Saturday, May 08, 2021

Dogs Named Hugo

Smith, Renée Felice, Gabriel, Chris and Hanson, Sydney (Illustrations)
Hugo and the Impossible Thing
March 30th 2021 by Flamingo Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Haven't we all been doing things that seem impossible lately? Hugo, a small bulldog, has always been told that no one knows what is on the other side of The Impossible Thing, because no one can get there. No one even tries because, well, it's impossible. Not even the huge Mr. Bear, the slippery Miss Otter, the sly Little Fox or Mr. Goat, who is so good at climbing. Hugo decides he will get to the other side, tells his friends, and when he starts his journey the next day, they all offer to go with him. They all have skills that prove useful, and before you know it they have overcome the obstacle and gotten to "the most perfect place in all the forest". Because Hugo took a chance, he made life better for all of his friends. 
Strengths: This had a very good story about pursuing dreams even though they might seem difficult, and it was nice to see that Hugo's friends came to his aid instead of just waiting to see if he would be successful. The illustrations are very attractive, and the use of greens is impressive. Little Fox is absolutely adorable, and I may have developed a fondness for illustrated foxes to rival my love of illustrated mice! Hugo is delightful, and his "dogged" pursuit of his dreams will charm many readers. 
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed this a little more had it been the huge MS. Bear; there is a gender line in children's literature where all the cats are female and all the dogs are male that could be shaken up a bit.
What I really think: I have a weakness for picture books involving dogs like Please Take Me For a Walk, A Family for Louie, War Dogs, or Kate McMullan's wonderful As Warm as the Sun. I used to check them out to read to Sylvie. This one would be good for small humans, too. 


Sidorov, David, Wenitsky, Rachel, and Freeman, Tor (Illustrator) 
Good Dogs on a Bad Day
March 16th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hugo's family is very busy, with three children and frenetic parents. He is afraid that no that he is no longer a cute puppy, they no longer care about him. The older boy forgets to walk him, the youngest child wants a puppy, and the family will leave him alone in the house with a robotic vacuum cleaner, which is horrific! Luckly, he sometimes goes to day care with Erin at Good Dogs. He is joined by Erin's own dog, King, and sometimes Cleo, although she does a lot of agility training. Also in day care is Lulu, who is an Instagram star whose owner is an aspiring actress who gets a role. The three are out with Erin in the park, being good dogs, when they encounter Napoleon, who proceeds to do all of the things that our three good dogs would never consider. When they see how much fun Napoleon is having, they do join in, shedding their collars, chasing a squirrel with whom they have an agreement, and getting pastries out of a dumpster. They are beset with anxiety about how their owners will react (especially Hugo, who has help destroying the vacuum), but their humans are just glad to have them back. 

Sidorov, David, Wenitsky, Rachel, and Freeman, Tor (Illustrator) 
Good Dogs with Bad Haircuts
March 16th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The dogs families get even busier. Lulu's owner has a role on a show and gets offered an opportunity to have Lulu appear on film to discuss her internet fame. Erin and her boyfriend Jin decide to get married very quickly, when his mother is coming to visit, and Jin works from home planning the wedding while Erin takes Cleo to agility training. Hugo's family offers to help with the wedding party, and Waffles, the puppy they found after Hugo's romp in Good Dogs on a Bad Day, needs some training. When Jasmine takes Lulu for a very bad haircut, she worries that her career is over, and when King pees on Jin's iPad, the dogs are concerned about their continued place in their families. Napoleon's family understands his need for socialization with other dogs, so he joins the group at day care and does spice things up a bit. Another romp around town ensues, involving the local friendly squirrel as well as a cat of questionable moral values. Will the dogs make it home yet again?

Strengths: Hugo, Lulu, and King all get their own chapters, in distinctive font styles, so it was fun to see their personalities emerge. They all have their personal foibles and concerns, and their underlying belief that they were GOOD DOGS who needed to behave in responsible ways made all of their actions even more enjoyable. I loved their detente with Nuts, the squirrel! Napoleon is an auxiliary character, but he does experience some growth. Seeing the humans engaged in their daily lives, in projects like putting the wedding together, while not really think much about the dogs was kind of fun and highlights my own basic fear that my own dog was super sad while I was at work. It's interesting to see what the secret "inner" lives of dogs might be! Fans of Ahn's Pug Pals or Surovec's My Pet Human will find this a great next step. 
Weaknesses: I did worry for the dogs safety on numerous occasions, but they did mention, as they shed their collars, that they were microchipped, and their humans were very caring despite the lax security that enabled the dogs to escape. 
What I really think: This is a fun series, but they didn't speak to my soul the way that Stick Dog or Two Dogs in a Trench Coat did. They are great choices for humorous books for both elementary and middle school students, and the mix of pictures and text doesn't quite make these Notebook Novels, but goes a bit beyond just page decorations. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Guy Friday- The Fifth Quarter

It is fashionable now to get on Twitter and opine that there are no "boy books" and no "girl books". All books are for all readers! 

This just makes me wonder if these people, as well meaning as they are, have actually talked to a middle school boy or girl recently. 

It's been five years since I discussed this at length, but little has changed. Boys still come in wanting sports, war, and humor books. Girls still come in and want romance, problem novels, and mysteries. Boys still physically recoil from Hamster Princess. Girls still don't worry about who the main character is as much. 

Do boys read books with girls as the main characters? All the time. Will they enjoy The Fifth Quarter more than, say, Nat Enough? Absolutely. 

The only thing that has changed in five years is that EVERYBODY wears sweat clothes to school every day. So yeah, Twitter people might have a point about the whole "boy clothes vs. girl clothes" thing.

