Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Pastis, Stephan. Timmy Failure: Now Look What You've Done (#2)
25 Feburary 2014, Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

With his mother still out of work, Timmy and Total (the polar bear) have moved in with Timmy's Aunt Colander, whose wealthy husband left her a big house. This doesn't stop Timmy from wanting to enter a big detective contest at school. He, of course, is the perfect person to prove who stole a globe from the principal's office, but he misses the deadline! Knowing that he should win, he manages to get himself kicked out of his school and enrolls in another school, Glouberman Academy, which has a later entry date. There, he runs with Nunzio Benidici's cousin Minnie, but still keeps in touch with his best friend Rollo. He's supposed to be solving the mystery of what happened to Nunzio's spoon, but defeating Wedgie (aka Corinna Corinna) and avoiding the romantic intentions of Molly Moskins take priority. Timmy also finds out more information about the long suffering Colander, and more adventures seem to be in the offing.
Strengths: This book manages to span a wide range of ages-- it has the middle school romance and intrigue of Wimpy Kid without going in to too much detail, and has the constant barrage of sight gags and goofy jokes that will go over well with younger crowds, much like Captain Underpants. The fact that this story is accompanied by a lot of pictures will make this an easy sell for reluctant readers. Timmy's headstrong personality gets him into lots of scrapes, but he means well and has a strong support network. I particularly enjoyed Aunt Colander's eager involvement in Timmy's plans.

For the record, I think that only Timmy can see Total, the polar bear. This came up during our Cybils discussion, and there are several times when Total is talking to Timmy, but when someone else comes in the room, they can see the bear. This points to Total being imaginary, even though he is quite active and transports Timmy around town by pulling him along with a rope after Timmy has smeared himself with butter.
Weaknesses: Timmy is a brat. Students may find him amusing, but I got very weary of him saying that he was the best detective or the smartest person when clearly he is not. Part of the joke, I imagine, but he had few redeemable qualities to me.

16059320 Keller, Laurie. Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut #1)
June 4th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

As established in the picture book, Arnie the Doughnut, Arnie is the "doughnut dog" or Mr. Bing. When Mr. Bing is on a bowling team, buys a new ball, but when a big play off rolls around, he can't find his new ball, and Arnie investigates what has happened to it.  There's also some talking pizza, and of course, the bowling balls converse. Heavily illustrated, this reminded me a bit of Dragonbreath, in that children and adults will find it funny. There is a second book also out, The Invasion of the Ufonuts, a "spastry" adventure.
Strengths: There are not enough notebook novels in the world for some of my students, and this one was more clever than, say Stan and the Toilet Monster. This is also the only other book beside Crystal Allen's How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy  that involves bowling. Bowling was pretty important in my family when I was growing up, and I still have my own ball!
Weaknesses: Doesn't matter. I'm buying not only a copy of the first two chapter books, but a copy of the picture book for good measure, so I can know the background.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guy Friday- Middle Grade Celebrities

18085461Baron, Jeff. Sean Rosen is Not For Sale
March 18th 2014 by Greenwillow Books 
E ARC from

Sean still desperately wants to have his movie idea produced by Hollywood, and while he made great strides in the first book, I Represent Sean Rosen, he still  can't get any of the studios to promise that he can be the screen writer, because he's only 13. But his podcasts are drawing lots of attention, and his fictional agent, Dan Welch, keeps getting e mails from other agents interested in representing them. Sean has set off a bidding war, but he still has problems at home. He encourages his parents to go on a second honeymoon, and spends a couple of days with his grandmother in Florida. Middle school has its ups and downs, with Brianna, a fledgling band called Taxudermee, and a 7th grade wilderness field trip, where Sean gets an unexpected visitor. The ending is a cliff hanger (the kind that left me repeatedly pushing the "next page" button on my Nook, because there HAD to be more), so we'll see what high jinks Sean gets up to next.
Strengths: Middle school students enjoy funny, realistic fiction that stretches the bounds of credulity, and this is certainly that sort of book. The intricacies of Hollywood transactions in presented well, and Sean's friends are all interesting characters. The covers are appealing; just the right touch of cartoon for middle school.
Weaknesses: This seemed really slow paced to me, and could have been funnier. A few high speed chases involving the dog and doughnuts would have improved this for me.

