Saturday, December 10, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Double Down

30051627Kinney, Jeff. Double Down
November 1st 2016
Donated copy I need to process quickly!

I promise, I will get organized and back to ACTUAL reviews this weekend (Thanksgiving). 

This was perfectly fine, Greg is up to his usual high jinks, although the whole gummy worm incident on the back cover doesn't occur until page 191 of 217, which led me to my Wimpy Kid epiphany.

These don't really have a plot. Or they have a plot, but it doesn't emerge until the very, very end, and it's often different from what we have been lead to think the plot will be. This would explain my confusion. I keep waiting and waiting for something to happen rather than hearing Greg's memories about previous incidents, and by the time it does, I have given up hope, and don't really know where the whole Lego incident/play date with odd child fits in. 

Luckily, I never have to explain these to students or offer up a plot sysnopsis because these fly off the shelves on their own. Unless they are all "being glued back together" in my back room because the 8th grade boys refuse to read anything else and I get a bit irritated since we have so many other books that are even better. 

Rant done. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Guy Friday--Clayton Stone: Facing Off

Jones, Ena. Clayton Stone: Facing Off
July 30th 2016 by Holiday House
Library Copy
Nominated for the Cybils Award by Publisher/Author

Following his exploits in Clayton Stone: At Your Service, Clayton has established himself as an asset to national security and is approached to protect the president's son. In order to do this, he has to attend the prestigious Sydney Brown school and live with Captain Thompson, who is still injured from the previous mission. Clayton's exuberance works against him, and his first encounter with Kyle, the president's son, doesn't go well. Add to that a very competitive school environment as well as Clayton's lacrosse playing with the school team, and things get complicated very quickly. Clayton's new friend, James, is having his own family problems, which turn out to be a larger part of the perceived threat than Clayton could imagine. 
Strengths: I liked this one better than the first, and there is a lot of decent spy work. Clayton, of course, is incompetent but well meaning and hardworking, and readers who like Rylander's Codename Zero and The Fourth Stall will enjoy his antics. Serviceable middle grade title. 
Weaknesses: I'm more of an Alex Rider fan. I like my main characters to be good at what they do and not squirrely. 
25528665What I really think: I don't know that I will buy this. Why? The cover of the first book (at left) is abysmal. Abysmal. I don't buy many Holiday House titles for this very reason. I can't buy everything, and my students have to be forced to check out these titles. They would definitely pick up Facing Off because of the cover. Huge improvement. If At Your Service is available in hard cover with an improved jacket, I would definitely consider it. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Gap Life

25488290Coy, John. Gap Life
November 22nd 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Cray has had a decent time in high school and is glad to be graduating, but he is not okay with his father's plan for him to study to be a doctor at his father's alma mater. Cray doesn't have  better plan, so when he lets his folks know he is not going to college, they demand that he find employment right away. No where is hiring, but Cray runs into a girl at a coffee shop. Rayne is not the shiny, cheerleader type whom he generally dates, but she is interesting. She works at a residential home for adults with developmental disabilities, and they happen to be hiring. Cray starts his employment there, and hanging out with Rayne gives him insight into alternative plans (as well as a tentative romance-- she has an Italian boyfriend for a while), and he starts working on a trip to Spain where he can spend a gap year. 
Strengths: Coy is an excellent writer, and I adore his sports books. He understands teenage boys and works in tiny details that made me laugh. Topic wise, this is excellent-- how many high school students find themselves railroaded into their parents' vicarious thrills? Even the cover is spot on.
Weaknesses: I was going to buy this, but a poll of the 8th grade boys to whom I wanted to hand this revealed that they weren't really interested in a story about a high school graduate. Drat.

What I really think: This is an essential purchase for high schools. There is so little funny, realistic fiction for that age group, and this was excellent. Appropriate for middle school (a little too much beer drinking for my taste), but probably won't buy. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Dreidels on the Brain

28503724Ben Izzy, Joel. Dreidels on the Brain
October 4th 2016 by Dial Books
Library Copy

