a third grader.
What I really think: While I like the depiction of Alba's handling of her challenges, this seemed a bit young, and also had some odd Canadian wordings. (E.G.: supply teacher instead of substitute.) I may wait to purchase until I see if this has an Accelerated Reader test, although it would work well for the 7th grade unit on personal challenges.

Strange, Lucy. The Secret of Nightingale Wood
October 31st 2017 by Chicken House
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Henry (Henrietta) and her fractured family move from London to Hope House in the English countryside after the death of her older brother, Robert. Henry's mother is "sick", her father scarpers off to Italy for work, and Henry is left with a nanny and the Berrys to take care of her baby sister, whom she calls Piglet instead of Roberta. There is an evil doctor who is trying to get her mother committed to a local asylum so another doctor can experiment on her, and who is keeping her mother doped to the gills in the meantime. He even tries to sedate Henry with "soothing syrup". Henry meets a "witch" in the forest, whom she calls "Moth". Moth was a nurse who has connections to Hope House and tries to help Henry cope with her mother's condition. Henry also has imaginary conversations with Robert, about whose death she feels a lot of guilt. When the doctor and his wife take Piglet to care for, Henry enlists the aid of Moth and manages to carry out a ruse that is effective in getting her mother released from the asylum. With the help of Moth and others in the community, things slowly get better, and both her mother and Moth come to terms with losses in their lives.
Strengths: This was well written and compelling. As a fan of all things English, I read through this rather quickly. The various mysteries come together well, and this had the feel of classic British literature.
Weaknesses: I was personally offended by the portrayal of not one but TWO mothers who are completely stricken after the death of their sons. Mothers are stronger than that, especially if they have other children. Also, I can't think of a single student to whom I could hand this.
What I really think: Maybe just one of those books that does better across the pond than it does in the US. Unless I see an uptick in circulation of The Secret Garden or Five Children on the Western Front (which covered the idea of the vast number of deaths during WWI more effectively) I won't purchase.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Smarty Marty and Frankly, Frannie

31447879G., Amy. Smarty Marty Steps Up Her Game (#2)
March 14th 2017 by Cameron + Company
Library copy
Synopsis from
"Smarty Marty, and her little brother Mikey, are back in the first in a series of illustrated chapter books, about a girl who loves baseball, written by San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. Smarty Marty is the official scorekeeper for her little brother’s Little League team. But when the game announcer fails to show up for the first game, Marty is called to announce the game, inspiring her dream not only to score but to announce. But not everyone is happy about a girl getting to announce a baseball game."

This was a positive, well written young middle grade chapter book. I wish that in 2017, girls were still not given a hard time about things like participating in sports, but clearly, there is still some work to do. I liked that Marty was not going to put up with any guff and stood up for herself nicely. The formatting of this was excellent-- lots of white space, a few illustrations, larger text. I wish I had read the first book in the series, which came out in 2013.

This would be great for an elementary library.

7640262Stern, A.J. Frankly, Frannie.
May 27th 2010 by Grosset & Dunlap
Donated Copy

Synopsis from
"She’s already got her resume, business cards, and mustard packets (which are so much more grown up than ketchup) ready. So why is it taking eleventeen hundred years? Frannie’s class is visiting the local radio station and the radio host is no where to be found. Should Frannie cover for him—after all, this could be her big break! But what happens when listeners call in with questions, and Frannie doesn’t know the answers?"

My quest for early chapter books continues. I enjoyed this one, since Frannie is really interested in business. Have put the first five of the series on my order for January. There are nine books so far, and it the first five do well with my struggling readers, I will buy more.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Wimpy Kid vs. Everything Else

I kept forgetting to bring home a copy of The Getaway. Not shocking, since I was still disappointed by Double Down's lack of any apparent plot. I had been booktalking historical fiction, and since my favorite has always been books written in years past, I had a copy of Henry Reed, Inc., that came home in the same backpack.