Dawson, Mike. The Fifth Quarter
May 11th 2021 by First Second
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lori Block plays on a basketball team, but she and her friend Sophia only get to play in the fifth quarter, when points aren't being scored. They struggle with some issues, like double dribbling or a weak defense, but love basketball. Lori would like to do better, and maybe get on a travel team, so her parents enroll her in basketball lessons. Fourth grade is a time of a lot of tears, and Lori is easily upset by things like Sophia not wanting to play basketball at lunch, and her mother running for town council. She's worried that her groups of friends don't like her, especially since one friend's father is running for the same position her mother is. When a friend shows up at her basketball lessons, Lori isn't very kind, and her friends call her out on her lack of support, although Lori continues to make hurtful remarks. She enjoys playing basketball with one fifth grader, Jordan, and occasionally plays with Jordan and her friends at recess. She goes to a summer camp, and calls her father to come and get her at night. He is able to persuade her to stay. Lori's game starts to improve, her mother's campaign finishes up, and she is able to concentrate on school and basketball once again. 
Strengths: Lori's family is realistically busy and dysfunctional. Her mother works a lot, and her father lets her younger twin siblings spend much more time on devices than is good for them, and both parents struggle to control the children in public. I haven't really seen this reflected in middle grade literature, although I have certainly seen this in action in the aisles of Target. They do manage to get to her games, talk to her about her problems, and give her the support she needs. The friend drama is also realistic. How many elementary school friendships realign over playing basketball versus playing "unicorns". Lori manages to grow up a little over the course of the book, and is a bit more in control of how she treats her friends. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, the poor parenting really bothered me, and there was one picture at a basketball game with half the spectators glued to their phones! I am also easily distracted by noses in graphic novels, and sometimes characters' noses or mouths would just not be drawn. Had I just accepted that and not tried to search for meaning, I would have been less distracted. Not understanding basketball all that well, I also found the pictures of the action on the court less informative than text descriptions of games. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, especially since a sequel, Hard Court, is coming out and seems to deal with soccer. 

Thursday, May 06, 2021

The Mystery in Manhattan (Kudo Kids #2)

Shibutani, Maia and Alex , Shusterman, Michelle and Yaoyao Ma Van As (Illus.)
The Mystery in Manhattan (Kudo Kids #2) 
May 4th 2021 by Razorbill
E Arc provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventure in Tokyo in The Mystery of the Masked Medalist (which I managed to miss), Andy and Mika are traveling from their home in California to New York City. Their father is a travel writer, and their mother is a sports reporter who is covering the NCAA tournament in Madison Square Garden. Their aunt and cousin live in the city, so they are also glad to visit them. Since their parents are busy, the kids plan on hanging out with cousin Jenny, who is taking a gap year after high school, and helping out her mother, who is a very busy stylist who is starting her own fashion line. Jenny is supposed to deliver the showcase piece of her mother's first show, but has managed to damage it slightly. She gets a friend at the Fashion Institute of Technology to repair it, but the dress goes missing! Even though security camera footage shows no one taking the garment bag out of the room where the friend put it, the dress is GONE. Looking for the dress takes the group all over the city, and the kids use their skills (honed in Tokyo and by reading The Westing Game!) to figure out what happened and get the dress back in time for the show. 
Strengths: I've been to New York City once and never need to go back, but it's amusing to read about. I love that a college age cousin is brought in to take the kids around town, so they can get into a little bit of trouble without parents, but stay safe. The fashion/stylist angle will appeal to a lot of readers. I liked the relationship between the two, especially the investigation of different activities in middle school that is making the siblings feel less close. The mystery has enough twists and turns without being scary. The cover is bright and appealing, and Shusterman should get more attention for her mysteries. (Somebunny to Love, Dead Air.)
Weaknesses: The celebrity authors are apparently figure skaters, so I kept waiting for something other than skating at Rockefeller Center to happen. 
What I really think: This is a solid mystery with lots of travel details that reminded me a bit of David A. Kelly's Ballpark Mysteries. I would definitely buy this for elementary school, but my readers want more bloodthirsty mysteries. Killer ghosts are the request of the day!




Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Luck of the Titanic

Lee, Stacey. Luck of the Titanic
May 4th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Valora Luck's alcoholic father has finally passed away after years of wasting the family's money and keeping them down on their luck. Her twin brother, with whom she often did an acrobatic routine in order to have some income, has run off and is shoveling coal on ocean liners. When she manages to get two tickets on the Titanic so that she can accompany a wealthy woman to America, she thinks that she will be able to locate her brother Jamie and settle with him in a new country. When Valora tries to get on the ship, however, she is turned away because of the US Chinese Exclusion Act. Since her trunk has been loaded, she uses her acrobatic skill to climb aboard the ship to stow away. She is abetted by April Hart, a brash young woman who is trying to start her own fashion design business, House of July. She enlists Valora in wearing her creations about the ship and being mysterious about them. Valora is very busy-- she's located her brother, who is not pleased to be found, and tries to talk him into performing on the ship so that the owner of the Ringling circus, who is on board, might try to sign them and get them into the country. There's a lot of deals that need to be made, but of course, everything is undone when the Titanic hits the fatal iceberg and survival becomes the only goal. Will Valora and Jamie manage to survive and start a new life in the US?
Strengths: Valora is a very engaging character who has managed to round up an impressive amount of resources, and is using them effectively to try to make a better life for herself. I knew a little about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but my younger readers will be captivated by this new-to-them history. The pomp and wealth on the upper decks of the ship is nicely contrasted with Jamie and his companions at work. The inclusion of some fashion design is quite fun and reminded me a bit of the television series House of Eliot. There are plenty of details about surviving the disaster as well, but Valora is really the draw in this one. She's a great character whose perseverance makes us root for her! This is perfect for readers who liked Ying S. Lee's A Spy in the House (2010).
Weaknesses: Most of the book is about Valora's machinations to get to the US, as well as her dealings with her brother. There's a fair amount of discussion of acrobatics, and a lot of hanging out below decks. The ship doesn't start to sink until about 2/3 of the way into the book. My readers who want books about the Titanic are looking for more romance (if they've seen the movie), or for details about survival. 
What I really think: I will probably pass on purchase, but this would be a great choice for high school. It read more like an adult novel, so I really enjoyed it, but know that my students are looking for something a bit different when it comes to books about the Titanic.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Last Shadow Warrior and Thrive