Life is difficult for Joel in 1971. His parents are older and constantly in and out of the hospital, and his father can't work because of his disabilities, although he tries to invent things. At first, Joel just wants to have a happy Hanukkah (no matter how it's spelled), and possibly get the collapsible top hat he has been wanting for his budding magician business, but when his father's health takes a turn for the worse, he has larger issues. His brother Howard is always locked away studying, and the situation at school can be tense, since he is the only Jewish student there. He is also taking religious education so he can be a bar mitzvah. The Hanukkah that unfolds is not really the one he wants, but an encounter with an elderly man on the bus makes him realize that life isn't as bad as he has been thinking. 
Strengths: There were so many wonderful details about life at this time that I adored this! There are not as many books about Jewish students as I would like to have, so this is a welcome addition. I liked that it had Holocaust survivors-- our 8th grade studies the Holocaust, but little attention is given to what happens afterward. I can see this book being popular because it's just funny. 
Weaknesses: The story rambles a bit-- the author is a professional storyteller, so a lot of this would be better read out loud. 
What I really think: Glad to have a copy. I don't see it being wildly popular, but I can see this being a regular circulator on my shelves for many years. 

We do not have many Jewish students in my school, although I usually have one or two a year who are very interested in their heritage. This is similar to the demographic make up of my schools growing up. Interestingly, I was in first grade when I met my first Jewish classmate-- Karen Rosenbloom. Her mother came to our class and made latkes. My only reaction to this was "Okay. I didn't know there were other religions. Huh." It never occurred to me to make fun of her or think anything bad about her religion. I had the same reaction when I moved in the third grade and met my first Catholics in my new community. 

There is something to be said for introducing children to differences at a young age. If I had made it to 12 believing that everyone in the world was Methodist, maybe I would have reacted differently. My students today don't understand why people were worried about John F. Kennedy being president, but my grandmother publicly averred that she would not have Catholics in her home. There were fireworks when my mother came home from college and crossed herself at the dinner table. She was Presbyterian, a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and not the most open minded person. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Hammer of Thor- A paeon, not a review

27904311Riordan, Rick. The Hammer of Thor
October 4th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by Bryce L.

How much do I love Rick Riordan's books? So much. My students do as well. This book lead to my favorite library moment of the year.

I frequently tell students that if they REALLY want a new book, they should ask their parents to buy it but not for them. For the school. Many of my students regularly buy books, especially at Half Price Books or the local WalMart, so this is not an unheard of idea. 

Sure enough, Bryce talked his mother into buying a copy, read it, and gets extra bonus points for remembering to bring it to me on a Friday at the very end of the school day so I couldn't possibly give it to another student to read. 

I read it on a Sunday afternoon when that was what I really needed to read. 

Is this the best book ever? No. Pretty much every plot of these is "Oh, no! We must go do a quest! Along the way, we will have adventures with mythical beings that are perilous and yet funny!" But that's okay. 

The books involve mythology. There's just not enough of that. They are hysterically, hysterically funny. Like Sonnenblick, Riordan is a master of the turn of phrase deftly inserted into a page where you least expect it. Riordan also rocks the absurd-- the giant bowling alley and the balls with rock stars air brushed on them will stay with me a long time! I also love how all of the series are subtly woven together-- while I can't wait to see the last book that ties all the characters together, I know that I will blubber so inconsolably that my family will probably need to be warned so they don't think something is really wrong with me. 

Riordan has also very carefully included diverse characters and miraculously has not pissed everyone off. Big bonus points for that!

My younger daughter is a huge J.K.Rowling fan, but I have long believed in the inherent superiority of Riordan, and not just because his wife once personally mailed me a Camp Half Blood t shirt and a copy of The Maze of Bones. The man is not a one hit wonder. He has serious middle grade writing chops. He has managed to stay on top of things for over ten years. His new books are always a joy and celebration. 

29092775Bacon, Lee. Legendtopia: The Battle for Urth
November 8th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Kara and her family have been surviving ever since her electrician father didn't come home one night. When a school field trip to a local mythology themed restaurant goes badly wrong after Kara's ventures into the back areas to retrieve a necklace her father gave her, she ends up with Prince Frederick following her around. There is a portal in his medieval world that connects to Legendtopia, and Kara accidentally opened the door. Not only does she get Fred, but the evil Sorceress also comes through, and she is bent on taking over the world, starting with all of the stores that border on Legendtopia. Can Fred and Kara manage to defeat her, her evil trolls and ogres, and not give away Fred's secret? Well, not in this book. The series has another installment ouJune 13th 2017, entitled The Shadow Queen. 
Strengths: I can't really fault this book on any technicalities. It had a great plot that held together nicely, a twist I didn't see coming, good characters, funny bits, and lots of things catching on fire and exploding. This author's Joshua Dread (The Nameless Hero, The Dominion Key) series is falling to bits in my library, even though it has hideous covers. Very solid middle grade book. 
Weaknesses: This wasn't quite as fresh or funny as the other series. Just felt like the story had been done before, although Legendtopia was certainly a winning idea. Maybe my expectations were just too high. 
What I really think: If I have money leftover, I'll buy a copy. 