The Getaway is probably the best Wimpy Kid yet, and had the most plot. Basically, Greg's parents decided to spend Christmas break at a warm, exotic resort, cost be danged, but when they head off to Isla de Corales, nothing goes right. They have trouble getting on the flight, their luggage gets lost, there are bugs, the father gets ill from the water, the activities are all booked up, and Roderick runs off with a girl instead of hanging at the teen zone with Greg. For most students, who have never traveled to an exotic locale, the details of the trip will be new and interesting (Who knew about so many bugs in these fancy resorts? Makes sense, never thought of it.), and will also make them feel better about not traveling. Greg tries to have adventures and strike out on his own, which causes problems, and his family actually deals fairly well with everything that comes their way. The ending actually had a bit of a twist and closure not usually found in these books.

But I still didn't care for it, even though it read more like Big Nate Sails the Bahamas. I realized why when I read Henry Reed. Fascinatingly, it came out on the same date 59 years ago, and the colors are even similar. (Blues are now very green based, making my huge quilting stash hard to use with new fabric!)

Henry's father is in the diplomatic service, and he's lived all over Europe, but is spending the summer with his pleasant and placid Aunt Mabel and Uncle Al in Grover's Corners near Princeton University. There are only a handful of houses, but the neighbors are all fairly interesting and understanding. Henry even has a barn at his disposal, because his mother inherited it, and uses this to set up his research business. He and neighbor Midge, form a partnership. I adored Midge beyond measure. When asked by Henry "What are you going to put into the business?", she replies "I'll furnish the brains." Henry laughs, but sees her point and takes her on! Accompanied by Agony, the beagle, the two set to researching for fun and profit. There are gentle high jinks all along, and at the end, Midge insists that the business be renamed Reed and Glass (Henry does own the barn), and the two repaint the sign together.

Henry and Midge are both industrious, curious children who are not content to sit and stare at their phones all day, which would have been QUITE boring in 1958. They find clients, do research, earn money, and occupy themselves all day without the interference of adults, although I imagine the well-upholstered Aunt Mabel kept them well furnished with peanut butter sandwiches and cookies, and Uncle Al does come to their rescue in times of need and wonders things like "How did those sheep get in there?" without really needing to know particulars.

Yes, the 1950s had their problems. But Greg Heffley and his family are negative and boring to me, and I don't want to be a part of their world for very long. The fact that my students do, when they could instead be spending time with Henry or Anne or Homer or Laura... it just makes me sad.

7577605For more in-depth review, check out A Book Discussion with Myself. 
Kinney, Jeff. The Getaway (DOAWK #12)
November 7th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
Purchased copy

Robertson, Keith. Henry Reed, Inc.
November 7th 1958 by Viking Children's Books
Purchased copy

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Early Chapter Book Mysteries

I have to admit that when I got these early chapter books at the beginning of the school year, they languished at the bottom of my TBR pile. Sure, they were cute, and anything by Animal Planet has great photo illustrations, and these even had some full color drawings as well. Cute stories, but nothing my middle school students would pick up, right?

Wrong. I have just finished putting together a one book shelf collection of "readers", labeled with a pink sticker so my student helpers know where to shelve them. (Pink stickers were all I had in my stash of supplies.) My struggling readers can go to the shelf and find books that are all half or one Accelerated Reader point, and all below level 4.0. They generally read them very quickly and are so pleased and happy when they finish the books and pass the AR test.

Yeah, yeah. The whole "testing is evil" thing. Well, since most of these students were only reading graphic novels at the beginning of the year, I do think that having an easily accessed collection of books has helped them feel confident enough to read an entire chapter book, and I do think they are acquiring more reading and, yes, test taking skills.

Since many of my struggling readers are ELL students, I really liked that these Animal Planet Adventure Books involved animals in different settings. Sometimes, I have students who have no working knowledge of farms or zoos, and certainly no idea of what it's like on the New England Coast. Even though these books don't have AR tests yet, the reading level on the back is third grade.

Books like this make my school year easier! Definitely a great choice for elementary and some middle school libraries. Nicely done and amusing!

All synopses and this statement from Goodreads:
"Perfect for reluctant, challenged, and newly fluent readers, the Animal Planet Adventures chapter book series combines fun animal mysteries with cool nonfiction sidebars that relate directly to the stories, bringing the best of the animal world to young readers. With full-color illustrations and photographs throughout. "

Copies provided by the publisher.