Subity, Sam. The Last Shadow Warrior
May 4th 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby Beckett has been training her whole life. She knows that her mom who passed away four years ago was a warrior who battled Grendels, but she's still surprised when her home in Charlotte, NC is attacked. She and her father, an English teacher, take off hastily and escape to Minnesota, where she will be attending the Vale school, and her father will be teaching there, thanks to the Grey Council. Things don't go smoothly, however; on their way in, there is another attack, and her father ends up in a coma in the hospital. Abby is encouraged to start school anyway, and meets Jacob Grimsby and Gwinn, who are friendly, and Chase Lodbrok, who is a jerk. The headmaster tells Abby that Grendels are extinct, and there's no reason to have the Aesir warriors like her mother anymore, but her aunt, who is one of the last Aesirs, is missing and Abby is worried. When the doctors determine that her father was badly scratched by  multiple sleepthorns, and will die if an antidote is not found, Abby and her new friends start an investigation. This takes them under the school, which is a portal to Asgaard, and Abby's training to fight Grendels comes in very handy (as do Gwinn's Valkyrie qualities) as the trio faces all manner of evil Norse characters. Will they be able to find the cure in time to save Abby's father?
Strengths: Grab Napoli's beautifully illustrated Treasury of Norse Mythology and hold onto your Svadilfari!  Abby is a fearless fighter who misses her mother but is intent on preserving her legacy and saving her father. While she's worried about the rise of the Grendel and the fact that her father is in a coma, she's also excited to finally get to use her training and be introduced to the world of which her mother was such an important part. It's good to see that she has good friends and fighting allies in Grimsby and Gwinn, and their exploits are filled with lots of action, as well as a few great middle grade gross moments! There were plenty of fun moments, too, like a book crucial to the mystery being reserved for Abby before she was even a student at Vale, and a bingo game with a dark Valykrie. The ending leaves this open for a possible sequel, but would also stand alone well. 
Weaknesses: This gave me a few "Wait. What?" moments that younger readers might not have. Abby is wearing her mother's flannel shirts, but her cottage was consumed by an inferno? She and her father flee the Grendel but pack boxes? Grimsby doesn't know that the Gwinn is a Valkyrie? I find that I have to pay really close attention to fantasy or I can't remember enough to write a review, so perhaps that worked against me in this instance. 
What I really think: This is a fine addition to other action adventure fantasies based on Norse mythology, like Harris's Runemarks, Jennewin and Thomas' Runewarriors, Armstrong's Blackwell Pages series, Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgaard,   O'Hearn's Valkyrie series, Holub and Williams' Thunder Girls, or Richards's Secrets of Valhalla.

Oppel, Kevin. Thrive (The Overthrow #3)
May 4th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Netgalley

*Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read Bloom or Hatch, there will be some spoilers.*

Anaya, Petra, ,and Seth are deep into the invasion of the alien life forms that have created the hybrid children, sent plants and animals down to Earth, and are preparing to invade and take over the planet for themselves. The rebels, aliens who don't necessarily want to suck out all the humans' brains, are working with the children and their adult scientist mentors to formulate a plan to keep the invasion at bay. Anaya is telepathically communicating and working with a swimmer (who uses gender neutral pronouns), and Petra with a runner named Terra. Seth is distraught that Esta is being held with the other hybrids and might be charged with murder, in which he feels complicit. The ship that the alien rebels arrived on was badly damaged, so everyone is trying to find other downed ships that could be stripped for parts in order to make repairs. The best way to defeat the aliens seems to be to introduce a mutation into their bodies that turns the sounds they make against them, and combining this with a virus in rain to lower the aliens' immune system response will make it work faster. Things, of course, do not go smoothly. Seth runs into many problems when he is trying to save Esta, and the method of wiping out the flyers hits a lot of snags. The hybrid children also have to deal with the fact that their bodies have changed, and it's not easy living with a tail with a poisonous tip, feathered arms, or a body newly covered in fur. Will the hybrids, rebel aliens, and scientists be able to save the world from eminent takeover?
Strengths: For most of the book, I did NOT think it would be possible to save the world! We don't see a lot of the alien strategy in this book, but they had a solid start with sending the evil grass and ground worms to colonize the planet and sow destruction. The fact that the hybrids are teens saving the world, and they have the help of rebel aliens is a great device. There's plenty of action: flying, fighting, running, and generally surviving in a world gone mad. Having a three book set is perfect, the covers are fantastic, and the dystopian world and its inhabitants are beautifully developed. 
Weaknesses: It always seemed like such a long shot that Earth would prevail, so the ending felt a tiny bit deus ex machina. I wish that some of the environmental message in the final chapters had been seeded more throughout the books. 
What I really think: This might be one of my favorite new series. The books all came out in about a year (no small feat, I understand, but when a sequel comes out 12 years after the first book... the kids interested originally are all gone and the books are worn out!), is a genre that has a small but loyal following, and is structurally sound in plot, characters, and message. Feel like I need to buy two sets just in case, but probably won't.

Monday, May 03, 2021

MMGM- Uncomfortable Conversations and Across the Tracks

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 



Acho, Emmanuel. Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy
May 4th 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this young readers' edition of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Mr. Acho uses his perspective as a second generation Nigerian American who grew up in predominately white schools to explore issues of race, racism, implicit bias and other topics in an instructional way. I especially liked how introduced a topic and had consistent chapter elements like "Let's Get Uncomfortable", "Let's Rewind" (talking about the history of a topic), and "Talk It, Walk It". I think that's a helpful format for younger readers trying to unpack these weighty concepts. One particularly important topic was the debate about whether the term African American or Black (which is not capitalized in this book, but which current convention usually capitalizes) should be used. While Black seems to be the most commonly accepted term, Mr. Acho opines that the final determination of use should be up to the individual. The We Need Diverse Books Movement is mentioned (this started in 2014, but has been taken more seriously after the summer of 2020. Finally.), and Mr. Acho has a good blend of current news stories, personal anecdotes, and history to illustrate his points. There is an excellent bibliography at the back. In general, this book is a good overview of topics from these other books presented in a way that is a bit more linear than Kendi and Reynold's Stamped. Certainly, both books are essential in middle school library collections. I haven't read the adult version, so I don't know if that would be more appropriate for high schools. This could certainly be used in elementary classrooms, but I don't deal with younger students enough to know how younger readers would process this on their own. 