29420481Flanagan, John. The Battle of Hackham Heath (The Early Years #2)
November 29th 2016 by Philomel Books
Preordered through Amazon.

Yep. In case you missed it, this is out. It is, oddly, all about a battle and stuff leading up to it. It involves a lot of Wargle blood. And eating apples after battles, while covered in said Wargle blood. 

Sigh. This was not my favorite, but there are FIVE holds on it right now. My boys are OBSESSED with Flanagan and have been for at least 6 years. They will reread. Younger brothers check out new titles to take home to their brothers in high school. It's kind of ridiculous and sweet at the same time. I usually love Flanagan, but this one had too much Wargle blood. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

MMGM- Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights

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.

28818218Farrell, Mary Cronk. Fannie Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights 
November 1st 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Fannie Sellins was a single mother trying to put food on the table for her four young children by working in Marx and Haas Clothing Co. in St. Louis. The conditions were wretchedly poor, so when she heard about seamstresses in Chicago and New York City forming unions, she rallied support from the workers to create Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America. Although the conditions were improved at this factory, it was still a very difficult way to earn a living. 

After serving as president of her local union, Fannie traveled to different cities giving talks about working conditions. In the early 1900s, these were often treacherous-- buildings in poor condition, workers riddled with disease, and dangerous jobs performed by very young children. The union not only worked to get these conditions improved, but took up collections to help families affected by them. Strikes were common and often brutal. At one of these, in Black Valley, Pennsylvania, shots were fired into a crowd, and Fannie was killed. The police inquiry absolved the officer, and even commended the force for keeping the peace!

While young readers may study a little bit about the labor movement in the United States, it is often impersonal. Focusing a movement around the actions of one person is a great way to encourage empathy for it by giving it a human face. 

The formatting of this book is excellent-- while I'm not usually a fan of larger books (this is about 10" x 10"), this size allows plenty of photographs and a lot of space around the text. While it may seem silly, this is a HUGE selling point. Readers are often reluctant to pick up books filled with dense blocks of text and few pictures. The buttons and cogs at the bottom of the sepia toned pages also make this a more reader-friendly book, and that will go a long way to entice children to read about this important historical figure. 

I loved this author's Pure Grit, but felt that it was too long and involved for most of my readers. Fannie Never Flinched struck an excellent balance between easy-to-read format and amount of information. It's a great starting point for National History Day projects (especially in 2016-17, with the theme being Taking a Stand!), and will intrigue and encourage readers to investigate the other sources listed in the bibliography. 

28114551Reef, Catherine. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of a Legendary Nurse.
November 8th 2016 by Clarion Books
Library copy

We're going to chalk this one up to a bad evening. I love biographies, I love stories of strong, influential women, and I think this book has a lot going for it. I just couldn't get into it. 

The good side: I was impressed by the number of pictures and illustrations this one had. I think these are important for students, because it both engages and informs them. When dealing with the 1800s, there are often few illustrations that can be used. This is clearly well researched, and I am definitely ordering a copy because (oddly) I don't have a book about Florence Nightingale, and this is a very solid biography.

The down side: This read more like an adult book. Instead of giving just the essentials, it had frequent digressions into relatives like "Mad" Peter, Florence being in a "torpor" in Egypt, and other things that weren't really useful for history projects or interesting. Since I once read an almost 400 page book on Cadbury chocolate (Chocolate Wars), I'm going to attribute my disengagement up to a bad evening. Everyone else seemed to really like this one. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Tig Ripley: Rock 'n' Roll Rebel

29005896Rue, Ginger. Tig Ripley: Rock 'n' Roll Rebel
September 1st 2016 by Sleeping Bear Press
Library Copy

Antigone (Tig) has decided that the world needs a girl group, and she's going to oblige. Even though she is just starting the guitar, and she talks her cousin into taking up the bass, she's sure that she can pull together a decent group. The quirky, punkish Robbie is a good fit for the lead guitarist, and Olivia already plays piano, so the keyboard is covered. None of the girls sing, however, so they approach middle school diva and mean girl Haley. She agrees to work with them, but since she is the lead singer, she feels that the group should bend to her every wish. She's more pop than rock, and Tig is bound and determined to have a rock group, which the girls have named Pandora's Box. Eventually, they have to give Haley the boot, and Haley's friends try to make life uncomfortable for everyone. There are ups and downs, but the group perseveres. 
Strengths: Who doesn't want to be in a rock band? I, personally, am going to spend my retirement years writing middle aged angst ballads and name my band Little Red Corvette. Like Christine Lavin, I will have at least one song about defrosting the freezer. 