17720974 Federle, Tim. Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
January 21st 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In this sequel to Better Nate Than Ever, Nate finds himself living with his aunt in New York City, where he has a job as an understudy/chorus member in a Broadway production of E.T. He misses his friend Libby from home, if not his parents, and is anxious about how well he will do.  He is bothered by Jordan Rylance, who is from his hometown of Pittsburgh and has the starring role of Elliot, but he quickly learns that things are not always as they appear in Jordan's world. Nate makes friends with an older actress who is cast as E.T., and she helps him with understudying the role of Elliot while the two bond over mani-pedis. There are a few mishaps that make Nate think he may get fired, and a mysterious secret admirer, but when Jordan is unable to go on, the entire production may be in jeopardy. Will Nate be able to save the day?
Strengths: Mr. Federle's experiences on Broadway bring a real immediacy to all of the details about being in a professional production in New York City. This is also one of the few novels I have seen that show age appropriate emotions and actions for a  middle school student coming to the realization that he is gay. There is a kiss, and some discussion about the emotions, but this is not accompanied by details that are generally present in coming out stories for older students and is thus refreshing and welcome.
Weaknesses: Books set on Broadway are resounding flops in my library-- anything to do with theater productions gathers dust on the shelves. I didn't buy the first book because of this, but felt that I should be aware of what these were about. Our public library has a copy, and most of my students have cards there, so I can recommend this if a student ever show interest in any of the topics contained within this book.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


17777989Gibbs, Stuart. Poached.
April 8th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In this sequel to Belly Up,  Teddy is back and in more trouble than ever. School Bully Vance has dared him to put mannequin arms in the shark tank to incite panic (even though Teddy points out that sharks really don't like to eat humans), and the ensuing melee ends with Teddy realizing that Kazoo, the visiting koala, is missing... and he is now the prime suspect. Large Marge is ready to slap the cuffs on him right away, based on the strength of his previous peccadilloes, but Teddy knows that he may be Kazoo's only chance to be found before he starves to death due to lack of eucalyptus leaves. Teddy is suspicious of everyone, and it's not easy to surreptitiously observe everyone, so at one point he finds himself donning a giant Kazoo costume! He gathers a lot of evidence, solving two other mysteries before locating the actual culprit and exonerating himself.
Strengths: Once again, Gibbs has given us an intriguing mystery with lots of good clues and twists. I don't know why I thought that cover to Belly Up wasn't good-- I was so glad to see that this sequel had the same style, which I rather like now! The details of running an animal park are great-- everything from food for the animals, to staffing, to possible competitors. I really liked Summer McCracken, and was a bit sad that she didn't appear more.
Weaknesses: This started off on the wrong foot for me, with a description of Vance, the most stereotypical bully ever. This is a common sore spot for me: NO MORE STEREOTYPICAL BULLIES, people! This makes for an extremely uninteresting and one dimensional character. When Vance then attempts to put Teddy's head in the school toilet... sigh. Gibbs could have made Vance so much more interesting.

I also felt that Large Marge was not a good character to have in the book. Some of the humor comes from the fact that she is fat, and one scene involves her running and slipping in vomit. I think that finding fat people humorous has gone out of style-- even Weird Al's Fat costume in his tours seems dated to me. If Marge is made fun of because she is mean, or vindictive, or makes hasty, incorrect judgements, okay. After a LOT of thought, I just don't think it's okay to make fun of people because of how they look or because of facets of their physical make up that the can't change. It's touchy territory.

17571237That said, I don't think I can wait until September 16th for this one! Again, I have come to love this cover style!

Oh, and someone lost my copy of Spy Camp, so I have to remember to replace that. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Screaming at the Ump

18222858Vernick, Audrey. Screaming at the Ump.
March 4th 2014 by Clarion Books 

Casey Snowden helps his father and grandfather run an umpire school in New Jersey, Behind the Plate. Because they are not in Florida, the classes start in September, about the time that Casey is starting middle school. He is also dealing with the fact that his mother left his father for Bob the Baker, and Casey wants nothing to do with her. The school is struggling financially, so some key workers have not come back, especially Steamboat, who coordinates the annual "You Suck, Ump" day, where the local people put the umpires to the test of dealing with difficult crowds, so it is up to Casey to set it up. Casey also is chafing at the unfairness of the school newspaper, which won't publish articles by sixth graders, even though he has information about a major league ball player who is hiding out at the camp after being kicked out because of steroid use.
Strengths: Umpire school? Fun! Did not know that such a thing existed, and the descriptions of this were very interesting. It's a facet of baseball that I haven't ever seen a book about, and Casey's involvement in the school will intrigue students.
Weaknesses: There's a bit too much going on; poor Casey's life is a mess. Baseball books tend to be issue heavy, but I could have done with a lot less information about Casey's mother.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game of Clones