My only hesitation about this book is something I have questioned for a while: while I certainly cannot complain about the use of the term "Karen", since my own privilege shields me from it causing any real harm to me (disclaimer: my given name is, in fact, Karen), I do wonder if using stereotypes like Karen is a bad practice because it normalizes the use of stereotypes, and children might pick this up and go on to use harmful ones against BIPOC or other people. At the beginning of the school year, another teacher and I called out our principal and assistant principal (a Black man and a white man, respectively) on the fact that they joked with our school resource officer (a white man) about policemen eating doughnuts. It didn't bother the officer, but what message does it send? There are other concerns; this Australian Buzzfeed article includes this thought: "But, by making light of the term, we overlook the damaging impact the real "Karens" have had and will continue to have on people of colour.(sic)"

My voice is not the one that needs to be heard about such topics, but I would certainly be glad to have an uncomfortable conversation of this if it keeps young readers from engaging in using stereotypes. 

Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson (Illustrations), Reynaldo Anderson (Contributor), Collette Yellowrobe (Contributor)
Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre May 4th 2021 by Abrams ComicArts - Megascope 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This graphic history tells the story of the thriving community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After the forced removal of Native Americans, many Blacks moved from the South into the area. Booker T. Washington encouraged residents to encourage Black ownership, and the area was incorporated in 1901. There were a full complement of businesses and service providers, all Black, which kept the money in the community and helped create a thriving area known as "the Black Wall Street". The planned lynching of a young Black man caused the citizens to band together; unfortunately, the resistance they met was brutal, and the area was badly damaged. There is a great time line of events, and an essay that provides additional information. 
Strengths: Graphic novels are a great way to get middle school readers to pick up historical information, and this does a nice job of showing the type of clothing people wore, what the area looked like, and offering a really vivid depiction of this vibrant community. I haven't read any account of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and am glad that there is information on it, especially since the summer one hundred years after 1921 showed so little progress in the treatment of people of color. The illustrations are well done, and the text offers enough information to explain what occurred to encourage readers to do further research. 
Weaknesses: While it is important to learn about traumatic events in Black history, I would also like to see more books that highlight accomplishments and triumphs of the Black experience. Also, I would REALLY like to see a historical novel set in Greenwoods that doesn't necessarily center on the destruction. It would be sort of like a Black Little Town on the Prairie, and I have a lot of readers who would LOVE that. 
What I really think: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school history collection, and I am going to look for a somewhat more detailed title as well. Since 2021 is the centenary of these events, I hope to see several other good titles. 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

I Speak Boy

Brody, Jessica. I Speak Boy
May 4th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Emerie Woods think she has her best friend Harper all figured out. In her capacity as "Love Coordinator", she has come up with an elaborate plan to fix up Harper with her crush, Elliot at the school dance. When she puts the plan in place, however, it backfires in a spectacular way, and she ends up in a decorative pool. Her fancy phone goes dark, and she panics, since she promised her mother that she would make the phone last five years. The next morning, the rice in which she placed the phone has miraculously restored it, and there is an odd app. Emerie had been using an app called "iSpeak" to help her talk to a French pen pal, but now there is one labeled "iSpeak Boy". Sure enough, it magically translates the thoughts of all of the boys around her. It's amazing how concerned they are about their hair, their height, what others think of them, and bras! While this is fascinating, Emerie has a problem. Harper is mad at her because of what happened with Elliot. Emerie tries to make amends, but keeps getting distracted by other things in her life. Her computer teacher, Mr. Weston, seems to think her MOM is cute, her twin brothers are still using weird twin speech that drives her and her mother up a wall, all of the other girls want to know what boys are thinking about them, and her former friend and boy-next-door Grant is the only boy whose thoughts are not translated by her phone. Emerie is still trying to use her love coordinator talents to make things right with Harper, but is that really what the problem is? As she starts to realize that knowing what boys really think isn't all that helpful, will Emerie realize that she has some work to do on herself?
Strengths: Brody has a growing body of really solid works of magical realism. Better You Than Me,(2018), Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up (2017) and In Some Other Life (2017) are all fun, changing places romps. This has a great use of technology, not quite akin to Mlynowski's 2010 Gimme a Call (best use of phone EVER!), but definitely fun. Who hasn't wanted to know what people are really thinking? Emerie's experiences at home, at school, and with her friends are filled with a delicious blend of drama and self-realization. This is one of those restful, fun books that I would have saved up my dimes to buy from the school book fair and reread with alarming frequency.
Weaknesses: Is the boy-next-door trope over used, or am I just bitter that there were no other teens in my neighborhood growing up, so my dreams were just dashed?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be hugely popular with fans of Nelson's Wish Novels. 
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Cartoon Saturday-- Some great books for elementary school readers

