Saturday, May 26, 2018

Cartoon Saturday- Born to be Good (How to be a Supervillain #2)

Fry, Michael. Born to be Bad Good (How to be a Supervillain #2)
May 1st 2018 by jimmy patterson
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Victor Spoil is back after defeating Dr. Deplorable in How to Be a Supervillian. He's still struggling with wanting to be good even though his parents are supervillains, but now he at least has some friends who understand how he feels. He has gained a lot of information about how to rock spandex and harness his super power, which happens to be tickling people. There is, of course, the irritation of Niles, who is not only attractive and perfect, but gives Victor a hard time. Victor has come to the conclusion that he's not a fan of the job description of "supervillain" and informs his parents that he has decided instead to pursue a career as a librarian! However, when all of the parents go missing, the children (including Moldy Dave, Javy, Norman and Octavia) must go looking for them. They find them, stuck in action poses, being collected by the Commodore. In order to prevent himself from being taken into the collection, Victor claims that there is a crucial piece of the collection missing-- the amazing Captain Chaos. The Commodore doesn't quite believe him, but wants the captain, so an elaborate ruse is put in place with The Smear and an animatronic Captain Chaos to try to win back the parents and save the world.

Fry's artwork in this notebook novel still reminds me of Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, with Victor looking a lot like Milo, wild hair and all. Since young readers have no idea about this piece of "ancient" artwork, they will just enjoy the goofy, pop eyed characters in their saggy spandex briefs and capes.

The writing is filled with all manner of odd, anecdotal bits that don't have much to do with plot development, but everything to do with getting a laugh. Butt lasers, sparkle bombs, Nilixian Rootbeer and mind readers who have dyslexia. It doesn't hurt the nine-year-old knee slapping factor at all that many of these items (Spleen Island!) are accompanied by pictures.

Patterson has quite a collection of books he has written with others under the "jimmy" imprint, so as Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life and Treasure Hunters, but it is good that he is letting other authors have full credit in his new line of James Patterson Presents Books. Even the most reluctant reader won't be too disappointed to find these books wrapped up as gifts!

Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 25, 2018

Most Valuable Players

35791912Bildner, Phil and Probert, Tim. Most Valuable Players
May 29th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rip and Red are sad that 5th grade is ending, and more than a little apprehensive about what middle school will bring, but looking forward to the big celebration that will take place. Not only is there a graduation, but there is a school fund raiser that will include the Hoops Machine, an humorous exhibition team. Rip has been selected to go on the court with him and is very excited. However, when required tests are scheduled to be administered during the last week of school, the students start to rebel. They have enjoyed their quirky teacher, Mr. Acevedo, and feel that the tests are not a true test of what they have learned in fifth grade. Unfortunately, the school board decides that the entire fifth grade will be kept from participating in the fundraiser (and the Hoops Machine game) since they refused to take the test. Can the parents prevail one final time at the boys' school?
Strengths: Anything involving basketball is great, and the ensemble cast is full of appealing characters. Mr. Bildner works in a lot of fun activities and school events for the characters, and they all seem to have supportive (and diverse) family structures. Circumstances are portrayed realistically, and there are consequences for actions.
Weaknesses: Testing is here to stay. It always has been around, and polemics against are largely futile. This was the one part of the book that struck me as unrealistic-- we have had any number of students opt out of testing, and there are never any negative consequences for the students. I don't think we are allowed by law to assign any. There are, of course, negative consequences for teachers and the school when students who are doing well in school don't take the state tests, but it doesn't really help students to belabor that point.
What I really think: I was hoping this series would circulate more, but it hasn't. Perhaps the cover illustrations are more appealing to elementary school students? I think I will pass on purchase unless circulation picks up on the other books.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sandapalooza Shake-Up (Welcome to Wonderland #3)

36082854Grabenstein, Chris. Sandapalooza Shake-Up (Welcome to Wonderland #3)
May 22nd 2018 by Random House
Copy provided by the publisher

P.T. and Gloria have saved the Wonderland Motel, and now because of the celebrity tie-in with the Surf Monkey movie, the family of the Marquess of Hereferrshire is staying with them while they visit Disney World to loan the Twittleham Tiara to the theme park to display in the castle. The family, especially the young daughter, Lady Lilly, are all fairly snooty, but P.T. is so busy with the new motel restaurant and a sand castle competition that he doesn't give her much thought. The motel has sponsored a sand sculpting team consisting of Travis and Darryl to give the motel good advertising, and they do a great job. When the Twittleham Tiara is stolen, however, the reliable business of the motel starts to falter. The royals move out, and the Conch resort starts an ugly smear campaign saying that the Wonderland is not a safe place to stay. Blame falls on several employees, including a housekeeper and the cook in the new restaurant. With a reduced staff, everyone must kick in, which leads to less time to investigate the crime. P.T. and Gloria are on the case, and P.T. is also investigating whether Travis might be his father. In the end, they manage to figure out the theft, which has deeper roots than one might expect.
Strengths: Grabenstein really understands how to write interesting and well-developed mysteries that are amusing and not overly complicated. Are the books great literature? No. Are they fun to read? Yes. I love the Florida motel setting, the mother and grandfather are especially great, and there is goofiness aplenty. Great series for summer reading!
Weaknesses: Paper over board cover wear horribly, and the evil characters are a bit over the top. Conch's moves in this book were overly criminal, which was a bit jarring given the general goofiness of the story. This might be something that strikes me more as an older reader and might not matter as much to younger ones.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The bright, cheerful covers alone are worth the price!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rereading after inventory

SHOULD I keep my old favorites? Clearly, if a book doesn't bring me any joy AND it's not circulating well, it goes. I get about 1,000 new books every year, and if I didn't weed aggressively, it would quickly become a problem. Occasionally, I look critically at older titles just to see how they hold up. Of course, I was almost in tears when I realized I had gotten rid of Eleanor Cameron's The Court of the Stone Children, especially since there doesn't seem to be a copy in the entire Ohio library system. If I recall correctly, however, I reread that one and wasn't enthralled as I had been. I never had a library copy of A Room Made of Windows, and I would probably want to slap Julia anyway.

Here are some titles that I loved as a child and have kept in the library. Will I keep them forever? Depends on my students. I must continuously tell myself  "This is not an archive"! Would that it were.