18007629 Castle, M.E. Game of Clones (The Clone Chronicles #3)

 February 11th 2014 by EgmontUSA

After Popular Clone and  Cloneward Bound, Fisher and Two are trying to work out a system with which they both agree. Fisher is supposed to be allowed to go as himself to the dance so that he can dance with Veronica, so Two goes in costume. Things get bad when Three shows up and causes complete chaos. Fisher realizes he can't hide Two anymore, so he tells his parents about him. The parents are remarkably cool about this, rename Two "Alex" and register him as a cousin at Fisher's school. Three, however, is still up to no good and releases airborn chemicals that make the whole world crazy. The teachers don't show up, and Fisher takes over as principal for a few days before realizing that Three also has a bot army. Dr. X is involved, but wants to destroy Three and enlists Fisher and Alex's help. There's a lot of action, the destruction of most of the middle school, some good anti-bullying scenes with the "Vikings", and some awesome gadgets.
Strengths: Admittedly, I didn't really want to read this, but once I started I was sucked right in with the clever lines, clever gadgets, and odd, random things like sneaking a pig into a movie theater by making it a costume so that he appeared to be a loaf of bread. A fun ride, this series goes over well with readers of books like Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Anderson's Sidekicked.
Weaknesses: Could have used more about the romance with Veronica, and I had trouble telling whether Dr. X was evil or not. While this could be the last book in the series, I wonder if there might be another one.

18209322Raabe, Emily. Lost Children of the Far Islands.
April 8th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Gus and Leo enjoy their life in Maine even though their younger sister Ila is extremely sensitive and selectively mute. When their mother gets sick, however, they end up being sent to a far off island to stay with an older woman, the Morai, who is sort of their grandmother but also the guardian who protects the world from the evil Dobhar-chu. It turns out that all of the children are Folk, who can shape shift, and that's what is wrong with Ila. The children need to help fight the monster in order to save the world, themselves, and their mother. Along with the Bedell, the children try to fight Dobhar-chu and put him permanently to rest.
Strengths: Bonus points for using Celtic mythology, and for a fair amount of action and adventure. Avid readers of fantasy will find this a refreshing change from standard fare.
Weaknesses: Rather depressing, and Ila worried me at the beginning of the book, because it seemed like she was perhaps severely autistic but the parents were in denial. The mother's illness is particularly scary, and the whole book had a feeling of a desperate need to save the world rather than adventure, which I found depressing. Somehow, even though there are difficulties, it's supposed to be more fun to save the world, even from an evil, fur-covered mythical cryptid.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Inadvertent Lessons

Sometimes, teachers impart the most important lessons just by being themselves. Sometimes, the teachers are unpleasant, and that really drives home the lesson in a way the teacher didn't even anticipate.

I never want to be one of these teachers. I never want people to hope I will retire. I never want people to think that I am a jerk who doesn't listen to their opinion and value it even though it differs from my own.

Part of the lesson one of my daughters learned today is that, even in 2014, there are still some people who think that "feminism" is a bad thing and who will use their rhetoric and position to try to subtly denigrate women.

So let's just review, shall we?


noun \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\ : the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

On the upside, my child now really understands what the women in the 1960s were facing.

A valuable lesson, yes.

But so very, very sad.