Nisson, Sam and Johnson, Darnell (Illustrations). Power Up!
February 23rd 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, we see two boys who go to the same school but don't know each other connecting online as they form an unstoppable team in the game Mecha Melee, a shoot 'em up robot strategy game. Gryphon and Backslash, as they are known, spend a lot of time together, but at school, they are just Miles and Rhys. Rhys has left his former school after an unfortunate incident, and is just trying to keep his head down. Miles has a group of friends and is very gregarious, even if not everyone is thrilled to hear his play-by-plays of his gaming. When Miles' parents tell him he spends too much time gaming, he doesn't agree, but their terms are not negotiable; he needs to find another activity, or he won't get any screen time. A popular boy whom he has known for years does dirt bike racing, so he tries that. This boy is also very mean to others, and particularly picks on Rhys. When a Battle Con comes to town, Miles begs his parents to go. They relent, and soon he is competing in the Every Game Ever event, which has kids playing all manner of old and new video games. He makes it through some rounds, but eventually gets out. The final two gamers end up being a girl who is professional, and Rhys. Rhys is allowed to pick someone to help him, and Miles volunteers from the audience. Will the two work as well together in real life as they do online, and will their gaming friendship extend to school?
Strengths: Middle grade readers will love this one, with its depiction of gaming action, school drama, and disputes with parents over screen time. Really, shouldn't just about every middle grade novel involve a subplot with disputes over screen time? The illustrations are fun, the colors are bright, and there's the wish fulfillment of getting to play in a competition. It was also good to see that Miles and Rhys were able to become friends. 
Weaknesses: For the target demographics, there really aren't any. Readers who like the Cube Kid Minecraft notebook novels, Graley's Glitch, or Hansan's  My Video Game Ate My Homework will find this highly amusing. 
What I really think: I really hate video games. Didn't quite realize how much until I read this. Because my students like them, I do have a number of books like Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, or Mancusi's Dragon Ops. Heck, I've even read Hansan's history of video games, Game On!, and even declared a literary video game trend. But is this my thing? No. Will I buy? Debating.

Dillard, J. and Roberts, Akeem S. J.D. and the Great Barber Battle .
February 23rd 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler alert**

J.D. is nervous about starting third grade, especially when his mother trims his hair and doesn't do a great job of it. He's afraid he will get teased, since most of the other kids at his school go to the local barber shop in his town of Meridian, Mississippi, or have a more talented family member do their hair, and he's right. Determined to make things better, he gets his hands on his mother's trimmer. He wisely decides to test his skills on his younger brother first, and when that hair cut goes well, he does his own hair. His mother doesn't get angry, and people at school envy his new do. He starts a small business cutting hair for $3, and soon has quite the clientele. J.D. thinks of all of the ways he can spend his new found wealth. He's able to hide this activity from his mother, since she is very busy working on her MBA, and his sister Vanessa is off running track. Henry, Jr., the owner of the barber shop, stops by the house to warn J.D. off, but he doesn't take it seriously until an inspector arrives from the health department and shuts J.D. down. To try to get his business back, J.D. challenges Henry, Jr. to a barber battle. If Henry wins, J.D. will stop cutting hair, but if J.D. wins, Henry will leave him alone. Henry agrees to this, and soon the competition is set, with another local salon owner helping to organize and judge. **Spoiler alert** Not surprisingly, J.D. wins, and starts charging $5 per cut. His business increases so much that Henry's business is affected (even though previously, he had been so busy that the boys had to wait for a long time to get in.). Since one of the reasons the boys favor J.D.'s cuts is that Henry only knows three styles, Henry eventually comes and asks J.D. to come to work for him. J.D. must pay to rent the chair in the barber shop, but does the math to realize that he will still make more money than he would working from home. Things are really looking up for J.D. until he gets home to realize that his sister Vanessa has taken over his room to style hair for HER friends, which could certainly set the stage for an interesting sequel. 
Strengths: This was a fun story about a boy who had a passion for something and worked to make his dreams a reality. The author is a "barberpreneur" who brings a vast array of details about cutting and styling hair to vivid reality on the page (I did NOT know that sometimes shaved designs are highlighted with colored pencils! The pencils I use for quilting designs are the water color type, so if I get really bored...) J.D. is surrounded by a supportive family and good friends, and has realistically difficult interactions with some of the people at school. Young readers always like to see kids best grown ups, and J.D. certainly triumphs over Henry, Jr., and in doing so, gets better barber service for his town. The accompanying illustrations are attractive and make some of the descriptions in the text easier to understand. There's a lot of humor in this book, and a much needed up beat tone. I was very glad to see that this is set to be available at Target, since it is a great choice for an early chapter book and deserves a wide readership. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers won't know or care, the battle and J.D.'s home business as well as his job at the barber shop are very unrealistic. There are concerns about health and safety regulations that can't just be ignored because J.D. wins the battle, and there are child labor laws that would most likely preclude him working for Henry in the barber shop. This won't detract from the story for most readers, but it bothered me. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for elementary school libraries and might work well for less enthusiastic readers in middle school who are very concerned with hair and fashion. Since I always trimmed my own children's hair on the porch and haven't had a professional cut since October 2019, I didn't quite understand the obsession, but found the book to be an engaging read.  


Friday, April 30, 2021

Dragon Guides

Mull, Brandon and Dorman, Brandon (illus.)
Legend of the Dragon Slayer: The Origin Story of Dragonwatch
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the kingdom of Selona (hand maps at front of book), there are lots of problems. When a gorgon is keeping land from being drained and used, the king asks for volunteers to kill her and allow development to happen. There are few takers, but eventually Konrad comes forward. The cobbler's son is not the most likely hero, but he manages to dispatch the creature and earn his reward from the king. When a yeti threatens another part of the kingdom, he takes care of that as well. When a vampire and phoenix become problematic, Konrad is now the go to to slay the creatures, whom we see in beautiful, full-color illustrations. He is celebrated in songs and stories, and wins the hand of the princess in marriage. When a dragon threatens the kingdom, he hesitates, and confesses why. Will he be able to conquer the dragon and continue will his idyllic life in the kingdom?
Strengths: Fans of Fablehaven (2006) and Dragonwatch (2017) will be thrilled with this back story in a volume that is similar to The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven (2015) in formatting.  This reads very much like a classic fairy tale, with the medieval setting, hero's journey, and creatures from a number of different mythologies. There's a clever twist that I saw coming that younger, less world-weary readers won't. The end of the book gives profiles of famous dragon slayers who formed a group that eventually became Dragonwatch. 
Weaknesses: While this was a fun story on its own, I struggled to see how it connected to the Dragonwatch series until the very end. Since my students who read these books have memorized the minutiae, it will not trouble them at all. 
What I really think: This would be a great gift for readers who are very avid fans of the series. I want to see how large the book is before deciding to purchase it. It's absolutely beautiful, but if it is a larger size (which the $19.99 purchase price seems to indicate), the plentiful color illustrations might not hold up well in a library setting. Both series are still popular in my library, but most readers tend to be more interested in the novels than in the guides.  

