Sunday, October 04, 2015

MMGM- Little Shaq/ How to Outfox Your Friends

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.

The Cybils AwardTake a look at what you've read in the last year and nominate your favorites at I realized in putting together my list that about 95% of what I read is straight realistic Middle Grade Fiction. There are still some categories in which I haven't nominated, because the few things I did read have already been entered!

23848222O'Neal. Shaquille. Little Shaq
Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
October 6th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Shaq and his cousin Barry love to play basketball as well as video games. When Barry gets angry at Shaq during basketball proactice and then again when they are playing their favorite video game, Barry throws a controller and breaks the disk. They are told that they need to earn the money for a replacement game, and they happen upon the job of watering plants. They work with their neighbors and earn enough money to replace the game, and also have enough extra to use to benefit their community.
Strengths: The reading level on this is akin to an I Can Read Book or a level 2 Step Into Reading Book. There are one or two sentences on each page, and the pictures are plentiful. This makes the book perfect for emergent first and second grade readers. What is motivating me to purchase this is that the issues with which the boys struggle are also appropriate for older students as well. Struggling 6th graders will appreciate the celebrity name, the pictures, and the diverse characters.
Weaknesses: The illustrations are great, but the faces of the characters all look like they are wearing "funeral smiles", so they look a little sad! (A funeral smile, if you are fortunate enough not to be familiar with it, is when the corners of your mouth reluctantly turn up, but your eyes are sad. It says "I am sharing a happy memory with you, but it's a funeral, so I can't actually be happy.")
What I really think: I know that there are a lot of celebrities who turn their hands (often with help) to writing sports stories, and that some people aren't thrilled with them. I am. Nothing gets reluctant readers excited about a book than sports or a favorite player. ALL of the pro players can start writing, and I'll be happy!

Note: I don't think that Theodore Taylor III is related to THE Theodore Taylor, but if anyone knows for sure, please inform me!

25511267Keating, Jess. How To Outfox Your Friends When You Haven't Got a Clue
October 2nd 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Netgalley

Ana is turning 13 soon and is very excited about it. She is working on an autobiography project for school and also volunteering at a local wild animal rehab center, but the most exciting thing is that her best friend Liv is visiting from New Zealand for two whole weeks. Liv has changed a lot, not only having made friends with Leilani and dying her hair purple, and Ana is afraid to tell her that she is now friends with Ashley, whom the two had hated before Liv moved. With her family living away from the zoo, there's not quite as much about animals in the book, but there is a fox that her mother helped patch together after it was hit by a car, a run in with a skunk, and Ana's grandfather's continues fame as a naturalist. When a party is planned for Ana and her twin brother Daz, Ana has great hopes for it, but a rift between her and her new and old best friends cause the day to be full of drama.
Strengths: Ana's drama with her friends and her brother are very accurate, and it's nice to see a school project included. That and the birthday party are really all the plot needed to use as a setting for all of the middle school angst about friends, fashion, and school.
Weaknesses: Book 2 of this series seems to be in hardcover, but one and three aren't. Argh!
What I really think: I like Keating's work so much that I read it even when I know I won't be purchasing a copy for my library. Her stuff should definitely be in hardcover!

The Day the Mustache Took Over

23848123Katz, Alan. The Day the Mustache Took Over
September 1st 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Twins Nathan and David are so horrible that they have run off any number of babysitters. Their busy and beleaguered parents are desperate to hire someone who won't run off, so they are intrigued when Martin Healey Discount shows up, and hire him even though they didn't read his letters of reference. At first, Martin makes the boys do homework and clean their rooms, and the boys, surprised that they have a "manny" do as they are told. The parents are impressed, but Martin lets the boys know that most of that is for show. Really on the agenda-- television and having fun. Martin turns out to be more irresponsible than they twins, but under the guise of "making things look good", gets the boys to do a lot of studying and chores. The boys think that Martin might be a spy, and they investigate, but in the end, don't care. They miss their "Murray Poppins" when he leaves, but he isn't gone for long.
Strengths: Goofy book that will amuse elementary readers. Has some illustrations. A great "evil aunt" gift, since it does encourage some bad behavior. Goofy and light amusement.
Weaknesses: I couldn't get past the fact that the parents didn't take away every privilege known to man so that the boys would behave! I know it's for comic effect, but badly behaved children don't amuse me!
What I really think: Comes down on the elementary side of the Pilkey line, so I don't think I'll buy.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Various Graphic Novels

23310720Yang, Gene Luen and Homes, Mike. Secret Coders
September 29th 2015 by First Second
E ARC from

Hopper moves to a new town and starts school at Stately Academy, where all the buildings look like haunted houses. She gets off to a rocky start with fellow basketball player Eni, as well as with her Mandarin tecaher, Ms. Hu. Eni later seeks her out and the two make amends, and shares with her his suspicion that the birds on the campus are somehow robotic, since their eyes seem to mimic the computer code for whatever numbers they see. A lesson in binary code quickly turns into a way for the two to solve the mystery of the creepy custodian who keeps on of the buildings locked. They find a turtle robot which has been programmed to blow leaves off the side walk... and other, more sinister things. With the help of Josh and Mr. Bee, the custodian, some of the secrets are revealed, but there will be more in book two, Paths and Portals.
Strengths: This graphic novel was a quick read, and the illustrations are appealing. I liked that Hopper was the main character AND interested in basketball, and also that she and Eni got off to a rocky start but managed to become friends. The coding is explained in simple enough terms that children who don't know anything about it will not be confused and might be interested in learning more.
Weaknesses: The story suffered a bit because of all of the explanations about coding, and I'm not sure how instructive this was. For example, I was unclear (and it might be me) on what programming language they were using.
What I really think: I've coded with html, BASIC, Cobol, Pascal and a little bit of Java. It's great to get children interested in coding, but I've not yet seen a good way to do that. The Day of Coding that our school had was run by a woman who didn't even know there were different computer languages, and the online activities were more drag-and-drop than coding. I've looked into books on different languages for middle grade readers, but just haven't found the right thing yet. I might wait to read book two and see if the story picks up a bit before ordering this.