377889Boston, L.M. The Children of Green Knowe
1954, School Library Copy

Toseland is sent to live with his great grandmother because his parents are in Burma and he's tired of having to stay with teachers at boarding schools. When he arrives at the house in the country, the whole area is surrounded by water, and he is picked up in a boat! He loves the old house, but finds it a bit eerie and magical. He is intrigued by a picture on the wall showing other children who lived in the house-- in the 1600s! Mysterious things keep happening, and his Granny is understanding when they do. Tolly, as his Granny calls him, gets to know about the heritage of his family and the house in a particularly interesting way.
Strengths: Tolly is a great character, full of adventure and optimism. Granny is also just what he needs in order to finally feel he has a home. The house is fantastic, and the idea of connecting with other children from that long ago is intriguing.
Weaknesses: I fell like I need to read the rest of the books to get to the meat of the story.
What I really think: I remember this as having a lot more time travel, but the connection with the past wasn't very concrete. This was also a lot slower than I remembered.
Stay or Go?: Stays, but I feel children might benefit from being told it is an older title.

2958889Bellairs, John. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1)
1973, School Library Copy

In 1948, after Lewis' parents both die in a car accident, he is sent to a town in Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan, who is well-to-do but doesn't seem to have a job. He lives in a huge old house that used to belong to an evil magician, and both he and his friend and neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, practice a little bit of magic themselves. There is a clock hidden deep within the walls of the house that can be heard in every room, but the uncle doesn't know how to make it stop. Lewis settles into his new school and eventually makes friends with a popular boy named Tarby, which is unusual for him because he is overweight (trigger warning: the word "fat" is used frequently, and in a perjorative sense a lot in this book) and bad at sports. In order to keep Tarby hanging around with him, he plays up his uncle's magical abilities and manages to raise the magician's wife from the dead, causing all manner of problems but ultimately solving the problem of the clock.
Strengths: In terms of pacing and excitement, this holds up well in comparison to modern titles. Nicely creepy, and I adored Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman!
Weaknesses: Clearly, the taunting use of the term "fat" by several characters is problematic today. I did some research on Mr. Bellairs, who died in 1991 when he was about my age, and it looks like he might have been rather overweight himself, so these scenes might, sadly, be based on his own experiences.
What I really think: I am so very glad I held on to ALL of the Bellairs books and want to get them back into students' hands!
Stay or Go: Stays, especially with the movie coming out in the fall. Wonder if the paperback reprints will be changed at all?

1462487Konigsberg, E.L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
1967, School Library Copy

Claudia is just fed up with her family and the way they treat her, so she decides to run away. She decides to take her 9-year-old brother Jamie with her because he's the least annoying of her three brothers and has more savings to fund the venture. They make pretty solid plans to get to the city, packing their clothes in their instrument cases, and decide to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They scope out good places to hide, sneak out to get food, and even bathe in an indoor fountain. When the museum is abuzz with the purchase of a new statue that may have been created by Michaelangelo, Claudia decides to solve the mystery before returning home. This involves traveling to meet the previous owner of the statue, and looking through her files to find clues.
Strengths: The details about running away and staying in the library are extraordinary! It makes it seem completely reasonable that the two could live in the museum for a week. I found myself not caring about the mystery of the statue quite as much, but admired Claudia's persistence in finding a reason to have been away from home. I thought the level of worry about her parents was realistic, and there is an article in the paper about the two being missing.
Weaknesses: I wasn't very convinced about WHY Claudia felt a need to run away, but what tween doesn't want to run away from time to time? Transistor radio. Wow. No cell phones. That is really the only in-your-face stuff that dates this. Plus maybe  museum security.
What I really think: I can see why this one is a perennial favorite for teachers and students alike.
Stay or go?: Definitely stays. This holds up really pretty well in terms of pacing, technology, and everything else!

Listen to Your Heart

36127456West, Kasie. Listen to Your Heart
May 29th 2018 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Kate would rather be out on the lake on her family's Wave Runner than do anything else, but when school starts, she has to resume family responsibilities and buckle down for her junior year. Her best friend Alana has encouraged her to enroll in a pod casting class, although Kate doesn't think this is a good idea. The class has to come up with a theme for the year, and when Kate's is chosen, she finds out that she will also have to be a co-host all year, along with the self-assured Victoria. Alana also has Kate checking out Diego, on whom Alana has a crush, and when Kate finds that he works at the tutoring center where she takes her cousin every week, she spends a lot of time with him, talking up her friend. Add to this mix Frank, whose family owns a lot of property around the lake and would like to buy Kate's family's business, and things get complicated. Kate goes out with Frank, who ends up liking Alana, but Kate can never figure out if Diego likes HER. When the podcast must go live at a community festival, everything comes to an amusing conclusion.
Strengths: Like this author's Lucky in Love, this is a fun, light romance set in high school that is also appropriate for middle school readers. I loved that Kate had her own passion (the lake) but was investigating things out of her comfort zone (pod casting). She wasn't desperate to have a romance, and spent a lot of time becoming friends with Diego, thinking he was interested in Alana. Her family was around (cousins and aunts and uncles lived next door) but not intrusive. Very sweet, with added bonus points for a strong sense of place.
Weaknesses: I like that characters were from different cultural backgrounds, but it wasn't completely convincing at times. (Would someone from Hawaii be described as Polynesian? I honestly don't know whether or not this is the case.)
What I really think: I need to read more Kasie West books. I didn't have a lot of readers this year who asked for more high school-type romances, but when I get readers who do like those, they will often go through several a week, and having fresh titles helps. (Remember Simon Pulse Romantic comedies? They are now as old as some of my students. Sigh.)
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Warp in Time (Horizon #3)

Watson, Jude. A Warp in Time (Horizon #3)
January 30th 2018 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The children in the Killbots whose plane went down have suffered from having friends die, being stuck in all sorts of treacherous situations, and losing their confidence in their survival. Just when they are faint with hunger and about to give up, they hear the voices of other humans. They meet another group of children, the CubTones, who were traveling home from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade when they were ripped out of their plane in a similar fashion. They managed to save more things from the plane, including china, seats, and other things to make their camp more comfortable. They seem to be settling in for the long haul, which makes Molly worried. It gets worse as they talk more to the members of the band and realize that they make a lot of references to daily life that the Killbots don't understand. Molly is worried that the bite she has gotten from the bird will begin to affect her, especially since she meets Calvin, who has a similar bite and is kept in a separate quarters by the CubTones because all manner of things irritate him. He talks nonsensically, but the more that they listen to him, the more it is clear that he is trying to tell everyone more about surviving in this weird wilderness and maybe, someday, being able to return home.