30364301Nichols, Catherine. Dolphin Rescue (Animal Planet Adventures #1)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

Siblings Maddie and Atticus love living by the sea. Their dad traps lobsters off the coast of Maine. They love helping with the family business and volunteering at the local aquarium. The summer is shaping up to be a super one, for sure. Then one day they spy a pod of dolphins in the cove looking distressed. How will the kids use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to help the dolphin family get safely back to sea?

30364298Herman, Gail. Farm Friends Escape(Animal Planet Adventures #2)
February 14th 2017 by Animal Planet

During summer vacations, cousins Luke and Sarah help out at their grandparents' petting zoo. But what happens when the animals get loose overnight? Can Luke and Sarah use their knowledge of animals and their awesome problem-solving skills to get the animals back to safety?

33785411Catherine Nichols. Puppy Rescue Riddle (Animal Planet Adventures #3)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

A storm is coming to coastal North Carolina. Amy and Elliott - volunteers at the local dog shelter - have a job to do. The rescued puppies need to get to higher ground, and fast! The kids scramble to get the puppies into their cages, and then the van of volunteers and dogs is on its way. But they are one puppy short. Did it run off in the rain? Is it back at the shelter? An old book, a series of riddles, and a spooky storm all lead to a mystery only the kids can solve.

33785416Herman, Gail. Zoo Camp Puzzle (Animal Planet Adventures #4)
September 5th 2017 by Animal Planet

Nine-year-old twins Ava and Rosie are headed for adventure. City kids, they don't know what to expect from a small zoo in Iowa-and they have to live there for the rest of the year while their mom writes a book! Being away from the busy city and their friends feels like punishment, but Dad sets up a project for them all-running a zoo camp for students to attend during spring break. That could be cool, but as they're getting ready, the kids realize that some of the animals are missing! They'll have to solve the mystery-fast-before the campers arrive.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


36403057Delgado, Melody. Oops-A-Daisy (The De La Cruz Diaries Book 1)
September 5th 2017 by Clean Reads
Copy received from the publisher for the Cybils Awards

Synopsis from
"Who wants to be stuck wearing a shaggy dog outfit or a chicken suit on television? Twelve-year-old aspiring singer, actress, Daisy De la Cruz, that’s who. She’ll do and wear just about anything to get ahead in the entertainment industry. But will all her embarrassing moments pay off and land her a spot in her arts magnet school’s coveted master class where she’ll be rubbing shoulders with top professionals in the entertainment industry? Or will she be doomed to play the role of an animal, vegetable or mineral forever?"

Just about caught up with my reading and reviewing. Here's my short take on this books, which I would have bought for my school library if it were available in hard back. It reminded me a bit of the Veronica Chambers Amigas series, which was popular in my library until someone lost book one and I couldn't replace it.

Enjoyed this one, and it had a lot of interesting, diverse elements, but there was a bit of a disconnect between the age of the main character and the format and topic. Daisy is 12, but her career aspirations in acting play out more like an older character. Normally, this would be great for middle school readers, but the font is very small. I know this is a silly thing, but my students are especially sensitive to this. Since there are only 159 pages in the paperback I read, it would be easy enough to increase the font size and still bring the book in at under 200 pages.

Interestingly, the paperback is $13.99 on Amazon, but the Kindle edition is only $2.99. This would be a great choice for an avid middle grade reader who buys books for an e reader.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Slice of Life Tuesday- Old People and Technology

At Christmas in 1978, my father hooked our first Radio Shack TRS-80 computer up to our television. I vaguely remember there being a tape deck to run it, and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to program it to play my band music.

In the fall of 1986, I took a computer programming course at the University of Cincinnati and got a B- without ever touching a computer, because all of our exams were hand written in blue books. We just had to successfully guess the results of BASIC programming.

In 1991, I took home an Apple MacIntosh Classic II from the school where I taught for the summer so I could write a text book for the 6th grade Latin class. I found my killer app in the spreadsheet that automatically alphabetized the glossary in English and then could alphabetize using the Latin words in seconds.

When I started my Master of Library and Information Science degree in 1995, we had to log onto the Internet. None of us knew what that was. I bought a MacIntosh Performa 5200, hooked up my modem, signed up for the Columbus Freenet, and opened the door to the world of NONGRAPHIC Internet.