24727094Thrash, Maggie. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
September 8th 2015 by Candlewick Press

Maggie goes off to the same Southern summer camp she has always attended, but as the summer wears on, she feels out of place. She takes up archery, which she enjoys, but she doesn't like the weird rivalry with another girl who wants to be the best in the camp. After a lice inspection, she feels a strong connection to an older counselor, Erin, and starts to realize that she is gay. She confides in a friend, who is generally supportive but somewhat weird about it in the way that the average 14-year-old might be. Erin also feels an attraction to Maggie, but is 19, which makes things difficult. There were two girls in the past who were accused of engaging in quasi-sexual activities, and they were kicked out of camp, but when an adult counselor suspects that Maggie is interested in Erin, she has a conversation about how Maggie needs to not act on her feelings, at least not at camp, so she doesn't get kicked out. I expected the counselor to not be nearly that understanding! Erin and Maggie later write to each other and meet up when Maggie is older.
Strengths: There were many things in this story that felt very accurate, which mkaes sense, since it is based on the author's own experience. I thought that most of the people involved were more understanding of Maggie's coming out than I remember people being in the 1990s.
Weaknesses: Camp stories normally don't do too well in my library, although the graphic format even sells Moby Dick.
What I really think: No objection to the story line, but the book is just a bit on the boring side. The artwork is okay, but nothing fabulous. Trying to decide whether or not to purchase this. Certainly, all of the activities are middle grade appropriate.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Guy Friday- This Side of Wild

25111131Paulsen, Gary. This Side of Wild
September 29th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this memoir, Paulsen serves up a variety of anecdotes about the animals that have come into his life at various times. These include an account of a small rescue poodle, Corky, who is a more vicious guard dog than he expected, a dog named Gretchen who liked to sit at the kitchen table and "talk" to him, and two horses that went with him exploring. Paulsen's experiences are certainly unique and interesting, and a good choice for reluctant readers, since this is only 144 pages. One of our 7th grade language arts teachers does an author study on Paulsen, so I'll definitely have to buy a copy.
Strengths: This would be easy to pair with some of Paulsen's fiction texts, or to use as a class read aloud, since the anecdotes aren't terribly long.
Weaknesses: This felt sort of like Paulsen took a bunch of notes he had assembled for books that didn't quite work and through them into this collection. Not his best work.
What I really think: I was hoping for something more like his Liar, Liar series, but this was okay.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House #1)

23277166Oliver, Lauren. and Chester, H.C. The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House #1)
September 29th 2015 by HarperCollins Children's Books
ARC from Meagan Beatie Communications

Sam, Thomas and Pippa work at Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks and Oddities in New York City. It is one of the last dime museums operating in the 1930s, and has live performances as well as displays of "curiosities". When Mr. Dumfrey buys a shrunken head, odd things start to happen. A woman falls from the balcony and is killed, and Bill Evans, a reporter, blames the head in a sensational news article. A new girl, Max, shows up hoping for work at the museum and is taken in right away, due to her ability to throw knives. When the shrunken head goes missing, the children try to investigate. The head was bought at Mr. Anderson's antique shop, but when they go there, they find Mr. Anderson hanged, and work out that it was not a suicide. They think that one of the workers at Dumfries, Mr. Potts, might have been involved in the disappearance, and he shows up poisoned with cyanide. This leads to more news articles, and more interest in the museum. The children want to figure everything out because they are very grateful to Mr. Dumfrey for saving them from a life on the streets, even though a woman from a children's home is trying to get them to come and live with her. In the end, an unlikely villain emerges, and Mr. Dumfrey gives more details to the children about themselves.
Strengths: For readers who have an interest in rough-and-tumble street urchins at differnt points in history his was a more accessible book than Blackwood's Curiosity, which had a similar setting. It also felt a bit like Nicholson's The Magician's Fire. The ensemble cast worked well, and the different abilities (light mind reading, super strength, super agility) of the children didn't seem too contrived. The best part were probably the New York City underworld setting and the puzzle of how the murders were related.
Weaknesses: I wish that the 1930s setting had been established early on. I was able to work it out about halfway through the book (the Great Crash was mentioned, as was the Spanish Flu), but students won't necessarily pick up on that and won't be able to place the time period.
What I really think: Good murder mystery which reminded me a lot of the BBC show Inspector Lewis, since there were a whole string of related murders. The historical setting makes this a harder sell to middle grade readers, however.

23834589Segel, Jason and Miller, Kirsten. Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic (#2)
September 8th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Charlie is still living in a purple mansion that is the portal to the Netherworld. His stepmother is still running the Herbarium, and things have quieted down a bit since the nightmares took over their town in the first book. However, there is a creepy guy wandering around selling a sleeping tonic that is turning people into zombies. After going to the nearby town of Orville Falls with his friends to visit Paige's aunt, they notice that way too many of the citizens there are zombie like. They need to unravel the mystery and find out who the sinister tonic seller is... especially since he is also trying to buy Charlie's house, which has been in the family for 150 years.
Strengths: Cool setting, with the stepmother's business, the purple mansion, and the portal to the Netherworld. Charlie is a decent character, and the ensemble cast is strong. Zombies are always popular.
Weaknesses: Just couldn't connect with these for some reason. First book has circulated decently.
What I really think: Probably buy because there aren't as many creepy books in series, but I wish more readers would pick up Grabenstein's The Crossroads series.


The nominations for the 2015 Cybils awards are now open!

Go to to nominate!

I'm normally one of the first to nominate, but organizationally, I may hang to the back this year. This has benefits as well, since I can nominate books that AREN'T nominated by someone else but which I think are deserving.
2015 Nominations by category:

Since I'll be organizing Middle Grade Fiction but reading for Young Adult Nonfiction, I am REALLY looking forward to seeing the nominations. 