There are a lot of characters in these books, and they remain true to how they are portrayed in previous volumes. Yoshi is still trying to prove himself, because he feels his parents don't want him. Molly is a good leader, but worries that her skills will decrease all too soon. The Japanese sisters are learning a bit more English, and able to communicate with the group through Yoshi. Javi really steps up and tries to help Molly. Hank is a good leader for the CubTones, and Kim, Crash and Pammy are all very separate entities. Calvin, of course, is difficult to read, but Molly does try to figure out the mystery.

There is an online gaming component to these books, so many of the children's adventures have a disctinct video game feel-- they travel around, have to fight monsters, and find gadgets that help them with what they are attempting to do. The first book in the series is by Scott Westerfeld, and the second by Jennifer Nielsen, but Jude Watson is able to maintain the same feeling and writing style that made these books quick reads.

Children who love science fiction series like Voyagers! Or Todd Strickland Mars: Year One will find plenty of action and adventure in the Horizon series, and the mystery will appeal to those who have finished The Thirty-Nine Clues or Infinity Ring series.

606639
DuBois, William P. The Twenty-One Balloons
September 14th 1947 by Viking Books for Young Readers
School library copy

I was waxing nostalgic about books with my elder daughter over the weekend, and this title came up, along with Morley's Parnassus on Wheels and Roberts' I am the Great Horse. Clearly, this child picked up my eclectic reading tastes. Since I'm about to run out of ARCs and summer is quickly approaching, I treated myself to a reread of this book, which is still on my library shelves.

William Waterman Sherman has taught math to students for 40 years in San Francisco, and we catch up with him in 1883 after he has sailed a balloon far away, in order to escape the cares of the world. Unfortunately, his balloon (which was brilliantly equipped with wicker furniture and a silk mattress filled with gas) is attacked by birds, and he crashes onto the island of Krakatoa. There, he is met with Mr. F, who is garbed in a full morning suit, and is shown the wonders of an island with such an enormous diamond mine that it can support 20 families in amazing style. Because of the necessary secrecy surrounding this vast wealth, Sherman is told he can't leave, but as long as he doesn't have to teach the 40 children on the island, he is okay with that. The residents have a restaurant form of government, and each family provides one meal a month, based on the letter of the alphabet assigned to their family, and the corresponding culture they have appropriated for the food as well as the architecture of the home. Sherman isn't wild about the Chinese food provided by the Cs, but looks forward to the Italian food as the month progresses. There are lots of details about how the people get money for the diamonds without ruining the market, and also about the details of mechanical beds that drop the occupants right into the bath! The book moves quickly, however, and soon Krakatoa is due to explode. The residents are prepared, and take off in a balloon powered platform, leaving Sherman to crash land in the ocean. He tells the Explorers Club about his adventures.

There are problematic passages, such as an incident with a Native American tribe having the top of the Explorers Club building land on their reservation, a mention of Negroes, and the general cultural appropriation of the restaurant culture and the vaguely disapproving feel that had.

I got rid of The Cricket in Times Square because of the lengthy, unflattering description of a Chinese man, but I'm a little conflicted about this. The book is completely typical of its time, and not purposefully mean spirited. The idea is such a fun one. Should it stay, or go?

This is why it is good to occasionally revisit older titles. Tonight's reading may include The Children of Green Knowe and The House with a Clock in Its Walls, since it's going to be a movie in the fall.

Monday, May 21, 2018

MMGM-Front Desk



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.

31247008Yang, Kelly. Front Desk.
May 29th 2018 by Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine
ARC provided by the publisher

It's the early 1990s, and Mia and her parents have moved to California from China in search of more freedom and opportunities. Unfortunately, they are not able to get the same sort of professional jobs they had in China, and work at a Chinese restaurant until Mia's help turns disastrous! They eventually find a hotel in Anaheim in need of managers, and are happy that they won't have to pay all of their salary for rent. The owner, Mr. Yao, promises them a certain rate per customer, but ends up not treating them very fairly. This makes things even harder for Mia. Not only is she helping to run the front desk while her parents spend a lot of time cleaning, she has to be in class with Jason Yao. Mia struggles a bit in school, although her English is very good. She has some trouble getting along with the other students, who are not very kind about the clothes she wears or her immigrant status, but she does find a friend in Lupe, whose father comes to repair something at the hotel. Both girls have told some white lies about their lives, knowing that other students might not understand how difficult their lives can be. Word gets out that Mia's parents occasionally will put up other Chinese immigrants at the hotel for free, so there is a steady stream of people in need of a helping hand. Mia also gets to know the "weekly" residents, including Hank. When a car is stolen from the hotel, the police look suspiciously at Hank, who is black, and when Hank later runs down criminals who beat up Mia's mother, he ends up in jail. Mia doesn't think this is fair at all, and uses her writing skills to try to improve his situation. She also uses these skills to try to win a hotel in Vermont in an essay contest. She even manages to gather a lot of money to enter, although her mother's hospital visit after being beat up threatens to be very expensive. Mia learns that while her hard work doesn't always pay off, it gets her and her family much closer to their goals of being comfortable US citizens, and also helps those around her.
Strengths: This had a lot of very well placed elements going for it. First, it is an #ownvoices book, and Yang has drawn on her own experiences. She mentions in a forward that her early days in the US were very difficult, and she wanted to share this with her son without writing a depressing book. She succeeded admirably. While the difficulties on Mia's life are very apparent, Mia, her parents, and the other people with whom Mia interacts all try very hard to do their best and to help others who need it. This makes the book realistic but upbeat. Young readers who do not understand the difficulties of immigrant life will definitely understand them after reading this book, but because Mia is such a likable character, they will hopefully use this understanding to be nicer to people in their own lives. The incident with Mia having to wear flowered stretch pants instead of jeans was heart breaking to read as an adult, and I hope that it will help readers be more aware of the difficulties their own classmates may face.
Weaknesses: As an adult, my heart broke for Mia again and again.
What I really think:  This is an essential purchase for elementary and middle schools alike, and will be enjoyed by readers who may not understand how powerful the book is. I do think it will help readers to be empathetic, and we certainly need more of that!