Sutherland, Tui. Forge Your Dragon World: A Wings of Fire Creative Guide 
May 4th 2021 by Graphix; Workbook edition
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is an overview of how to go about crafting a story similar to the Wings of Fire books. It's part graphic novel, and part workbook, with spaces to write down ideas. There are lots of good ideas for putting together ones own story, including illustrating it. I have a rabid fan base for this series, but given the workbook nature of the book, I don't think I will purchase. 

From the publisher:
Write your legend, draw your destiny, and take flight!

The legend starts with you!

Do you love to draw or write? Do you have your very own dragon stories to tell? In this official Wings of Fire journal, you'll design awesome characters, imagine new adventures, and forge YOUR fantasy world!

With examples from Wings of Fire graphic artist Mike Holmes, Tui T. Sutherland guides you through the #1 New York Times bestselling Wings of Fire series in a more interactive and exciting way than ever before.

Spread your wings with your very own graphic story creation!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Best Nerds Forever

Patterson, James and Grabenstein, Chris. Best Nerds Forever
May 3rd 2021 by Jimmy Patterson
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Finn is biking home when a sinister, dark van starts to follow him on a treacherous road, and when he dives into bushes at the side of the road to escape it, he ends up going over a steep embankment and dying on the rocks below. He comes back as a ghost and gets to see his family and friends grieving and having his funeral, and meets his grandfather, who is not exactly helpful in solving the mystery of why Finn is a ghost. He suspects that the older brother of a boy who has bullied him might have been driving, and decides that in order to move on, he needs to solve the mystery. While hanging out at his school, he meets Isabella, the ghost of a teen girl who had gone missing and was never found. She doesn't remember as much about the human realm after so much time has elapsed, so Finn helps her as well. He sees his father being very angry with Finn, and blaming video games on his son's demise. Will Finn be able to put both his and Isabella's lives to right so that they can move on. 
Strengths: Patterson's "jimmy"  books are always popular, even when they are titles that I'm not very fond of, such as Pottymouth and Stoopid. (Which I did buy, and which kids do read. Sigh.) Finn is a pleasant enough character, and he has good intentions for helping his own family and Isabella. The two work together to solve the mysteries. There's some fun scenes of Finn capitalizing on his ghostly qualities. He realizes that his untimely demise was caused not by someone evil, but by his own fear. This is similar to Fry's recent Ghosted
Weaknesses: This was very sad, and the scenes with Finn's father destroying his gaming station were heart wrenching. This did take a bit of a twist at the ended that made it not quite as sad.
What I really think: Like this team's I Funny books, this is not really all that funny.  Maybe it's just me, and others are not as bothered by children dying and coming back as ghosts. When it is children who died in the past and come back as murderous ghosts, I'm totally fine with that, but somehow modern children dying strikes me the wrong way. Doesn't matter what I think: this will be a popular title among readers who like this imprint. Available in paper over board format that will last ten years, tops. 
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finding Junie Kim

Oh, Ellen. Finding Junie Kim
May 4th 2021 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some Spoilers**

Junie has an older brother, supportive but busy parents, and concerned grandparents, but school has been difficult. She and her friends don't always see eye to eye, and in addition to constant racist bullying on the school bus, there is racist graffiti that appears at school. It all seems like too much, and when Junie becomes really despondent and contemplates taking an overdose of pills, her parents immediately get her help. She goes to a psychiatrist who recommends medication and a therapist. When the first therapist makes Junie fell even worse, her parents let her visit another one. Rachel is a good fit, and talking to her does make Junie feel better. School is still rough, but her friends approach a teacher about forming a Diverse Voices group to help with anti-racism initiatives in their school. Junie offers to help put together a video, and also has an assignment to talk to members of older generations and hear their stories. She starts spending more time with her grandfather, and hearing about his childhood in South Korea. His family had a difficult time, but his father was a well-respected doctor, and compared to other people, they were lucky. For the first time, Junie hears about his experiences during the war, and about immigrating to the US after marrying her grandmother. Her grandmother, who is still an active real estate agent, doesn't want to talk about the past. After a tragedy occurs, her grandmother is more willing to talk, and we hear about her experiences as well. She was not as lucky, and she and her three siblings ended up walking to other cities to try to find their parents. After hearing her grandparents' stories, Junie is more willing and able to stand up to the bullies and start awareness of the treatment of people of color in her school. 
Strengths: This is a fascinating historical account of children's experiences during the Korean War, and would be great read with Lee's Brother's Keeper, which recounts a North Korean experience. Based on the author's own family stories, this is a brutal and eye-opening look at an era of history about which little has been written. The interviews with the grandparents are a great way to get in many details about the historical setting that young readers might not know. I was also very appreciative of the way that Junie's parents handled her depression, making sure that she got medical treatment, helping her as much as they could, and doing all of the things that should be done in a crisis situation. The arc of the story with the grandparents takes a realistic turn, which is also handled well. This is not an easy book to read, but I can see it winning many awards. 
Weaknesses: While this is an important story, I would be reluctant to hand it to elementary school readers unless they had someone with whom they could process the difficult topics addressed. In addition to Junie's suicidal ideation, there are several graphic deaths during the war. Sensitive middle school readers should also just be made aware of what the book contains. 
What I really think: I'm glad that we have books like this, as well as Bajaj's Count Me In, Kelkar's American as Paneer Pie, Khan's Amina's Voice, and McManis and Sorrell's Indian No More, but I would challenge publishers to publish one happy book with a character with a cultural connection for every book where the cultural connection leads to trauma. Both types of stories have a place, but I don't want my students who have cultural connections to think that their lives should include only trauma. This doesn't mean this isn't an important story, but I also want all of my students to see themselves in happier books as well, or in books like this author's wonderfully spooky Spirit Hunters