With Kidlitcon coming up next week and my teacher evaluation coming up right after that, though, I am a little distracted. This morning, I actually had to answer the following question, which I am very proud to say I managed to do WITHOUT referencing my new Level 2 Profession Magical Unicorn status:

"How will safety in the classroom be ensured?"
"The physical and emotional environment of the library will be organized to be free of impedimenta."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Faceless/ The Green Bicycle

24849422Sheinemel, Alyssa. Faceless.
September 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Maisie has it pretty good at the end of her junior year: she's a runner, she has a boyfriend, Chirag, who has just asked her to prom, and her parents are both still around, even if they fight with each other. She's hoping to get into Barnard. This all changes when she is out for a run one morning, gets caught in a storm, and is badly burned in an electrical fire. After a month in a medically induced coma, she wakes up to find everything has changed. She has lost most of her nose and left cheek in the fire, and is badly burned. She is lucky that she is eligible for a face transplant when one suddenly becomes available and seems to be the only choice. Even though it allows her a better chance at "normal", it's certainly not the old "normal". In addition to the pain, scarring and swelling of her wounds and her surgery, she has to take a variety of drugs to help her body accept the transplant, and the drugs have lots of side effects, many of them negative. She also has physical therapy to restore motion to her damaged left side. Chirag, as well as her friend Selena, are very supportive, but Maisie feels awkward going to school, where she feels that everyone is staring at her. She finally goes to a support group, where she meets Adam, a young adult whose face was injured in the war. He is able to help her because he has been through a similar experience, but Maisie misunderstands his attention. Slowly, Maisie learns to accept what she has been through and starts to chart her course for the rest of her life.
Strengths: This had some similarities to Van Draanen's The Running Dream in that the process of anger and eventual acceptance was realistically laid out. This is a problem novel that older middle school and high school students will enjoy. The reactions of friends, family and acquaintances all felt very realistic. Definitely makes one feel lucky!
Weaknesses: Selena seemed a little flat through most of the book, but even that made sense at the end. Really well done.
What I really think: Not a cheery read, but a hopeful one. I enjoyed it tremendously.

21936967al Mansour, Haifaa. The Green Bicycle
September 22nd 2015 by Dial

Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her mother, who has a job as a teacher a grueling distance away from home. Her father rarely comes home, and rumor has it that he is looking to take a second wife because Wadjda's mother can't provide him with a son. Wadjda has quite a business at school, selling candy and trinkets to her school mates. When she sees a shiny green GIRL'S bicycle in a shop, she is bound and determined to save her money in order to get that bicycle, so she can win races against her friend, Abdullah. Wadjda has all manner of trouble in school because she is always coming in disheveled, and she just can't seem to be proper like the other girls. She wears Chuck Taylors with her uniform, can't keep her hair tidy, and envisions a life for herself that does not include the kind of miserable solitude that her mother's life does. When Wadjda delivers a note for an older student that ends with much trouble, she runs the risk of being kicked out of school and endangering her family.
Strengths: This was an interesting look at what daily like in Saudi Arabia is like. The mother has to car pool with a group of teachers, and they have to hire a man to drive them, since women are not allowed. Wadjda isn't really allowed to ride a bike, either; the thought being that girls might damage their reproductive parts doing this. The details about different types of clothing, and about how women dress when they are in the company only of other women was very interesting as well.
Weaknesses: This was a really sad book, and the parts involving Wadjda's father looking to marry again might upset readers on the younger side, but I think this will be a good addition to a middle school library.
What I really think: I know that we are all supposed to be tolerant of other cultures, but the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia made me SO mad! Religious laws should always be suggestions and not mandates. Once you start telling women that they have to completely cover themselves because otherwise they will tempt men, you totally lose me. Why not make all of the men go around blindfolded, if they are going to be the perpetrators of crime? Seems more fair to me. So this was hard for me to read.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fires of Inventions

25205326Savage, J. Scott. Fires of Inventions (Mysteries of Cove #1)
September 29th 2015 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC from

Trenton loves tools and machinery, but in his futuristic, protected town of Cove "invention" is a dirty word. Even stringing together a number of approved machinery to make a swing is enough to land him in trouble with the chancellors and get him recommended for retraining. Luckily, there is a problem in the mines that requires a small person with mechanical training to fix, and Trenton manages to escape that fate. What he can't escape is his appointment to the Food Production level of Cove after his graduation from school. On the one hand, he gets to be near Simoni, a girl he really likes, but on the other, there is no equipment for him to fix. When a strange gadget he has found leads him to the Kallista, the daughter of infamous inventor and criminal Leo Babbage, he finally has an outlet for his mechanical leanings. Kallista thinks the gadget, found in the mine, is a message from her father, and the two follow clues that were left-- clues that lead to instructions and parts of a mechanical dragon that the two build, as well as to deeply hidden secrets about the founding and workings of Cove itself. With the aid of Simoni, as well as the unexpected help of Angus, the son of the cancellor, Trenton and Kallista learn that their world is not what it seems, and have to decide how to proceed.
Strengths: There aren't a lot of books for readers who like machinery, and this combines gears and cogs with puzzles leading to the equipment's discovery. The characters are well-developed and appealing; Trenton's love of machinery despite all of the obstacles he faces shows his passion. Cove is described very well, from the details of the different levels to two different versions of its history.
Weaknesses; The concept of the government choosing jobs for young people has been done several times, but there are other fresh twists that make up for this.
What I really think: Steampunk-like but not exactly. Reminded me of City of Ember. Solid action/adventure fantasy with some fresh facets. Will purchase.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

MMGM- My Dog is Better Than Your Dog

24999006Greenwald, Tommy. My Dog is Better Than Your Dog (Crime Biters #1)
September 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
Copy received from publisher
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Jimmy's life is anything but calm in the days leading up to 5th grade. His mother is busy at work, his father finally has some interviews for jobs, he has a funny blotch on his face, and his father finally agrees to let him have a dog! They pick out a quiet, well behaved dog at the rescue center. Jimmy wants to name the dog "Happy", but his dad hears "Abby". Good enough. Abby does fairly well but runs afoul of Mrs. Cragg, the new babysitter hired since Jimmy's dad is busy with interviews and older sister Misty is too busy as well. Jimmy and his best friend Irwin start to notice some strange things about the new dog. Abby doesn't like sun, sleeps all day and has enormous fangs. Is it possible that she's a vampire, like the character in Jimmy's favorite books? When school starts, Jimmy is still concerned about the blotch on his face, and the other kids give him a bit of a hard time, with the exception of Daisy, a new neighbor of Jimmy's who is cute, nice, AND stands up to bully Baxter Bratford. When things get weird with Mrs. Cragg, Abby's abilities are even more apparent, and when things get bad, her skills help save Jimmy and his friends.