This is a great book to read along with Sonnenblick's The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, because of the kindness it teaches. The school principal in that book has a quote up on his wall: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Too bad that even adults have trouble with this concept.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

YA Romances

35791907Goo, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel
May 8th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Clara is a trouble maker, and when her friends put her up for junior prom queen, she goes all out to try to win, masterminding a rendition of Carrie when she is crowned. It doesn't go well, and she and the junior class president, Rose, get into a fight on stage and cause a fire! In order to make reparations, Clara has to spend her summer working on her father's Korean-Brazilian food truck, KoBra. Rose's uptight lawyer parents think it would also be good if Rose worked there. The girls have to learn to work together, and learn that everyone has problems that impact their lives. They meet the very cute Hamlet, whose wealthy Chinese parents have parked him in the US with friends, and he and Clara start dating. Clara has unresolved issues with her mother, who had her at 16 and now works as a "trendsetter". One part of Clara's punishment was that she couldn't spend time with her mother, but when her father refuses to enter a food truck competition, Clara books a flight and goes to meet her mother anyway. She's a little surprised that her mother is working and that the vacation isn't time for the two of them to spend together, and she gains a bit more insight into how hard her father has worked to raise her.
Strengths: The California setting of this one, and the details about running a food truck (right down to parking near a communal kitchen and buying the food from local sources!) were really interesting to me, as was the inclusion of very young parents. The dichotomy between Clara's hard working, struggling father and her very privileged mother added a twist to the story, as did Rose and Hamlet's privileged but not perfect lives. Clara had some really bratty moments, but she did turn herself around. I think the thing that I liked best about this was that it wasn't another ordinary teen romance-- it had a fresh setting and different characters. Hamlet's "grandparents", the family friends with whom he was staying, were fun as well.
Weaknesses: The book deserves a better cover, and there was some coarseness-- Clara throws out handfuls of tampons at a school assembly, and the prom scene involves fake blood as well as a fight scene. Clara is often unlikable, but she does turn around by the end of the book.
What I Really Think: This was a delightful, fresh teen romance that has a lot of very good elements. I think I will buy it, despite my own personal objections to the coarseness at the beginning.

The Tiffany Stewart (below) has run afoul of a whole lot of people. This book wasn't interesting enough for me to buy, but everyone must make an individual decision.

32058998
Stewart, Tiffany. Holly Jolly Summer
May 29th 2018 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
E ARC from Netgalley.

Darby is the daughter of the long time mayor of Christmas, Florida, and since her mother died in childbirth, she spends a lot of time workin gin her father's office and helping him out. When she and her boyfriend are caught kissing at the opening of the town snowglobe, and chaos ensues, she ends up having to spend the summer working maintenance at the local theme park so she doesn't hurt her father's political career, since Christmas is an up and coming town and higher level politicos are watching him. Complications ensue.
Strengths: I liked that Darby was 15-- veyr few books have characters that age, and it's perfect for middle school students who want to read about characters a few years older than themselves. I was intrigued by the setting (wouldn't one set in North Pole, New York at a theme park be fun?) as well.
Weaknesses: Nothing fresh or interesting.  .
What I really think: Although Christmas themed romance books do really well in my library, there was nothing particularly fun or amusing in this. Will pass on purchasing.

34722536Mainwaring, Anna. Rebel with a Cupcake
April 3rd 2018 by KCP Loft (first published March 25th 2015)
Public library copy

Jesobel is perfectly happy with how she looks, thank you, even though she is on the heavy side and her mother used to model. When life gets tough, the tough eat cupcakes, and she's not going to apologize for not adhering to societal norms. She'll wear what she likes if its fashionable, even if she is beginning to realize she would look better if she weren't so heavy. When her mother buys her a dress for an upcoming dance, she decides a diet wouldn't hurt, and goes about it in a way that makes her faint. Her sister Cat, who may well have an eating disorder of her own, shows her a little about how to diet and not pass out, and Jess does lose a little weight. It's not enough to entice Matt, her crush, to go out with her, but she does connect with friend Alex and reaches something of a body image understanding with her mother, sister, and herself.
Strengths: This is definitely on trend as far as body image and fat acceptance topics go.
Weaknesses: Jess is not a very pleasant person, there are a LOT of British terms used, and the message about bowing to cultural norms is very mixed.
What I really think: A bit too young adult for my library, and since my readers no longer find Louise Rennison funny, I think they would struggle with the Britishisms.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

All Summer Long and Road Whiz


Larson, Hope. All Summer Long
May 1st 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Public Library Copy

Bina and Austin are next door neighbors who can't remember a time when they were not friends. They normally spend their summer together accumulating fun experiences (petting cats, eating ice cream, swimming, etc.) for their Summer Fun Index, but this year Austin is off to a soccer camp. Bina's parents have decided she can stay home alone, but it's actually a really boring to spend the summer before high school. After a Netflix binge, her mother cuts her off, and Bina must find things to do. After losing her house key and breaking into Austin's house to retrieve the one he has, she runs into his older sister Charlie, who was lifeguarding but broke her arm. The two share an interest in music, and Bina is pleased to be hanging out with an older girl, helping her babysit and occasionally meeting up with Charlie's sort-of boyfriend. Austin does return her texts, and when she and Charlie fall out, the summer loses a lot of its promise, even when her uncle and his husband adopt a baby.. When Austin comes back, things are weird, but Bina does get to see her new favorite band, Steep Streets, and gets encouragement from the lead singer to pursue her musical dreams by starting a band.
Strengths: Ah, summer. It always seems like such an idyllic time, but was it, really? There's a lot of boredom, a lot of lack of direction, and it can be very difficult to get together with friends. I love that Larson capitalizes on this, as well as having Charlie be a "summer friend". Haven't we all had people with whom we only spent time in the summer, mainly because of proximity? The fact that Bina and Austin are changing is also very true to life. Quite nice.
Weaknesses: The interior illustrations are all black with an orangey yellow, which was hard on the eyes. I would have preferred just black, or maybe the lovely turquoise of the cover.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, since this is a higher quality graphic novel like Roller Girl or El Deafo. 