We won't even talk about my success with HTML and JavaScript and the fact that I created the school web site and got mentioned in the newspaper before the district Harrison Bergeroned everything.

When the Freenet closed in 2005, we had moved beyond Apple computers because we had gotten a digital camera and my school used Microsoft products. We had dial up access until 2010. Currently, I have WiFi and a 2011 HP laptop. No smart phone, since I am funding both of my daughters'.

The point? It's not that old people don't GET technology, we've just seen so many versions of it. Do I save my data on punch cards, 5" floppies, 3.5" floppies, flash drives, or the cloud? A lot of us REALLY liked 3.5" floppies. They came in pretty colors.

When I had to take the Google Level 1 Certified Educator exam in order remain my building's tech person, I spent a lot of time studying for it. This, of course, was after months of poring over Schoology information only to find out the test consisted of a check box for "I read and understood this information". I must have gone through the 13 Google lessons about 7 times each. First, one a day, then a couple a day, then three days in a row leading up to the test doing all of the modules and taking all of the tests.

Then I couldn't log on to the site to take the test, dissolved in tears, and had to wait until our very lovely tech trainer could help me. At which point there were no problems with logging in. Ugh.

At no point in my studying did I manage to pick up that I would have to actually work with the products. How would they do that? That's just crazy talk. I might have seen some vague reference to that, but I thought it was for certified trainers. So, I'm chugging along with the test and suddenly I have to actually DO stuff with YouTube. And calendars in mail. And set up a Google classroom, which I had never, never done.

I still passed, thank goodness. So now I can get the little plastic widget for my Chrome Book, like all of the cool kids. I'm a good choice for building tech person because my schedule is flexible, children can come to me all day with problems, and I can fix most of them. And I'm kind about having to turn on the teachers' surge protectors, which is an enormous part of the job.

I can also, in case of an apocalypse, fill a fountain pen bladder with ink, use a manual typewriter, and dial a rotary phone. Old people got SKILLS. We just have so many that we occasionally get confused about them.

Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths

Lerangis, Peter. Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths
October 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Max Tilt (short for Trujillo, as his father is Dominican. His mother is African American) is having a number of problems. He is "on the spectrum", and one of the ways this manifests itself is that he has synesthesia-- emotions have smells, and fear always smells like fish. This becomes worse when his parents want to talk to him. His mother has been ill with cancer, but it had been successfully treated. Now, his mother and father are going far away to seek more treatment, and leaving Max with Alex, a cousin he has never met who is not much older than his 14 years. When Alex arrives, she finds the house is a huge state of disarray-- a broken window has leaked rain water onto the carpet, there's little food, and the power is cut off. Not only that, but she goes through months' worth of mail to find that the family is being evicted from the house in three weeks. She uses her savings to pay the utility bills, and she and Max decide to sell items from the house to get money for everything else. One item that draws some interest is a chest supposedly owned by his great-great-great grandfather, Jules Verne. He and Alex take the clues to a treasure out of the chest, but a man named Niemand shows up and gives them a hard time. Realizing that the treasure is most likely real, the cousins embark on an adventure that takes them to far flung corners of the globe and gives them a taste of their forefather's adventures.

It's good to see a diverse cast of characters, with different ethnicities and Max's realistic struggles to navigate his world while managing his synesthesia and other challenges. Alex is very capable and understanding, but young enough to embrace the adventure.

Neimand is a formidable bad guy, and characters and settings brought in from Verne's work make this a fresh, new fantasy world.

Reminiscent of Nix's Troubletwisters, Salerni's The Eight Day or Korman's Masterminds, Max Tilt will please readers who like implausible adventures in amazing fantasy worlds. Lerangis delivers a solid action and adventure books that works in elements of Verne's works in a way that will entice avid readers of speculative fiction to pick up that author.

This wasn't my cup of tea, but will do fairly well with my fantasy adventure readers, so I will buy a copy. It is going to be a series, with the second book, 80 Days or Die, expected out in May 2018.