Greenwald has done great middle school books like Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, and always puts together a nice ensemble cast with a touch of romance. Jimmy is a well-defined character with very specific interests (television cop shows, vampires), and he assigns these qualities to his dog in an interesting way. Irwin is a good sidekick, alternately being brave when Jimmy is scared, but wary when Jimmy is a bit too head strong. Daisy is delightfully no-nonsense, and I like that she becomes friends with Jimmy at first because she feels sorry for him, but later is glad they are friends because she enjoys being around him. Even Baxter, whose bullying is a bit too stereotypical for my taste, is brought into the group in a way that makes sense.

It's difficult to come up with mysteries for younger students to solve, and the theft ring is portrayed fairly realistically, with a ring leader who is frighteningly violent but ultimately harmless. This adds a bit of spice to a story that otherwise would be reminiscent of Encyclopedia Brown, if Encyclopedia were watching too much television! I appreciated that the parents were kept out of the way of interfering with the mystery by being busy at work, and not by being killed off!

Dog stories are plentiful for elementary readers, and this is a nice change from more standard stories. I might be proven wrong in future books in the series, but I am not convinced that Abby is actually a vampire. Of course, is she is, what would happen if she met Bunnicula, the vampire bunny? It's a rare series that leaves me guessing about the direction the next book will take, so I'll be watching to see what Abby and Jimmy get up to next!

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.

24999000Seiple, Samantha. Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton: America's First Private Eye 
September 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After leaving Scotland, Allan Pinkerton managed to make quite a business as well as a name for himself in investigating. Unlike early police forces, the men AND women he hired were held to high standards of behavior as well as methods of investigating, and as such were used by Lincoln for help during the Civil War as well as other government agencies dealing with difficult issues. The book covers many different investigations, from an attempt on Lincoln's life to outlaws in the West, and even covers the companies later issues when Pinkerton himself suffered a stroke and turned operations over to his sons. Complete with quotes as well as pictures and documents, this is a very complete study of an interesting man.

Strengths: With lots of well researched information, this will be great book for anyone who wants to do a National History Day project on detective agencies or the Secret Service.
Weaknesses: Given the title, I thought the book would cover a narrower range of information. Instead, this covers Pinkerton from his days as a cooper until his death, and would have been more interesting if the focus were narrower. There was plenty of information on Pinkerton's involvement in the Civil War, for example, without adding chapters about Jesse James and his gangs. That much information could easily make two books.
What I really thought: Loved this author's Ghosts in the Fog and Byrd and Igloo, which my students enjoy reading. This seems more like a book to use for research, which surprised me.

Sister Solution

24885928Trueit, Trudi. Sister Solution.
September 29th 2015 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sammi and her friend Eden are trying to work their way up the social ladder and into the inner circle of Patrice, the most popular girl in school. Sammi tries to sit at her lunch table, help her with school assignments, and commiserate when Patrice moans about her off-again-on-again romance with Noah. When she finds out that her younger sister Jorgianna is going to skip TWO grades and end up at her school, Sammi makes her sign an agreement that the two won't talk to each other, since Jorgianna is embarrassingly smart and dresses in very flamboyant ways. However, Jorgianna connected with Patrice when they both had exhibits in an art contest, and she is immediately welcomed into Patrice's inner circle. Sammi, on the other hand, runs afoul of Patrice when she starts dating Noah. Can the sisters learn to coexist at the same school and occasionally talk to each other? And where will their loyalties lie when an academic deceit is discovered?
Strengths: I appreciated the sibling rivalry, as well as the bit about academic honesty. My students will enjoy the girl drama and the fashion descriptions. A lot of my girls can burn through a book a day, and this is the sort of thing that they definitely enjoy.
Weaknesses: Jorgianna was kind of obnoxious, and I can never buy that middle school girls are allowed to wear "four-hundred-dollar Sassy Girl sandals" and other expensive designer clothes. Is it even possible to spend $300 for a pair of jeans? My limit is about $10 at the thrift store. (My daughter and I once stopped by the Lucky Brand store because we had thrifted several pairs, and even asked a clerk why they cost $110. "They'll last forever!" quoth she. We still have our doubts, although we quote that on suitable occasions!)
What I really think: This will be dated in ten years, but by that time, it will also be worn out. Definitely purchasing.

24396876Benjamin, Ali. The Thing About Jellyfish.
September 22nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Zu (or Suzy) is devastated when her best friend Franny dies in an ocean swimming related accident before the start of school. She soon decides that talking to other people is useless-- why fill up the air with meaningless words? When she and Justin are assigned a science project, she decides to investigate jellyfish, because she has determined that the REAL cause of Franny's death is a poisonous jellyfish sting. She locates all kinds of experts, including Diana Nyad, and starts planning to fly to Australia to meet one and get the truth. Since she is not talking (although she will quietly answer teacher's questions), she doesn't tell her divorced but supportive parents or her therapist. In flashbacks, we find that both Zu and Franny did nasty things to each other and were not actually friends at the time of Franny's death. Zu thinks she is in the wrong, which adds a complication to her level of grieving. After giving a report about jellyfish that she thinks everyone in the class should understand is about Franny's death, and receiving nothing but jeers for it, things come to a head. Will Zu get the help she so desperately needs?
Strengths: Well written, and very true to life account of a tween friendship where NO ONE is the nice one and everyone is to blame.
Weaknesses: Zu is one of these characters (and we all see them at school) who brings most of her problems on herself. Really? She talks about the sterility of pee at lunch and wonders why no one will be her friend? I was not a very functional middle school student, and people made fun of me, but even I had more filters than Zu. Franny was also not a sympathetic character, so I can't say her death made me overly sad. Also, Zu "researches" flying, but doesn't think about visas. And she has a passport?
What I really think: I don't understand why the vast majority of the books teachers consider "heartprint" books are so depressing. It's much harder to teach life lessons through humor; it's much harder to come up with a compelling story that doesn't include people dying. Of course, if as a society we just realized that people die every day and we need to move on, the books wouldn't be as gut wrenching. No patience for this kind of book at all.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cartoon Saturday- Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