Pattison, Darcy. Road Whiz
8 April 2018, Kobo Writing Life
E ARC from Netgalley

Jamie's father, who is usually away on business, wants him to play football, but Jamie doesn't want to. When he sees that his mother is depressed and gaining weight because of his father's absence, he asks her to start running with him. The two do a number of 5k races, and Jamie is irritated when a boy from school, Chan Maxwell, frequently beats him. After his mother lets him adopt a greyhound, Road Whiz, the two run together, and Jamie is glad of the companionship. School is difficult for Jamie, since he doesn't have many friends, and he is taller than average. He continues to train for races, but can't make the progress that he would like. Eventually, his father (who does visit occasionally) realizes that not only is Jamie not going to play football, but the father is also missing out on Jamie's life.
Strengths: I am ALWAYS looking for books about distance running, and this had some good descriptions of races. It's nice that the parents are alive, if somewhat dysfunctional, and good that Jamie is motivated to keep running. Dog stories are also good, and I know someone who has adopted several retired racing greyhounds, so that was a nice inclusion.
Weaknesses: Many of the details of this are half a bubble off. The treatment of the mother's weight as well as the fact that the father doesn't want her to have a job seemed odd, and I thought that Jamie would have joined a high school cross country team. His desire to always win a race rather than improve on his own time bothered me, because that's not how we motivate runners on my school team. It was also odd that he had no real friends (except for Brad at the end) and spent so much time with his mother.
What I really think: The cover sinks this one for me. I could forgive the odd details, since I need so many running books, but the 1980s font and graphic on the cover will not encourage readers to pick this up. Another round or two of edits would have helped this book a lot. It has some potential, but in the end, just didn't work for me.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, May 18, 2018

The War Below, Voices from the Second World War

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. The War Below
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Luka and his family lived in the Ukraine, where his father ran a pharmacy and let Luka help with the medicines quite a bit. His father was taken off by the secret police, and Luka ended up by himself in a concentration camp. There, he befriended Lida (from Making Bombs for Hitler). When he ends up in the hospital with a wound to his thigh, Lida encourages him to escape. He does, in a death cart, and jumps out before he gets to the mass grave. He manages to make his way across the countryside, scantily clad and injured, and takes refuge in a barn. Eventually, he tries to steal food, but the couple, Helmut and Margarete, find him. Having two sons of their own, they take pity on him and get him squared away. Eventually, he learns to trust them even though one of their sons is in the WehrMacht and could turn his parents in if they caught him harboring a prisoner. Luka stays for a while, but is determined to make his way to Kyiv to find his father. With the war going badly for the Nazis, it's not safe for him to go towards the city, and he ends up becoming involved with the Ukranian resistance with Martina, a girl who helps him survive in the forest. Once liberation comes, Luka searches for both Lida and his father, hoping that the Red Cross can help him find them.

From the tense beginning, where Luka is trying to escape in the death cart, to the end, where he is able to find some peace, this is a riveting read. Having it set in the Ukraine, with the resistance, adds even more interest to a topic that some would consider to be overdone. As much as I think sometimes that there are too many books about World War II, I know that there are lots of readers who enjoy these books, and that there is always room for fresh titles on new topics.

It also helps that The War Below covers many facets of the Jewish experience-- flash backs to daily life in Kyiv, time in the camps, and time hiding out in the wilderness. I wish that more books followed characters after liberation, when times were especially tense and unsettled. The end of this book reminded me of my all time favorite, Moskin's I am Rosemarie (1972).

The cover of this book is compelling, and will make for an excellent display when accompanied by Gratz's Prisoner B-3087, Bartoletti's The Boy Who Dared, this author's companion title and McCormick's nonfiction The Plot to Kill Hitler.


Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today 
March 20th 2018 by Candlewick Press

Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

First News (https://www.firstnews.co.uk/) is a newspaper for children published in Great Britain, roughly akin to Scholastic News, but it seems that they have more in the way of child reporters. This book is a collection of interviews that these reporters filed with First News when they interviewed people (often relatives) who had lived through WWII. Divided into chapters headed with different experiences (The Outbreak of War, The British Home Front, The Fight For France, The Fall of Germany, etc.), this is a particularly British coverage of the war. This makes it a very good choice for US readers who think they know everything there is to know about WWII because they are familiar with the American home front and battle front. Things in Europe were very different.

While some of the people interviewed were young adults who were in the army, many of the interviewees were the age of the children interviewing them. They talk at length about the evacuation of both German and British children to keep them safe, and discuss how difficult it was to leave their families, sometimes not seeing them for years. The privations of living in a country that was being occupied by the enemy and was under attack is not something most people in the US think about, but there are many heart rending stories of children who were living under those conditions.

The stories are all brief, vary widely in their topics, and are accompanied by pictures of the subjects during the war and as they appeared when they were interviewed. The beginning of the book gives brief bios of all of the children who interviewed people for inclusion in the book, so this gives a highly personal feel and deep sense of connection that another style of writing would not provide.

While this might be difficult to use for research due to the lack of index, Voices from the Second World War is an important volume to use to understand how WWII changed the lives of those who lived through it. Pair it with Partridge's Vietnam-era interviews in Boots on the Ground or with any number of fiction books set during this tumultuous time period.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Blather- End of Year Rapidly Approaching


I think I speak for all school librarians when I say

Last night, I was sort of wishing for year round school. I'm sure at some point inventory would need to be done, things would need to be cleaned, and students would need to be hunted down for overdue books, but the idea of not packing everything away for ten weeks has its moments!

I get very irritated, especially about personal responsibility. As in "I'm sorry that you might not go to Pool Day because you haven't been able to find your book that was due in October, but since I have tried to contact your home to no avail, and I've been checking with you every two weeks to make sure you have a book to read since you can't check anything out, you need to finally acknowledge the fact that you left your library book on the floor in the hallway and now you have to pay for it." Yes, I understand that children have other circumstances going on, but when a mother repeatedly lies to me that a book was paid for and claims she just never got the receipt... no patience with child who left book in parking lot in the rain, especially since I've kept it in a baggie for almost two years as evidence.

Anyone else not sleep at night because the list of all the children with overdues keeps running through your brain?

Got rug burn on my knees shelf reading, and may only wear jeans for the rest of the year, especially since I will be literally rolling on the floor for the next two days doing inventory, with brief interludes of following children about to retrieve books FROM THEIR LOCKERS.