Monday, December 04, 2017

MMGM- Little Leaders, The Trials of Morrigan Crow

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

35231671Harrison, Vashti. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
December 5th 2017 by Little, Brown Young Readers
Copy received from publisher

Arranged in order of when the women were born, this book gives a good summary of forty women in a variety of fields, accompanied by an attractive illustration. I found it interesting that the project started with these illustrations being created for social media during Black History Month. It was nice that some of the women were ones that many students would have heard about, but others were more obscure. The summaries include just enough information to be read as a bedtime story or to a school class, and will pique readers' interest in finding out more information about these women of achievement. I enjoyed this a lot, and have only two minor quibbles-- the downcast eyes on the illustrations don't really say "bold" to me, and the bibliography is lacking. A list of sources consulted would have helped when readers wanted more information.

34219873Townsend, Jessica. The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1)
October 31st 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Morrigan Crow has a miserable existence in Greater Jalfax, with a cold, uncaring politician father, a stepmother who ignores her, and a curse upon her head that not only makes her suspect when anything at all goes wrong in the town, but also will lead to her death before she turns 12. Her last public appearance with her father is odd. Other children get tapped for apprenticeships, but cursed children don't. The fact that she is given notes for several is just a cruel joke, so she brushes off the application From Jupiter North for the Wundrous Society. When Eventide comes, she and her family are preparing for her death when North appears and whisks her off to another world to reside in the Hotel Deucalion. The rules are different here, and in order to be accepted by the Wundrous Society, Morrigan must pass four trials. With the help of Jack, North's nephew, Morrigan does her best. Even if she is accepted with no knack whatsoever, what will the future hold for her? Is she really beyond the reach of the sinister forces of her world, and what is her role in the new one?
Strengths: The author has successfully parsed the attractive elements of Harry Potter. Maligned protagonist in search of welcoming community. Trials to undergo. Quirky fantasy world with interesting methods of transportation and novel foods. Morrigan is a bit unsure of herself and what her place in the world is, but is just relieved that she no longer lives under the stairs a horrible curse.
Weaknesses: This comes in at 640 pages, and is the start of a series. Oof. The cover could be a lot better. Also, I could have used more explanation of the two worlds and why they aren't well known to each other. Plus more information about why Morrigan was cursed and what Eventide really was.
What I really think: Not my cup of tea, but I can see this appealing to readers of weighty fantasy tomes like Bell's The Crooked Sixpence and Black's The Iron Trial. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, December 03, 2017

In the Country of Queens

33155342Best, Cari. In the Country of Queens
November 28th 2017 by Farrar Straus Giroux

E ARC from Netgalley

In the early 1960s, Shirley lives in Queens with her Russian grandmother and her mother, Anna, who works in a retail store and is dating a man named Hal. Shirley vaguely remembers her father, but he hasn't visited in years. Her mother's sisters live nearby, and she spends a lot of time with her cousin Phillie. Shirley is used to adults not listening to her opinion, so when her teacher accuses her of plagiarizing an essay, she doesn't argue with him. She also doesn't argue when her mother makes her go to ballet, or won't let her go with her cousins to their summer cottage because she has to go to day camp. When Shirley opens a piece of mail and finds out that her father is actually dead and her mother has failed to tell her this, she decides that she will finally stand up for herself and get her way in some things. This takes a while, but eventually, Shirley is able to stand up to her mother and her teacher and let her opinions be known.
Strengths: There were some excellent period details that I really enjoyed. The details of hanging out laundry, having family dinners with cousins, living with a grandmother from the Old Country, and the general depiction of Shirley's neighborhood and school were wonderful. I strongly suspect the author drew on her own memory. There is enough plot to move the book forward, and I wanted to see if Shirley would end up going to the lake with her cousins!
Weaknesses: There were some rather odd things that made the book uncomfortable. The mother insisting that Shirley spend a half hour in the bathroom before ballet lessons was odd, and I half expected Hal to be a child molester. Shirley referring to the Palace of Light and setting toilet paper on fire in the sink caused great concern, and her insistence on keeping a dead mouse in the freezer did not lessen this. It was also very hard to believe that her mother would not have told her about her father's death.
What I really think: I am conflicted about this title. I need more books set in the 1960s, and the details were fantastic, but I'm not sure if my students will be as put off by some of the details as I was. Debating.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Kit Meets Covington