24515540Lombardo, Constance. Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars
September 29th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mr. Puffball has always dreamed of being a movie stars, just like his idol, El Gato. He practices at home, but eventually realized he must travel to Hollywood to make his dreams come true. After a long trip west (which he documents with postcards to his mother), he first ends up with a bunch of hobo cats. They soon send him on his way. Unsure of where to start, Mr. Puffball is lucky enough to run into a group of former movie cats who help him learn to sing, dance, and style his look. He goes on auditions, and is eventually cast as an extra in a movie starring El Gato. Trying to impress the movie star cat, Mr. Puffball climbs on a pile of boxes, falls spectacularly, and is cast as El Gato's stunt double. El Gato has some lindsay Lohan type problems with being overly demanding and difficult to work with, but Mr. Puffball saves him, and the two work together to increase Mr. Puffball's Hollywood credentials.
Strengths: This is a notebook  novel, with lots of drawings of Mr. Puffball and his adventures. There is a glossary at the end with the Hollywood references and vocabulary. There's a lot of humor and plays on titles and actor's names. Much more plot than many notebook novels.
Weaknesses: Might go over the heads of many middle grade readers.
What I really think: The blurbs for this claim it would be good for readers who like Stick Dog or Timmy Failure, but this wouldn't quite work for Stick Dog fans, who tend to be MUCH younger. This was an odd book, best understood by readers who know a lot of Hollywood history. Maybe it's just my students who are odd, but none of them ever ask for books about the theater or movies. Will pass.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Guy Friday- Kid Owner

24500115Green, Tim. Kid Owner
September 29th 2015 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Ryan Zinna has a comfortable life in Texas even though his mother has always refused to talk about his father. He is small, but likes to play football with his friend, the much larger Jackson, who is helpful in sticking up for him when idiots on the team berate him for being small. When his father passes away, he finds out why football and father are two words his mother doesn't like. His father was a wealthy entrepreneur who owned the Dallas Cowboys football team, and Ryan inherits it. He's thrilled, although his mother is not. Even though Mr. Dietrich is his trustee and will help him make decisions, his father thought it was a breath of fresh air to have a team run by a kid. The new media think this is a great story, especially when the will is contested by Ryan's father's second wife, who wants the controlling interest for her own son, Dillon. To make matters more interesting, Dillon plays football on the unbeatable team that is the big rival of Ryan's. Dietrich decides to use the big game in which both teams play as the deciding factor for which boy is most capable of running the team.

Green always has interesting female characters, and Ryan's friend Izzy is no exception. She plays a mean game of fantasy football, doesn't shrink from impressing everyone with her general knowledge of football, plays soccer, and is pretty and nice to boot. Ryan's growing interest in her is realistic and adds a nice touch to this middle grade novel. Jackson is a confusing character, but a nice foil for Ryan. Ryan is conflicted about his sudden fame, but willing to rise to the occasion. There aren't the typical mafia style villains that Green favors in this book, but the coaches aren't the nicest people in the world, which is interesting.

There are lots good football details, and Ryan's strategies for both the Cowboys and his own team are described in enough detail that I was a bit confused. This is always a good sign that readers who actually watch football will be enthralled! The premise of a middle school student owning a team as famous as the Cowboys is an intriguing one, and will appeal to readers who love to play and read about the sport.

For fans of Green's other books, like the Football Genius series, or readers who like Fred Bowen, Rich Wallace, John Feinstein, or Mike Lupica, Kid Owner is a slam dunk. Or a touchdown.

That said, reading this made me weirdly anxious. It wasn't as sad as The Lost Boy or Lupica's The Only Game, but Ryan had a fair number of problems, and I worried about him.

24040568Feinstein, John. The Sixth Man.
August 4th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Afraid this one was a casualty of Cross Country season. Read it, but forgot to write review. This is all I can manage now!

Very good book, middle grade appropriate. Yes, there is a character who is gay, but the situation with him being on the basketball team was very realistic. Some of the guys were very understanding and supportive, some of the guys were jerks. I did think the part where random protesters came to the high school games and threw things at the character were a bit much, but it could happen. My students have liked this-- there's still a lot of basketball despite the social issues.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Connect the Stars

24331400de los Santos, Marisa and Teague, David. Connect the Stars
September 22nd 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss

Eighth graders Audrey and Aaron have their quirks: Audrey can tell when people are lying, and Aaron has an Eidetic memory, which makes him helpful on his quiz bowl team, but doesn't give others much of a chance to contribute. Both children get into situations where their gifts serve them poorly, and their parents think it would be good for them to go to a survival camp in the desert. Run by the no-nonsense Jare, it involves a group of disparate children hiking across the desert and camping out, then working on tasks set them by Jare. There's the angry Daphne, the sickly Louis, Kate with her emotional issues, and others. They have to learn to work together, but before long an actual emergency occurs. One of the campers runs away, and Jare is injured. When it really counts, can the campers put aside their differences and use the skills they have as well as the skills they have learned to save themselves and their fellow campers?
Strengths: This was sort of like A View From Saturday set in a survival camp. Bunch of quirky kids who would never hang out together being forced to rely on each other. There were good descriptions of the desert and things one needs to do to survive there. Early on, there is a polemic against standardized testing, which was sort of amusing to me, and will delight many teachers. This was a much more appealing novel than Saving Lucas Biggs.
Weaknesses: The ensemble cast was rather large, so it was hard to keep all of the characters straight. Even with such a huge cast, there was not a single character I liked. High slappage factor.
What I really think: There's enough adventure that this might be successful with my students, but the characters were unrealistically quirky. Debating.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#WNDB Wednesday- The Bamboo Sword/ Until I Find Julian