Sorry. Got distracted. Strengths of the BOOK. This has several topics that middle school girls like-- girls drama, and music. It was upbeat, with realistic, supportive families. The format is excellent-- the cover good and the pages have a lot of white space. Serviceable middle grade title on a topic that is rarely covered, with a theme of girl power being an added plus.
Weaknesses: The dialogue occasionally sounded... wrong. The girl drama was cliche and the book was predictable to me. Will it be to the target demographic? No. 
What I really think: I think my readers will enjoy this one, even if it wasn't the best book I've read. Bonus points for no major characters dying. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Alex vs. The Four-Headed Gargantuan

26333542Peetom, Laura and Frank, Kevin. Alex vs. The Four-Headed Gargantuan
August 1st 2016 by Lorimer
E ARC provided by the publisher

Alex gets a job delivering papers to a small number of homes in his own neighborhood. He enjoys being able to go around by himself, takes pride in doing good work, and likes having spending money of his own, even if his parents don't let him have an ATM card and withdraw money at will. He meets some of his neighbors, has to learn which dogs are dangerous, and worries about teenage boys he sees hanging around. He also learns that spending his own hard earned money is different, and starts to save his earnings for a bigger purchase instead of buying small items on impulse. After running from the teenagers in a blind panic, he realizes that they are not the threat that he thought they were, and even befriends one. 

Books about middle grade children who have an interest or occupation are always interesting, and this has the added benefit of accompanying "Super Paper Boy" comics in between chapters, where Alex imagines that he has super powers. Readers can easily see themselves in Alex's position, and understand the difficulties he comes across. 

My favorite thing about this book is that Alex is not bullied-- he is just worried that the teenagers are going to bully him. This is brilliant, since children's perceptions of the world are often more horrible than the realities they face. 

While the drawing of the "gargantuan" is a bit odd, I liked the other illustrations. The text is simple enough for struggling or emergent readers, and the story a solid one filled with supportive parents and neighbors, new experiences, and a bit of fun along the way. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Holiday Caroling- The Carol of the Overdues

It's that time of year! The students have various reactions to me singing on the announcements. The 6th graders are amused; the 8th graders groan and cover their ears. 

I like to think it at least makes them smile. 

The first offering of the season is:

Enjoy!  (Or not, if you're an 8th graders.)

Guy Friday- Last Man Out.

28251280Lupica, Mike. Last Man Out
September 13th 2016 by Philomel Books
Library copy which I SHOULD HAVE READ BEFORE BUYING. Drat.

Tommy loves to play football, and loves to hang out with his father, who is a fire fighter. His sister Emma loves to play soccer. When their father is killed while fighting a house fire, everything goes to hell. The first several chapters are all about the death and the funeral, because that's always a joy to read about. From there, we alternate chapters of good football descriptions with Tommy lashing out and pummeling his teammates. Emma quits soccer and is sad all the time. The mother, at least, holds it together fairly well. Tommy then takes up skateboarding because recklessly endangering himself makes him feel alive. Eventually, he gets hit by a car when skateboarding and ends up with a dislocated shoulder which ends the football season for him. He and his family decide that they must try to move on. 

ARGH. Mr. Lupica, I'm going to start boycotting your titles unless they lighten up a bit. This was too freakin' sad. No one wants to go to funerals, much less read about them.

Already bought the stupid(That was rude, but that's how angry I am!) book, and fans of Lupica's will check it out and read it for the football descriptions. But this is too much sadness. Yes, losing a parent is the toughest loss, but why didn't the mother have both kids in therapy when they started acting out? The man was a firefighter. Surely she knew this was a calculated risk and had an emergency plan in place in case he died. Of course, that wouldn't have been as heart wrenching a story. People acting sensibly and rationally rarely is. 

Just done with sad. So done.