MMGM- Welcome to Dog Beach

Greenwald, Lisa. Welcome to Dog Beach.
15 April 2014, Amulet Books
E ARC from

Remy loves spending her summers at Seagate, but now that her grandmother has passed away, the house just isn't the same. Even her grandmother's dog, Danish, is no longer living, so all of her old haunts seem sad and empty. Things are even odd with her best friends Micayla and Bennett. Bennett is being all disgusting and boylike, wanting to spend time with Calvin instead of the girls, but even so, Remy is starting to look at him with twitterpated feelings. Micayla is going to be living on the island year round, and Remy resents that she is making other friends. Remy isn't too thrilled to be hanging out with Calvin's sister Claire, who is clothes obsessed, whereas 11 year old Remy just wants to enjoy summer. Remy starts to have quite a dog walking business, and this makes the summer more bearable. Not only does she get to know the owners and get back to ordinary life at Seagate, but the dogs help her through her other problems. Just realized that this is supposed to be the first book in a series. Awesome!
Strengths: I particularly like that Greenwald always gives her characters a unique interest, and Remy's somewhat reluctant dog business is fun. The interaction between the characters is very true-to-life for middle school, from the different levels of maturity to the small conflicts that seem very large at the time.
Weaknesses:There are quite a number of books where people spend the entire summer somewhere, and it just doesn't seem realistic to me. Also, I really disliked how Micayla's name was spelled. Michaela, Mikayla, okay. Micayla, not so much. Small quibble for a fun book.

18354016Goldsmith, Connie. Bombs Over Bikini: The World's First Nuclear Disaster.
April 1st 2014 by Twenty-First Century Books (CT)
E ARC from

This was a good overview of the effect of US nuclear testing in the Pacific on the native people there in the wake of the WWII bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It covers why testing was done, why this location was picked, how the residents were encouraged to leave "temporarily" and relocated by our governmnet, how the testing was conducted, and the the awful, awful aftermath of it. Well illustrated and laid out, this is a great introduction to a very ill-conceived idea. Like the book For the Good of Mankind, this made me wonder what on earth scientists were thinking. Yes, they wanted to investigate the effects of radiation on living beings, but smearing pigs with sunscreen or putting them in Navy uniforms? This did lead me to ask why people today can live in Nagasaki and Hiroshima while they can't live in Chernobyl-- the short answer is that there was a much smaller amount of nuclear fuel in the bombs, and a huge amount of nuclear fuel at Chernobyl. At 88 pages, with it's clear writing and thoughtful layout, this is a good addition to my collection of books about WWII.

18527506 Mitchell, Don. The Freedom Summer Murders
April 29th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.

On the other hand, this book weighs in at 256 ages and had an enormous amount of information. This is not an era covered in our history classes, and I don't think that students would tackle this for pleasure reading.

This was well researched, laid out, and written, but for my demographic it is just too long and complex. Drat. (See brief rant about nonfiction on 3/17/14.)

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi Rubin, Susan Goldman. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
March 14th 2014 by Holiday House

At 120 pages, this moved along at a much brisker pace, with compelling stories from a variety of people along with an overview of the events of the summer. The inclusion of primary source material, photographs, and fantastic period drawings by Tracy Sugarman gives this a lot of punch, and the research is phenomenal. The appendices, bibliography and additional material make this one that a few students will read for pleasure, and many more will find invaluable for research.  This covered not only the Freedom Summer murders, but a lot of interesting information on the efforts to get people signed up to vote, the Freedom Schools, and the training for students from the North who traveled South to help with these efforts.

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

The Geography of You and MeSmith, Jennifer E. The Geography of You and Me
15 April 2014, Poppy
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Owen and his father have just moved to New York City so that his father can be the manager of a cousin's apartment building. The two felt a need to move away from Pennsylvania after the auto accident that claimed Owen's mother's life. Lucy lives in the same apartment building, but her jet setting parents are never home, often leaving her alone while they are in Paris or London. When a protracted power outage first traps Owen and Lucy in an elevator and then cancels school and makes staying inside unbearably hot, the two decide to hang out together, seeing the sights in the dark and sleeping on the roof. They feel a connection, but their lives go in very different directions-- Lucy's father takes a job in Scotland, then London, and Owen's father loses his job and the two decide to travel west. Based on an earlier conversation about postcards, Lucy and Own keep in touch using them, and meet up several times. They spend one final week together in New York, and while they would like to be together forever, don't know if that will actually happen.
Strengths: Smith is a master of high school romances that are suitable for middle school readers and are filled with palpable longing. Little do tweenagers know that the best romance is always the one that got away. The travel in this was great, Lucy and Owen are very realistic about what their lives will be, and it's all gorgeously romantic and bittersweet. Sort of like a protracted Before Sunrise.
Weaknesses: Talk about some bad parenting. Owen's father is so grief stricken that he can't even hold a job? Lucy's parents think it's okay to leave a 16 year old girl alone in NYC? I worried about Owen's college career, and while it looks like Lucy may get to live in London (which is never a bad thing), surely she will have abandonment issues later on. Of course, younger readers won't worry about this.
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