24795925Preuss, Margi. The Bamboo Sword.
September 15th 2015 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

in 1853, Yoshi and Jun are the servants of Hideki, who isn't thrilled about training to become a samurai. When ships are sighted in the harbor and the samurai are called to arms, Yoshi helps him flee to the temple and takes his place. Kisune, from the dojo where Hideki trained, finds out about the deception and vows to make Yoshi pay. Four US ships have sailed into the harbor, and are asking the emperor to be allowed to come into Japan, which has been closed off to foreigners. Yoshi ends up working with the artist Ozawa, who draws pictures of the barbarians and has copies printed to sell. Things are quite topsy turvy, and Yoshi ends up as a body guard for Manjiro, the main character in The Heart of a Samurai. Since Manjiro has lived in the US, he is helping the governments communicate. Yoshi meets Jack, who has gotten left behind by the US ships, and the two learn to communicate and become friends. In an epilogue, we later find that Jack goes back to the US and works with Matthew Brady, and Yoshi becomes an interpreter, and the two meet again right around the time of the US Civil War.
Strengths: This had a lot of interesting things going on-- Yoshi on his own, finding jobs, Jack surviving in a culture he knows nothing about, the larger problem of the two governments trying to come to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement. Also, lots of good details about daily life in Japan during this time period. Appreciated the inclusion of artwork, especially since Yoshi was working with Ozawa. This is a much more appealing book than The Heart of a Samurai. 
Weaknesses: It's very difficult to get students to check out the first book, so I will have to debate purchase. The cover might help, but it's hard to tell.
What I really think: I enjoyed this, but it might not be the best us of my money to buy it.

24040566Giff, Patricai Reilly. Until I Find Julian
September 8th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Mateo knows that life in his Mexican town can be tough, but he has a supportive family. His brother Julian has gone to the US to find work so he can help out by sending money home, but eventually, there is not word from him. Mateo decides that he has to go and find his brother, and his Abuelita knows this isn't the best idea but understands that Mateo feels compelled to do this. Crossing into the US is dangerous, and Mateo makes it with the help of a girl, Angel, who befriends him and seems to know a lot about making this journey. When they finally make it to the town where Julian was living, they find that the house where he is living is empty, and that there are many issues with immigrants going on at the place of employment where Julian was working. Was Julian killed in a fall, or did he take off because of these issues? Angel and Julian are able to figure things out and report back to the family in Mexico.
Strengths: I would like to see many more books involving children living in the US illegally. Dream Things True  and Restrepo's Illegal were  brilliant in their portrayal of families torn apart by immigration issues, but it were aimed at older readers. Until I Find Julian is good for a younger demographic, especially with its emphasis on keeping family together.
Weaknesses: The cover is rather boring, and I could have done without the entries in Julian's journal. They slowed down the action of the book.
What I really think: This had its moments, and the simpler language would make this a good choice for some of my struggling readers, but I wish this had more action and less introspection.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why are these things so much fun?

Blaming @MarcTNobleman for this one. Or Twitter.

It's much harder to get distracted when working on book orders than it is while checking social media.

And since I'm off task, here's a picture of Picky Reader in the "Weasley Jumper" I knit for her this summer. I'm wearing it today with a black pleated skirt since one of our 6th grade classes is reading Harry Potter as a class novel. 

Clearly, though, I should have worn a grey pleated skirt and my white oxford under the sweater. Plus, gray knee socks. Possibly a school tie. Did put on my Hogwarts pin.

The Taken/ The Hollow Boy

Iserles, Inbali. The Taken (Foxcraft#1)
September 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Isla is a young fox who lives with her brother Pirie, mother, father, and Greatma in the Graylands, aka The Great Snarl.  When someone invades their den, Isla goes on the run and must survive on her own. Luckily, she meets Siffrin, who has been sent by the fox Elders to find Pirie. He teaches Isla about Foxcraft, the magic that foxes have, such as wa'akkir, which is the ability to shape shift. The two try to locate Isla's family, but have to escape the evil Karka and her skulk, as well as the dangers of the deathway, Manglers, and Snatchers. The two work well together and Isla learns a lot, but she also discovers that Siffrin hasn't been entirely truthful with her. This is supposed to be a trilogy.
Strengths: Do you have readers that love the Warriors series? Then purchase this immediately. Like Tui Sutherland's who writes the Dragonet series, Iserles is one of the authors who writes as Erin Hunter, and Isla's world has some of the same facets of the Warriors' world. I liked that this dealt with one major character rather than lots and lots of foxes, and the magic was interesting. Foxes don't appear too often in middle grade fiction, but they are intriguing creatures. (Saw one run right across my porch this summer!)
Weaknesses: I personally am not a fan of books from animals' perspectives, so reading about Manglers (cars), etc. was hard. This was easier for me than Warriors, though!
What I really think: This will make some 6th graders who has read all of the Warriors books very, very, very happy!