Breaks will also consist of gluing books back together and replacing mylar covers. This helps me stretch, although nothing prevents the arm and shoulder strain of scanning 12,000 books.

On the bright side, weeding is getting easier. Every year, I save the boxes that new books come in and try to fill them with weeded books to keep the collection in check!

Sort of want to live tweet my inventory, with pictures of satisfying things like all of the Rick Riordan books back on the shelf, but... not going to happen any more than stretching fishing line along the ceiling and having a flock of stuffed flying monkeys that I can release when a student with overdues comes in and wants to borrow a Chrome book.

Be strong, fellow librarians!

A Whale in Paris

36374014
Presley, Daniel and Polders, Claire. A Whale in Paris
May 22nd 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Life is difficult for Chantal and her father at the end of World War II in Paris. Liberation seems like it may come at any time, but for now, the two must work around the German soldiers stationed around town as they try to catch fish for their market. Chantal misses her mother, who died in a horrible boat accident because her Aunt Sophie, who lives in Normandy and provides fish for the family to sell, was too drunk to keep up with the business and Chantal's mother went out in the boat with a storm approaching in order to get fish. After several nights of not having any catches, Chantal discovers that there is a small whale living in the Seine. She doesn't know how this happened, but she tells several people and soon the German officers are interrogating her, since she first suspected it was a submarine. When the whale turns out to be a harmless diversion, the German soldiers let Chantal give local children rides on the whale, whom she names Franklin, after the US president. Aided by Private Schroeder, a young, kind German who has a sister Chantal's age back home, Chantal manages to keep the whale safe. Times are hard, however, and when her Aunt Sophie comes to town, Chantal realizes that there is a resistance movement to the Nazis. Eventually, her father and aunt are arrested, and the local people, who have hardly any food at all, decide to eat Franklin. Chantal takes off down the river, hoping to make it to Rouen to release Franklin and also try to find her father and aunt.
Strengths: I really enjoyed all of the details about Nazi occupied Paris. The lack of food, the difficulties children faced in going to school and going about their daily lives, the presence of German soldiers-- this is all good stuff. These are details that young readers don't necessarily know, and are very valuable.
Weaknesses: The senseless death of the mother, and Chantal's constant grieving, did not add anything to this story. By this point in the war, there were probably very few people in Europe who had NOT lost at least one family member, and Chantal's reactions would no doubt have been more informed by this grim reality.
What I really think: This might be more of an elementary school story than a middle school one. Is it fantasy? The whale seems to understand Chantal and communicate with her through nodding and sounds. I really wish there had been some kind of historical note on this one. My 8th graders who need to read a book about World War II or the Holocaust will find this a bit confusing, so I am debating purchase. It might be good to have on hand for sensitive readers who can't handle something like Night or Gratz's Prisoner B-3087.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

World War II

36127366Larson, Kirby. Code Word Courage
April 24th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Billie and her big brother, Leo, have lived with their great aunt Doff for a while, since their mother passed away, and their father eventually left after he lost his farm. Doff is brusque and no nonsense, but takes good care of them. When Leo must go off to fight in World War II, Billie knows that she will miss him dreadfully, especially now that her best friend Hazel is hanging out with Kit, a mean and popular girl. When Leo comes home to visit after basic training, he brings a fellow Marine, Denny, home with him. On the way, Denny has found an injured dog that he names bear, and brings the dog with him because he feels that Billie needs someone to care for with Leo gone. Doff grudgingly agrees to keep him, and Billie struggles to get him a collar, leash and food with her scanty babysitting money. When the men go back to the Marines, Denny is picked to be part of the Codetalkers, Navajo men who used their native language to transmit messages that could not be decoded by the enemy. Leo gets shipped to the Pacific, and Billie must deal with living on the home front, collecting salvage, saving money to buy stamps to trade in for a saving bond, and rationing food. Her new friendship with Tito, a boy whose father is working on Doff's ranch, is put to the test when the two fight and Tito is injured while out stargazing. Bear comes to the rescue on more than one occasion.

Aside from Bruchac's Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two (2005), there are not many books that incorporate this bit of history. Even though this is not an #ownvoices book, Larson had sensitivity readers and did a lot of research to accurately portray Denny's experiences. While not exactly like her other dog books set during World War II, Duke, Dash, and Liberty, this is a great book to have on an underrepresented topic.

Billie's experiences on the home front are not that unusual, but it was interesting to see a book set out west that included the treatment of Mexican Americans. Tito suffers from being made fun of a lot, but he is very stoic about it. I hadn't known that there was such discrimination against Mexican Americans during this time period until I read Conkling's Sylvia and Aki (2011), and this, too, is a good topic to see addressed.

World War II continues to be a topic that fascinates young readers, and Code Word Courage will keep those obsessed with the era reading happily.

31394849Weissman, Elissa Brent. The Length of a String
May 1st 2018 by Dial Books
Public Library Copy

Imani was adopted as an infant by a Jewis family in Baltimore. Although she knows that her biological heritage is mostly African-American, she enjoys her Hebrew school and Jewish family traditions when her great grandmother Anna dies, she and her cousins get to pick out books, and Imani finds Anna's diary. Enthralled by the story, Imani and her friend Madeline read the diary in secret for a while, but eventually share it with Imani's family. As her bat mitzvah is approaching, Imani starts to think about her biological cultural heritage, and is interested in finding her birth mother. Since it wasn't an open adoption, her mother is a bit surprised and unsure what reception Imani might get. Reading about Anna's story, which involved being sent to the US to live with a relative while her extended family remained in Luxembourg, Imani learns a lot about her family history and culture, but also a lot about herself.
Strengths: My best friend in middle school was adopted, and I know we spent a lot of time thinking about her backstory. Personal identity is a huge issue in middle school, and there are not as many books with adopted characters as there perhaps should be. We also need more Holocaust stories with different facets, and there are relatively few that cover children sent away. Weissman always writes compellingly, and this is an interesting departure from her usual humorous novels.
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side, and my readers who ask repeatedly for Holocaust books are most interested in stories set in the camps. I wish this had followed Anna and her family. Imani's story could be a completely different book!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it was good, but sort of do wish it were two separate books.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice #1)