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Trouble in the Stars

Prineas, Sarah. Trouble in the Stars
April 27th 2021 by Philomel
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Trouble is fleeing something, although what is unknown. Changing into the shape of a cute puppy seems like a good way to escape detection, but General Smag thinks even the puppy is suspicious and has it caged, in order to be inspected later. Trouble reverts to goo, oozes out of the cage, and frees all of the other animals that Smag has captured, thinking that they might be the escaped weapon for which he is looking. In the kerfuffle, Trouble manages to sneak aboard the Hindsight, and take on the form of a human boy. Captain Astra isn't thrilled to find him, but since the ship won't dock anywhere to let him off, she puts him to work cleaning the galley and serving meals. The Hindsight has a diverse crew, and they all warm to Trouble and his ways. When the ship is being followed by a Dart from the StarLeague, Captain Astra's suspicions deepen. Trouble oozes onto the Dart in his blob shape and disables it, and the ship saves the very young pilot, Electra. She is wary of everyone, especially Trouble, but eventually the two become friends. The StarLeague is definitely after Trouble. What is his true form, and what will this mean to his future on the Hindsight, where he has come to think of the crew as his family?
Strengths: If I were a shapeshifter, I would definitely be a puppy most of the time, but the story wouldn't be as good as Trouble's. I love the incessant appetite, the turning into a rat in order to investigate things, and the friendship with Electra. Electra is a fun, prickly character herself, and the StarLeague's methods of keeping the peace in the world are a bit cautionary! Captain Astra's approach to them was one I admired, and her handling of the crew and Trouble was sweet in her brusque way.
Weaknesses: I feel like I didn't get all of the pronouns correct-- in blob form, Trouble uses "they", but he is usually in the body of a human boy. Read this on a snow day, so while I enjoyed it, I didn't take notes as well as I should have!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I love a good space adventure, and they are hard to find. This is a great book for readers who liked Holm's new Lion of Mars, Chen's Ultraball books, and Landers' Blastaway. I love Prineas' more medievalish fantasies, like The Magic Thief (2008- my library copy is in tatters!), Winterling (2012), The Scroll of Kings (2018), and Dragonfell (2019), but I can see a definite future for her in science fiction as well. I love it when the books are stand alones of this length-- a lot of my readers are intimidated by speculative fiction, and books like this are a great way to introduce them to the genre. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

MMGM-- Some NonFiction

It's
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
 at 
and #IMWAYR day 
at 
and 



Swan, Russ. Bots and Bods: How Robots and Humans Work, from the Inside Out
March 2nd 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Interesting comparison between how robots and the human anatomy works, with lots of interesting facets of robots and how they are used. 

From the publisher:
What do humans and robots have in common? Find out in this intriguing illustrated nonfiction book that encourages kids to discover their inner robot.

Bots and Bods is an illustrated guide for kids looking to explore anatomy and technology and how they're related. How do we both move or sense the world? How does robot intelligence compare to our own? Middle-grade readers will find these answers and more among the four sections:
Body structures
Muscle and movement
Senses and sensors
Thinking and feeling
An accessible guide with exciting illustrations, fun facts, and special feature spreads about robots in the real world explains why “bots” can sometimes do a better job than “bods” and vice versa.

Hajek, Olaf. Veggie Power
May 2021 by Prestel Junior
Copy provided by the publisher

This very oversized book (10.56 x 0.45 x 14.13 inches) has trippy illustrations and lots of information about lots of vegetables. My daughter, who works for an organic farming organization, was enthralled. 

From the publisher:
This illustrated garden of vegetable delights will make children interested in learning about what's on their plates.

As more and more families focus on local and organic eating, this delightful introduction to common vegetables offers a delectable serving of uncommonly beautiful illustrations and fascinating information. As in his previous book, Flower Power, Olaf Hajek's wondrously imaginative and detailed illustrations of vegetables are paired with engaging and eye-opening texts. Organized by season, the book tells how each vegetable is grown, how it can be enjoyed on our plates, its health benefits, historical tidbits, and botanical fun facts. From the first spring onion to pumpkins harvested just before the frost, this inviting journey through the growing seasons celebrates the artistic, historical, and culinary bounty that awaits us in the garden and at the table.

van der Veken, Jan. Planes: From the Wright Brothers to Supersonic Jets
October 13th 2020 by Prestel Junior
Copy provided by the publisher

A very complete overview of the history of planes, with beautiful illustrations and lots of facts about how planes operate and are used. 

From the publisher:
Budding aviation fans will pore over every page of this fascinating encyclopedic guide to the history and mechanics of flight, from the Wright Brothers to the Concorde.

How does a plane move through the air? What is turbulence? What do those lines on the runways mean? All these questions and many more are answered in this gorgeously illustrated history of planes and flight. The book opens with a basic introduction to plane anatomy and shows how aircrafts have developed over the ages. Readers will then learn about aerodynamics, the mechanics of wing shape and lift, and how ailerons, propellers, and flaps work. There's even a section on communications systems, runway design, and GPS. Profiles of famous historic planes illustrate basic principles throughout the book. Readers will find out about record-breaking flights across continents and oceans; how "flying wings" evolved into the B-2 bomber; and where the world's most treacherous runways are located. A section on experimental aircraft looks at zeppelins, flying cars, and the fate of the Concorde jet. Jan Van Der Veken's lushly colored, retro drawings detail everything from plane design to the physics of flight and provide the perfect companion to his engaging text. Budding aviators will linger over every detail of this information-packed book that serves both to demystify and celebrate the miracle of flight.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live

Here's a fun fact: when I was getting my degree in Latin (with a minor in Ancient Greek), I seriously considered picking up a minor in home economics so I could teach it. Before that, I was accepted into a journalism program at Bowling Green. My ability to pick  moribund career choices was epic. 