34069211Weiss, Bobbi JG. Ride: Kit Meets Covington
September 12th 2017 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kit and her father Rudy are moving from Montana to the posh Covington Academy in England where her father is the new equestrian supervisor. Kit is excited to be in a new country where no one knows about her embarrassing fall from a horse that has left her reluctant to get back on, and it's also a new adventure that her deceased mother would have embraced. The downside? Everyone at Covington rides, and the headmistress is a stickler for rules, which Kit, being an American, doesn't care much for. Kit's roommate, Anya, is very nice, as are several of the cute boys, but the head prefect, Elaine, is not happy to have Kit and her headstrong ways in her house. When Headmistress Covington wants to remove an unteachable, headstrong horse, Kit throws a fit and the horse is allowed to stay as long as Kit can bring the animal up to the competition level the school needs to defeat their rival. This, of course, is a rocky process, but with the help of her father and her new friends, Kit tries to train the horse and settle into her new life in England.

Kit will amuse young readers who like to think that adults make silly rules. I personally think it would be fantastic to have a school uniform complete with blazer and pleated skirt with tights, but that's just me! Kit is irrepressible and tries to do what she thinks is right even if the adults in her life are not quite as sure about it.

Boarding school books are always fun, and Anya, who is hiding her background as a princess, is a character who could use more exploration. Nav and Josh are appealing boy characters who treat the girls as equals but are also willing to ask them to dances. Headmistress Covington is a rule follower, but is human enough to bend the rules when necessary. There is apparently a Nickelodeon television series called Ride, but the book can be enjoyed even by readers who are not familiar with it.

The details about horse riding are going to be the real pull. Horses who are  underdogs always figure largely in books about equestrian pursuits, and TK's relationship with Kit will have readers rooting for him to stay at Covington. Readers who enjoyed Hapka's Ponies of Chincoteague, Smiley's The Georges and the Jewels or Burkhart's Wild Hearts will find it easy to get back in the saddle with Kit Meets Covington.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, December 01, 2017

Guy Friday- Tracker's Canyon

32720020Withers, Pam. Tracker's Canyon
July 22nd 2017 by Dundurn
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Tristan's father taught him everything he near about tracking and canyoneering, but after his father disappears during a hike, Tristan doesn't often get a chance to roam outside. His mother won't get out of bed, his father's outdoor outfitting business is foundering, and his uncle can barely help his family buy food. When he meets Brigit and her young brother Dean, he is interested in going canyoneering with her. Brigit, just a few years older than Tristan, is raising Dean after the death of their mother, and working for Alex, who had a rival adventuring business. When Tristan is able to go on an adventure with Brigit and a Polish climber, Dominik, he realizes how much he misses the outdoors. When his mother's caretaker, Elspeth, suggest that his mother would handle the death of his father better if she has some artifact from his last hike, Tristan decides to go to the dangerous lower canyon to look for one. He does this with Alex's blessing, and Brigit goes along with him. It is soon apparent, however, that Brigit blames Tristan's father for her mother's disappearance and intends to make Tristan pay. Will Tristan find an clues of his father in the forest... or will he ever be able to get out alive?

Withers' has a knack for describing extreme sports, and her titles such as First Descent, Peak Survival and Vertical Limits all give lots of details about a variety of adventure pursuits. Not only is there a lot of technical discussion of ropes, packs, boots and bolted belay stations, but there are vivid scenes of flash floods, rappelling down rock faces, and hiding in mud pools.

While I could have done without the mother's protracted grief, it was interesting to see Tristan try to be the adult in the house. He helps out with the business, cooks and cleans, and still tries to do well in school and go through his own grieving process. He is a motivated and realistic characters who faces adversity with grit and determination. I'd love to see more teen characters with those qualities. Tristan has every reason in the world to give up and let others care for him, but instead he powers through and ultimately saves the day.

With the emotional depth of Alden Carter's Walkaway and the Lawrence's The Skeleton Tree, Tracker's Canyon is a great addition to the back pack of any reader who craves details about how to jump into freezing water or make coffee over an open fire.
Ms. Yingling