24397043Stroud, Jonathan. The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Compant #3)
September 15th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

Lockwood and Company are very overworked, and it is starting to become unhygienic at home and dangerous on the job. The trio don't have enough time to work together on cases, and they are tired and more prone to dangerous mistakes. Enter Holly Munro, late of another detecting firm, who could be useful in the field but doesn't have much experience, so she is in charge of tidying, food supplies, and deciding which cases are the most important. It's a good thing, too, because there is a huge block of disturbances going on in Chelsea, and agents from other firms are being killed. DEPRAC isn't too concerned about finding the source of the infestation, but are more concerned with public relations. George, now that he has the time, goes into deep research mode to uncover possible patterns, links, and history that might be leading to such a large amount of activity. He finally pins the center down to the Aickmere Brothers Department store, and all four are involved in a horrific battle against a poltergeist and other evil forces.
Strengths: I greatly enjoy the office chit chat and descriptions. Holly adds to the difficult dynamic between Lucy and Lockwood, which hopefully sets up a romance in the next book. The skull seems like it has some secrets for Lucy, and I hope those are revealed soon as well.
Weaknesses: The story line with Lockwood's sister, and Lucy poking her nose into her room, is wearying. Lockwood as the Hollow Boy-- don't know where that is going, but isn't very interesting.
What I really think: As much as I like these, and I really, REALLY do, four or five books for a series is plenty. I would rather have more scary stand alone books from Stroud.

Mlynowski, Myracle and Jenkins. Upside-Down Magic.
September 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Nory's father is the principal of Sage Academy, the premier school for magic that her brother and sister attend. When Nory auditions for a spot, her "wonky" magic leads to her cute black kitten turning into something that the admission board does not appreciate. She gets sent to live with her Aunt Margo, and attends the local school, but in the Upside-Down Magic unit with other children whose magic doesn't work quite right. She makes friends with Elliot, whose fire making skills often turn things into ice, and he helps her out when she turns into a Skunkephant in the school cafeteria. When Nory is given a book about hos she can put her wonky magic "in a box" and therefore control it, she and Elliot have a lot more success at their magic turning out the way they expect, and they petition the principal to get out of Ms. Starr's "special" class. When another student tries to harm a member of their class, Nory and Elliot's unusual abilities save the day. Is it enough for them to embrace rather than reject their own differences?
Strengths: For elementary school students, this is a good way to approach diversity and the acceptance of others who are not just like themselves without getting into dicey territory. Easier to discuss differences in magical ability rather than race or religion (And yes, it can be a problem. We've had parents complain that the 8th grade teachers were teaching about slavery. No idea.) As for actual diversity, I did love this questions from Elliot: "Why are you black when your aunt's white?" "My dad's black. My mom was white."(page 52, E ARC) All that needs to be said. Perfect. Fans of Mlynowski's fairy tale series will like this.
Weaknesses: This is VERY preachy, and the prose reads a bit woodenly, as if the authors are trying to tone down their usual style for younger readers. Nory's father is alarmingly uncaring.
What I really think: Ultimately, a little too young for my readers.

Monday, September 21, 2015

MMGM- Icing on the Cake (The Saturday Cooking Club #2)

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.

I'll have to pay a lot more attention to Nonfiction Monday now that I will be working through the nominations (starting 1 October!!!) for the Cybils YA Nonfiction Panel with the following lovely folks!

First Round 
Karen Yingling
Sherry Early
Karen Ball
Louise Capizzo
Jennifer Rothschild
Second Round
Terry Doherty
Katy Manck
Adrienne Gillespie
Danyelle Leach
Jessica MacDonald

Levine, Deborah A. and Riley, JillEllyn. Icing on the Cake (The Saturday Cooking Club #2)
September 22nd 2015 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss

This second book is from the point of view of three friends, but Liza has the most pressing issues. Her father has moved to California in the wake of her parents' divorce, but as her 13th birthday approaches, her grandmother thinks she should have a NOT mitzvah, since the family is not religious. A party is fine, Liza thinks, but when her grandmother goes overboard and she sees her mother smiling during phone conversations with her dad, she plots to have her dad come a week before the party in order to get her parents back together. Frankie is still struggling with her disorganized household filled with obnoxious brothers, and uses Lillian's older sister Katie as a model and starts restricting her diet and trying out for track. Lillian is interested in one of the boys in the cooking class, wants to help Liza out with her party, and still feels like the newcomer to the group, which she is. The girls and their mothers all take another cooking class from a television chef with a cute son, but Liza is concerned that her mother is flirting too much with him. The birthday party is rather painful, but Liza's friends come to the rescue.
Strengths: This is a series that realistically portrays several different kinds of families. Liza's desire to have her family be the way it was is not unusual, nor is Frankie's irritation at the boisterousness of her brothers. Lillian's calm, organized household is a nice foil for these, but doesn't make Lillian any happier than the other two. The cooking class has loads of good information about different kinds of cooking, this time dessert, and the New York City setting makes sense.
Weaknesses: I wanted to know more about Lillian's family-- maybe next book.
What I really think: The Mix books really are quite delightful, and I am always pleased when they are offered in jacketed hardcovers. Very fun!

23566909Selznick, Brian. The Marvels.
September 15th 2015 by Scholastic Press

Everyone under the sun will review this one, so I will be brief. I don't understand the appeal of Selznick's work for middle grade readers. If the books had no pictures, I would never be able to get them checked out due to their somewhat odd historical settings. Students do love the pictures, and love to carry around the great ponderous tomes (which fall apart quickly and spectacularly), but to me, many of the pictures are murky and unclear. This book in particular, with its complicated backstory that we have to draw primarily from the pictures, is confusing, especially when we discover the truth about the main character's uncle and his family. I'm also sure that this will be lauded (and probably denigrated by some readers) for its diversity, but students aren't really impressed one way or the other by gay characters these days. To them, that's just life. I've already preordered a copy, because I know it will be read, and there's certainly nothing horrible or inappropriate about it. Selznick has created an interesting new art form with his heavily illustrated, partially wordless middle grade novels, but they are just not my thing.

Cybils Judges Have Been Announced!

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgHooray! Cybils season is heating up! First, the judges were announced, and then on 1 October, the nominations will begin! I always look at the titles as they come in, so I can hurry and request them from the public library if I haven't read them.

Since I am pretty well up to speed on Middle Grade Fiction, I am switching to being a first round panelist for Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction! This will be a big challenge for me, but one I have been contemplating for a long time.