The first chapter of this posits that everything the reader knows about home ec is wrong. The reason this book just broke my heart is that I knew just about all of the history in this book already. What I really should have studied was women's history, but that wasn't really a field when I was in college. 

Home economics could save the world. It won't, because no matter how hard women try to use the field for good, men always seem to wreck it. I wish that we still had home ec. This is a brilliant work of women's history. 

Dreilinger, Danielle. The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live
May 4th 2021 by W. W. Norton Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Even before Seneca Falls in 1848, there was Catharine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy. In 1841, this was the start of a long road to industrialize and professionalize the art of homemaking. Women were just starting to be allowed to go to colleges, although this was almost always a struggle. Graduating from high school in 1862, Ellen Swallow wanted more education, and got into the newly created Vassar college, where she studied under astronomer Maria Mitchell. Later, she went to MIT and became the first female instructor there. Born at the time Swallow graduated from high school, Margaret Murray, a Black women from the south, went to Fisk College and got a job at Tuskegee, where she met, and later married, Booker T. Washington. 

This was just a start to the home economics movement. It gained a lot of momentum at the Lake Placid Conference in 1899, where Anna Dewey (wife of the disgraced Melvil of library fame) and Ellen Richards gathered leaders in the field and started making plans for the modern study of home economics, where science would improve home life, and therefore society. 

This exquisitely well-researched book covers the field of home economics from its beginnings, through its floruit in the early 1900s, its degradation at the hands of men after WWII when women were forced out of the work force, and into the present day. It discusses the Nation at Risk Report of April, 1983 (tragically, right before I graduated from high school!), that said that the US was behind and needed to stop teaching silly things like phys ed and home ec, which lead right into the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act that is responsible for the US educational systems insistence on testing. 

Within these different eras of the science of home ec, Dreilinger introduces us to a wide range of pioneering women who changed the way work was done in the home. From the team of Flora Rose and Martha Van Rensselaer studying food science at Cornell to the omnipresent Black scientist and activist Flemmie Pansy Kittrell to the famous Lillian Moller Gilbreth, we see these women highlighted against the times in which they lived. These women come from diverse backgrounds; one of the women of whom I had never heard was Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, who started as an extension agent in New Mexico in the Hispano community and went on to be an influential writer and activist. The book addresses, through these women, the troubled history of the treatment of women of color by women who were trying to further the cause of women. Given how difficult it is to find information on some of these groups, this inclusion is even more impressive. 

Home economics hasn't, at least in the last fifty years, been given its due. Reading this book almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt that given a chance, home economics could save the world. Helping families make the most of their resources, both human and financial, is what home economics is about. If university departments still existed in this field, even if it survived under the aegis of "family and consumer sciences", wouldn't there be scientists who could figure out how to provide child care, early education, and conscious consumerism alongside nutritious meals that would also save the environment? 

Sadly, men got involved. The post-war climate persuaded women to go back to the home, and while more women majored in the field, fewer graduated in it, and jobs went unfilled. Because it was largely a women's field, budgets were cut. Home ec became something that was seen as just "sewing and stirring", and not as a field that taught crucial techniques for managing family life. 

This is an excellent book on women's history, and one that should be in every high school and middle school library. It's a bit dense, and I was saddened that there weren't pictures of these long uncelebrated figures, but this is a book that could launch a thousand National History Day projects. I want a middle grade biography on Flemmie Kittrell, for starters! As society starts to appreciate historical figures of color and other marginalized people, I hope that we see more books celebrating women who changed the way people live their daily lives.

I loved that this book ended with a solid plan for bringing home ec back into schools. It is an excellent idea, and it would help our society to teach all students crucial skills and make them realize that taking care of a home is a worthy accomplishment for everyone, and encompasses, even though it includes, much more than being able to thread a needle, wash the floors, and put a nutritious meal on the table. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly
April 13th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nat Beacon moves from California to New Jersey because her mother has a new job as an actuary (so boring!)and her father is the athletic director of the nearby high school. Nat's not thrilled, because their home in California was more accessible to her wheelchair, everyone knew about the car accident that caused her to require it, and she was on a wheelchair racing team. When she and her father go to check out the local racing team, she sees a sign for an audition for Wicked. Nat is musical obsessed, but her parents think that someone "with her circumstances" won't be able to be on stage. Without her parents permission, she tries out, and gets cast in the chorus. She's thrilled to make friends, who are very helpful and friendly (especially the cute Malik!), and to finally get to perform. Her parents aren't happy she disobeyed them, but let her work with the group. There are some hiccups-- at first, the director tells her she doesn't need to be on stage for all of the dances, her father drives her to the camp the group has and gets lost, and the theater the group was using suffers a bad fire. Nat and her friends look around to find another theater. Will the performance be able to go on, and will Nat finally get her chance on stage?
Strengths: This had all of the things that make up a good middle grade theater novel-- new friends, production details, a little insecurity, and a really big show. (Okay, if you said that in a certain voice, you've dated yourself!) Nat is a sympathetic character who wants more independence from her parents, who wants to pursue her own dreams, and who is glad to be involved in an activity about which she is passionate. There are lots of musicals referenced (Does anyone do Oklahoma anymore? Well, they do The Music Man, which also seems dated), and Nat clearly loves her stuff. Having her contact her best friend from back home a lot at first, but then decreasing the frequency was a good addition. 
Weaknesses: I would feel better if more middle grade books books focused on practical careers that society actually needs. That "boring" actuary job? There are lots of jobs available because it's something society needs. 
What I really think: This is an #ownvoices novel; Stroker is an actress who does Broadway and television. There is not a lot of representation of people who use wheelchairs (Sumner's Roll With It, Johns' Mascot and Super Max  and Ostler's, and Vaught's Bouncing Back are some of the few I've read in recent years.)