28185877Michelson, Richard and Rodriguez, Edel. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy
September 6th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Library copy

This brief biography gives a lot of background on Nimoy's life before his Star Trek fame, including information about his immigrant family, his education and early acting, and struggles to "make it big", which included driving the future President Kennedy around in California! I appreciated that there wasn't a lot on his Star Trek career, and that equal time was given to his art and life after the show. It was an especially helpful thing that the author, a picture book writer and art gallery owner, knew Nimoy personally. 

I'm a bit torn about this. Did I love it personally? Yes. Do I know a dozen people to whom I could give this as a gift? Absolutely. But are their students who want a picture book about him? Doubtful. 

As far as entertainment value, this is great. However, I'm looking at it as the only biography on Nimoy I am likely to have. As that, it fails in several areas. It lacks any actual photographs of Nimoy, or any reproductions of his art, which I would like to see. There's no timeline, no filmography, and no further resources to investigate. This would not be helpful to a student, for example, who wanted to do a National History Day project on the effect of Star Trek on popular culture. 

2086968Have I already purchased a copy? Yep. After all, I still have Blish's And All the Stars a Stage on the shelf, mainly because of the following sentence: "You give me a great big, blue green fuzzy frozen pain in my starbord rear, Admiral."

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Young Scrooge: A Very Special Christmas Story

27414460Stine, R. L. Young Scrooge: A Very Special Christmas Story
September 13th 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Library copy

Rick Scroogeman is an annoying idiot who takes great glee at splashing water on the front of his "friends'" pants, messing up their hair, and taking revenge on his classmates who don't want him to be in the Christmas play by infesting the costumes with ants. His single mother (yes, his father was killed in an accident) tries to keep him from also abusing his younger sister, but she is only marginally successful. Eventually, Rick gets locked in the attic and undergoes a Christmas Carol type visitation where he learns that schools in the past were rougher, children can be mean, and an R.L. Stine version of this story will involve attacks by creepy snow men. Eventually, he learns his lesson and just wants to go home, where the chances of him relapsing into buttheadedness are pretty good. 

Strengths: R.L. Stine has experienced a resurgence in my library, and we have classes that study this Dickens tale. The teacher is very excited to use this to do a compare and contrast activity. I still think we need to hunt down the Six Million Dollar Man version.
Weaknesses: This is exactly what I expected. A Goosebumps Christmas Carol.
What I really think: Hooray. It's in a jacketed hardcover. I'll buy a copy, which will be read until it is nothing but shreds of paper held together with book tape, but it's not very good. 

29275024Prendergast, Gabrielle. Pandas on the Eastside
October 4th 2016 by Orca Book Publishers
Copy provided by publisher
Cybils Publisher/author submission

Journey Song has a hard life in a poor neighborhood in Vancouver in the early 1970s. Her father didn't stick around after she was born, and her mother is an alcoholic. Journey's school has many students who don't show up, and her best friend Nancy is developmentally delayed. When her teacher's brother is killed in Vietnam, she and Nancy go to visit and meet Ms. Bickerstaff's live-in boyfriend. Since there are rumors that two pandas headed for the US have landed in a warehouse near Journey's home, she and Ms. Bickerstaff cut down bamboo and take it to the warehouse, with Ben's help. Journey's father shows up, and the two forge an uneasy relationship. Journey tries to get the pandas released with the help of her community. 
Strengths: The details of life in the early 1970s are very good, and Journey's hard scrabble neighborhood is lovingly depicted. This is realistic fiction, but a "what if" story about what might have happened to Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the pandas given to the US by the Chinese government, if their transport hadn't gone according to plan. 
Weaknesses: While this seems to be for elementary age children (the main character is 10), there are a lot of very blunt descriptions of people, such as this one on page 46: "My family doesn't like Ben, because, well, he's the wrong color and he doesn't want to fight in the war and we're not married..." Then she stopped. 'Gosh, I'm sorry. That's too grown up for you.' " If there were more discussion about the effect on Journey, this would have made more sense, but most are just thrown in. Also, since this isn't actually historical fiction, I think children would be very confused by it, even though there is a note in the back. 
What I really think: Interesting book. The publisher's description says that this takes place in 1973, but I don't think it's stated in the book. Since the pandas arrived in the spring of 1972, I'm going to assume the book takes place then. I was in first grade and VIVIDLY remember their arrival because I lived in a suburb of Washington, D.C. at the time. My class took a field trip to the zoo.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home