Lasky, K35849451athryn. The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice #1)
February 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Two bear cubs are born in Nunquivik, north of Ga'Hoole. Their father is off hunting in the far, far north, and their mother has been approached by Roguers, who want to take her cubs to work for the Timekeepers of the Ice Cap, who believer their work with clocks somehow keeps the ice from melting. Svenna offers herself instead, so she trains her unnamed cubs as best she can and leaves them with Taaka, a relative with thre young cubs of her own. Unfortunately, Taaka is very mean and neglectful, so the cubs soon decide to run away to look for their father. The way north is treacherous, but they are helped along the way by a variety of kindly animals. They eventually name themselves Jytte and Stellan, and happen across another bear name Uluk Uluk in an abandoned town, perhaps left over from the Gold Rush. He seems helpful, but proves to be in league with some evil characters, but has at least introduced the cubs to the world of the Timekeepers and told them that their mother is most likely there. Eventually, the subs happen upon their smallest cousin, Third, who was kicked out of Taaka's house because he was so small, but he seems to have some mystical powers, as do Jytte and Svenna. In alternating chapters, we have also been learning about Svenna's life, working as a numerator, doing calculations for the Timekeepers. When she runs afoul of them, she spends time in jail where she meets ghosts of cubs who worked on the wheels. They aren't quite dead, but neither are they living, and Svenna makes up her mind to try to bring them back to life. Skagen, a snow leopard, helps the cubs make their way to the Ice Cap, only to come to grief when they arrive. Will the cubs be able to find their mother and rescue her? Read The Den of Forever Frost (Bears of the Ice #2) when it comes out on 9 October 2018.

Perfect for fans of talking animal books like London's The Wild Ones, Rocha's The Secrets of Bearhaven, and Iserles Foxcraft, this is essential for those who have followed Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. Like most of these books, this has an element of the supernatural, and the cubs each have different powers that are helpful to them in their perils. They have a quest, although they are lacking the clans that is usual for this type of talking animal book.

The far north setting is well-described, although given how long this winter has been, I wish they had ventured south! There are a variety of animals, some of which are helpful and some, like Toothwalkers, which are terrifying. The bears do a lot of fishing and even kill some seals to eat, but are always respectful of their place in the food chain.

There will no doubt be more details about how the bears got involved with keeping clocks and with doing calculations to assure that the north will stay cold. The ghosts of the bears could also use a little more explanation, but we are learning about all of these things along with Jytte and Stellan. There are also sure to be battles to come as they rescue their mother and try to take down the evil Roguers.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, May 14, 2018

MMGM- Amal Unbound

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.

36086513
Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound
May 8th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Amal loves to go to school and help out her teacher, unlike her friend Hafsa who gets miffed when class lets out late. Hafsa and Amal plan to leave their small town near Lahore and go to college some day, and Amal wants to be a teacher. However, when her mother has her fifth daughter, she falls into a depression and even with the help of the family housekeeper, Parvin, there is too much work to be down. Amal must stay home from school to do the laundry and cooking. When she is in the market, enjoying the time away from the house, she buys a pomegranate as a treat for herself. On the way home, she is hit by a car, and instead of apologizing, the occupant takes away her pomegranate! Amal grabs the fruit back and leaves after a few terse words, not realizing that she is crossing Jawad Sahib, who loans money to local families and exacts horrible consequences if not repaid quickly. Since her father owes money to Jawad after some bad years with the family farm, Jawad decides to take Amal to his estate to work as a maid in repayment. Her father assures her that this will only be for a month of so, and Amal is fortunate that she is to work for Jawad's mother, Nasreen Baji, who is kinder than many employers would be. Still, she is given trouble by Nabila, who was Nasreen Baji  maid but was demoted after making mistakes, and she quickly begins to realize that she will not be going home soon. She tries to make the best of the situation, and with the help of the other servants, borrows books from the house library. Because Jawad's father is running for political office, the family has built a literacy center in Amal's town, and the Ministry of Education has staffed it, but no one will go, not wanting to owe the family anything. Amal is forced to attend but is very happy to be taught about computers by the teacher, Asif. When Jawad's evil doings finally catch up with him, Amal is able to give vital clues to the authorities and break the family's hold over her town.
Strengths: We need more books about how young people in other countries live, and I would have adored this as a middle school student. The details of what school and family life are like for Amal are wonderfully depicted, and her close knit, extended family is supportive and caring. Having markets in both the town and in Lahore described is fascinating, and the family wedding and attendant parties adds even more cultural depth. Amal's plight, and her reactions to it, are realistically portrayed, and her impulsive behavior has both good and bad consequences. There are so many wonderful levels of things happening in this book, and there is an overall upbeat feel that will help young readers process the traumatic experiences that Amal has. Notes in an afterword discuss the plight of indentured servants in today's societies.
Weaknesses: It seems a little unrealistic that Amal would be able to bring Jawad to justice, but it does make for a great story!
What I really think: I need books like this set in lots of different countries! Every day life for children 11-14, with details about food, clothing, school, families and so many other things! Reading this type of book, as well as historical fiction, is a great way for young readers to understand that the entire world is not exactly the way their little corner of it is!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Rosetown and Marge in Charge


34975050Rylant, Cynthia. Rosetown.
May 8th 2018 by Beach Lane Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Flora Smallwood lives in Rosetown, Indiana in 1972. Her mother works at a vintage bookstore, a Wing and a Chair, and her father is a newspaper reporter. Life is very slow paced and mild, although there are some sad things-- her parents are separated, her dog has recently died, and the ripples of the Vietnam war are still being felt. She has a good friend, Vanessa, and another friend, Yury, whose father is a local doctor from the Ukraine. Flora and Yury are training his new dog, and there is a cat at the bookstore. Flora takes piano lessons at Three Part Harmony, hangs out with her friends at the Peaceable Buns Bakery, and participates in Scrabble Club at Moonwalk Toys. Her fourth grade teacher, Mr. Cooper, encourages the students to read the encyclopedia (a 1962 edition), and to write. He even encourages Flora to write stories to submit to the brand new Cricket magazine. Even though things aren't perfect, the adults in Flora's life care very much about her, and make sure that she is happy and safe.
Strengths: This was a very calm, soothing book that might be just what scared fourth graders might need right now. Very classic feel, and a great choice for readers who can't handle any drama.
Weaknesses: A bit too quiet and young for my students, and there was a historical error that I may be the only person to catch-- Mr. Cooper gives Flora a Cricket magazine in April of 1973, but publication didn't begin until September of 1973. I know because I still own the magazine 45 years after my father gave it to me. What is accurate is how influential this magazine was!
What I really think: I don't think that anywhere as idyllic as Rosetown ever existed, but I certainly want to move there and be the middle school librarian! I won't buy this book for my library because it is a bit too young and slow moving for my readers, but I did enjoy it.