Here are the kind souls who will be dedicating the next months to reading Middle Grade Fiction for the Cybils!

Round One 

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin 
Middle Grade Mafioso 

Pamela Groseclose 
Tween You & Me

Brandy Painter
Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Sarah Sammis
Puss Reboots 

Debbie Tanner 
The Booksearch 

Libertad Thomas 
Twinja Book Reviews

Julie Williams 
Reading by the Pond 

Round Two

Alex Baugh
Randomly Reading

Gail Gauthier
Original Content

Stacey Loscalzo
Stacey Loscalzo

Greg Pattridge
Always in the Middle

Jennifer Rosenburg No1Librarian @no1librarianj

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me

23310157Nickerson, Sara. The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me
July 21st 2015 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Copy from public library

Missy is having a boring summer, since her friends are going off to camp but her family doesn't have enough money to send her, since her father moved out and is getting remarried. Her brother, Patrick, is entering high school, and would like to earn money for clothes that don't come from the thrift store, so when he sees an ad for children to pick blueberries, he and Missy talk their mother into letting them pick. It's hard work, but Missy enjoys being in the fields and makes friends with the woman who is in charge of the workers, Bev. The blueberry farm has been divided in two after a fight between two brothers, and Moose owns a small patch of very special blueberries that fetch higher prices. His brother would like to get his hands on those berries, and Patrick, along with Shauna and some of the other older teens, spend more time trying to find that patch than they do picking. Hiring the teens doesn't work well, so the owners bring in the machines to pick, but Missy has done so well that she is kept on to help with a variety of other projects. She is upset about her father's remarriage, and acts out a bit about that, but emerges from her summer of challenges a slightly different person.
Strengths: So few young people get a chance to even be outdoors during the summer, so this was a good vicarious thrill! I especially appreciated that the fact that farms don't hire many teens anymore was addressed. Missy's relationships with her family are all realistically, if not flatteringly, portrayed, and Patrick in particular is a perfect example of a teenage boy who is torn between a lot of different things. While Missy's mother is struggling a bit, she is able to function and take care of her children. This was well-written-- I could feel the sun beating down on me and practically smell the dirt and blueberries.
Weaknesses: Missy isn't very likable, and not a lot really happened in this book. Missy doesn't really interact with many children her own age.
What I really think: I would have adored this as a middle school student. It's the berry picking. We picked cherries, strawberries and apples when I was growing up, and the thought of doing it as a summer job had tremendous appeal! This is a quiet book, and it won't set my circulation desk on fire, but I think this will be checked out steadily. Definitely purchasing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cartoon Saturday- The Naughty List, Wimpy Kid in Latin

24331458Fry, Michael and Jackson, Bradley. The Naughty List
September 22nd 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Bobbie usually loves Christmas, but this year it is not making her happy. Her father is living away from the family for his job, and no one has taken down the annoying, creepy Santa from the roof from last year. When Bobbie attempts to remove it, she manages to break her arm, so she decides to boycott Christmas. It's not easy with her younger brother, though, who wants an expensive video game. When she tries to win one in a contest in a store, she ends up accidentally leaving the store with the game... without paying for it. She doesn't feel right about it, but is soon caught up in bigger problems. Some of Santa's elves show up in a closet, and she realizes that her Uncle Dale, who likes to wear a metal strainer on his head for protection, is not as crazy as he seems. There is a problem with children being put on the naughty list when they ought not to be, and soon Bobbie and Dale are traveling to the North Pole to help out. There are all sorts of wacky adventures to be had, with evil snow angels, aggressive reindeer, and a Santa Claus who is nothing like the one that Bobbie has seen in classic Christmas movies like Ninja Claus 5: Electric Bugaloo (which is, of course, about "trying to save this elf resort in Barbados with a huge fundraiser/fireworks show", page 92 of E ARC). Christmas is in danger because of out-of-whack technology, but can Bobbie and her uncle work together with Santa's team to save it?

This was a notebook novel, and was fun because aside from Potterwookie, Dragonbreath, and Stan and the Toilet Monster, not many notebook novels are speculative fiction stories. The illustrations by Michael Fry (The Odd Squad series) will appeal to readers, although are oddly reminiscent of Berke Breathed's Bloom County comic strip to a distracting degree. Younger readers will not have this association.

Bobbie starts off very angry at everyone around her and unwilling to help out her brother very much, but she does start to see that her moods affect her entire family. Character development, however, takes a back seat to the sheer silliness of the inhabitants of the North Pole and the wacky ways that Christmas must be saved. Instead of Rudolph, there is Larry, with light up antlers, and Santa is a bitter, curmudgeonly sort.

There are very few middle grade Christmas stories, and there are a few readers who ask for them. Any Wimpy Kid reader will be delighted to find this book in a Christmas stocking, but be warned-- I wouldn't give it to a child who still believed in Santa Claus, so be careful that it is kept away from younger brothers and sisters who might not find the humor in Santa being kidnapped and trussed up by the worst kid on the naughty list!

25329844Kinney, Jeff. Comentarii de Puero Inepto
Translation by Monsignor Daniel Gallagher
August 11th 2015 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

I haven't taught Latin since June of 1993, before my older daughter was born. I studied and taught it for only 14 years, yet Latin at one point was a huge part of my identity. I can look at Latin phrases in books (which occur more often than one would think!) and know that they aren't quite right. In the same manner, with this book, I could tell that the sentences were especially elegant and translated not only grammatically, but with some style.

I have to admit that I didn't look up the vocabulary, but rather just let the Latin wash over me.

Sadly, there is probably not a middle school anywhere in the world that needs to buy this. That said, I would have loved to go over this with my 6th through 8th grade Latin students. If there ARE any Latin teachers out there, they will all get ten copies of this for Christmas.

Attention middle grade writers: If you have to include something in Latin in your novel, please contact Monsignor Gallagher. Failing that, at least run your copy by me. I know people whose Latin is better than mine!

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