35396547Fisher, Isla. Marge in Charge and the Stolen Treasure
May 8th 2018 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jemima and her little brother Jakey are being bedeviled by their baby cousin, Zara. Their Aunt Sally claims that her "baby-waby" is "easy-breezy", but from the devastation that is wrought on their toys and other possessions, the children know that this is not the case. They hope that their babysitter (and former duchess!) Marge will be able to use her skills to tame the baby, but Zara proves challenging even for a seasoned veteran of child care. Marge does maintain that babies are basically pirates, and since Jakey loves anything piratical, this ruse works for a while, and Jemima even answers a pirate Code Brown (changing a dirty diaper). Since the weather is nice, Marge readies her charges for a trip to the local pool, and Zara has some trouble remembering to keep her swim diaper on. More antics ensure when Uncle Desmond is getting married to Annie Alligator (Jakey thinks her teeth look pointy) and Jemima serves as ring bearer.  Of course, the rings go missing, and Zara is suspect, since she has been so difficult for so long. Even with an incident with paint on Annie's wedding gown, the ceremony goes off without too many hitches, and the children decide that dealing with Zara is another of Marge's skills.

This beginning level, illustrated novel shows a particularly British view of child care, complete with very difficult children and a babysitter who would give Mary Poppins a bit of competition in the area of carpet bags. Marge has no magical powers, but she seems to understand what children like to do, and she is very attentive and active in her dealings with the children. It's good to see an adult interacting with children in a positive way, and not being distracted by a cell phone! Young readers will wish that their own parents would play pirates as much is Marge is willing to.

Zara seems to be particularly precocious for a child who can barely walk, but children who must suffer through a younger brother or sister who gets into their things and ruins them will understand Jemima and Jakey's pain. Hopefully, the baby in their own life will seem mild in comparison!

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Nanny Piggins, Monster Nanny and Mr. Gedrick are all fictional care providers that have many things in common with Marge-- you can almost seeing the group of them hanging out, having a bit of tea, and talking about the antics to which their charges get!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Invisible Invasion and Tiny Infinities


39192780Brady, Dustin. The Invisible Invasion: Trapped in a Video Game #2
April 10th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

In Full Blast, Jessie and Eric are just glad to be out of the video game in which they were trapped, but they know they need to save their classmate, Mark. When Jessie wakes up invisible and then finds Mr. Gregory hiding in the bushes, he is hopeful he can get help, since the father of his classmate works for Bionosoft, the company producing the problematic games. Unfortunately, Jessie gets sucked into the new game, Go Wild! Like Pokemon Go, it has players finding animals with their phones and battling them against each other. Eric sees Jessie in the game, but doesn't believe at first that he is trapped there. When they come across Mark as a very old man, they know there is no time to waste in figuring out how to defeat the game, as well as the evil owner of Bionosoft.
Strengths: This has a lot of action, and many descriptive scenes that are right out of video games. Getting chased by various creatures, wielding an ice bazooka, and buying premium features to enhance their chances of winning are all things that will appeal to younger readers who are not cursed to have every one of their DinoPark Tycoon scenarios burn to the ground. Even so, it had a lot more plot than the Cube Kid or other gamer fan titles books (which is to say- there is one). The books in this series are short and simplistic; Insert Coin to Continue they are not, but they're a good choice for reluctant readers interested in video games.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of the artwork, but my students are not going to mind it.
What I really think: Will purchase if the Accelerated Reader test becomes available.

Diehl, J.H. Tiny Infinities 
May 8th 2018 by Chronicle Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Alice is having a tumultuous summer. Her mother is depressed and lethargic following a car accident and multiple surgeries, and her father moves out. Her brothers go to live with an aunt, but Alice is heavily involved in swim team, and her aunt's house is too far for the pool. To protest her mother's behavior, Alice moves into a Renaissance Fair tent that the family has set up in the back yard. New neighbors, the Phoebes, move in next door. Their young daughter, Piper, lost the ability to communicate when she was about two, and Alice finds her wandering in the street, injured. Unfortunately, this occurs in the middle of the night, when Alice is sneaking back from breaking into the pool to practice. Piper's father blames Alice for Piper getting out, but the mother and older brother Owen seem nice. Alice meets Harriet at the pool, and the two find that they have a lot in common. They start to spend time together, working on a science project of their own devising that involves fire flies. This involves spending a lot of time in the backyard. Alice babysits Piper and her younger brother on occasion, and at one point, Pipe says a word. Since she hasn't communicated at all, Alice tells the parents, who become upset with her. Alice's mother is also upset about events she deems lying, but are actually reasonable responses to the mother's neglect. Harriet tries to diagnose Piper's ailment and comes up with a possible idea, and her theory is given more credence when Harriet, Owen, and Alice manage to videotape Piper talking. Eventually, Alice's parents have to make a decision about how they will move forward with their family arrangements, and summer, like all summers, has to end.
Strengths: Books about children who have specific interests and have activities are always in demand. The swim team and fire fly experiments really set this book about from other realistic tales. Having Piper exhibit traits that are not necessarily autism spectrum related is interesting, since there are a significant number of books with characters on the spectrum. Alice's relationship with Owen is very sweet as well.
Weaknesses: I can see what the publisher was going for with the cover, but it looks good from very few angles. The issues with the mother were treated oddly, and there was never a good explanation or resolution. I think this is the scariest thing for young readers, and I wish it were handled differently. It's realistic, perhaps, but hard for young readers to understand. Of course, dysfunctional parents are quickly outpacing talking animals on my list of things I really dislike in books, so it wasn't my favorite part.
What I really think: The cover will mean that I will have to hand sell this one, but it could circulate decently well with a little push. I wish that Chronicle would get away from their usual vaguely depressing realistic fiction with dark covers and use their skills to produce some fun, bright, humorous fiction with some color and pictures.