26813380Griffin, Paul. When Friendship Followed Me Home
June 9th 2016 by Penguin Random House
Nominated for the Cybils Award by Jennifer Donovan

Ben Coffin hasn't has an easy life. His parents were both killed, and he spent his first ten years in a group home, until he was adopted by his mom, Tess. They have a cozy life on Coney Island. Ben has his friend Chucky, favorite librarian Mrs. Lorentz, and her daughter, Halley. Soon, he also has a dog who (after much travail) he calls Flip. When an unexpected occurrence lands him with his Aunt Jeannie and her alcoholic husband, things are rough, but training Flip to be a service dog distracts both him and Halley, who is undergoing chemotheraphy for cancer. Things go south at Jeannie's, too, and Ben spends a lot of time at Chucky's house. Eventually, he ends up living with the Lorentz's, where he enjoys hanging out with the father, who works as a magician. Halley doesn't improve, and Ben learns some difficult lessons about life. 

Strengths: This was generally a positive book, despite the various sad events. Ben doesn't dwell on the bad things in his life; he tries to embrace Tess's philosophy and keep moving forward. The book was well written, the characters were engaging, and this was a quick read.
Weaknesses: So much sadness. I just knew all of the bad things that were coming.
What I really think: I'm going to buy a copy. It's got a good cover, has enough funny moments at the beginning to hook readers, and will be good for the increasing numbers of children who are asking for sad books like Wonder. Yes, I am getting more and more of them. Sigh.

Just to prove that "the familiar, even if it is not ideal, if what we love best", I have an all consuming desire right now to read  Journey on a Runaway Train. The premise looks absolutely ridiculous. Really? A secret society to return artifacts to their rightful places? Why do we need that, exactly? Clearly, so the children can run about doing this with minimal adult supervision. 

And yet, I want to read this so badly! At least there is an E ARC of it available through Edelweiss!

Warner, Gertrude Chandler (creator). Journey on a Runaway Train.

February 1st 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company
From the publisher

"In this all-new very special mini-series (five books long), the Aldens have been recruited by a secret society to return lost artifacts and treasures to their rightful locations all around the world! After finding a painted turtle figurine, the Aldens are introduced to the Silverton family and Reddimus Society, a secret guild whose mission is to return lost artifacts and treasures to the sites they were taken from. The Aldens board a private train to New Mexico to return the turtle to its original home, and they encounter enemies of Reddimus along the way! The trip is a success but instead of returning home, there s a last-minute change in plans. The Boxcar Children must continue the mission for the society and deliver more things, all around the globe!"

9780807507254_boxcarchildrenjournalAnd look, there's even a Boxcar Children journal! Why do I want this?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle and The Inquisitor's Tale

29013236Kent, Gabrielle. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle
October 25th 2016 by Scholastic 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Alfie Blook and his father, a misguided inventor, are barely scraping by, and school is unpleasant as well. Shortly before his 12th birthday, Alfie gets a letter from the solicitor Caspian Bone, telling him he has inherited a castle! Alfie and his father prepare to move to Hexbridge, which is conveniently near family in the British countryside. Once there, Alfie is amazed at the castle, and his cousins Madeleine and Robin join him in investigating the premises as well as the secrets of Orin Hopcraft, the Druid who left the castle to Alfie. 

Hopcraft's secrets fill this book with interesting twists and turns which I don't want to reveal! Let's just say that there is a talking bear rug, a shapeshifter, and time travel. In time honored British fashion, there's also a decent amount of tea being brewed, a helpful butler who cooks delicious meals, and a canopy bed. 

There's a pleasant tension between Alfie's real life, which includes reigning in his single father, getting settled in his new community, and surviving at school, and the magical dilemmas. Alfie holds a very big secret, and the fate of magic in the world, as well as the castle, falls on his slim shoulders. While he has some help from Caspian and Orin, they are not always present, and more adept at giving him enigmatic clues than actual help. 

In the grand tradition of L.M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe and Lawrence's Withern Rise series, Hexbridge Castle gives us a plucky hero, a fascinating mystery, and a venerable house packed with comforts as well as conspiracies. Readers who have enjoyed Stroud's The Last Siege, Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, or Bellair's The House with a Clock in Its Walls will enjoy this modern classic and be eager for a sequel.


Gidwitz, Adam. The Inquisitor's Tale
September 27th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
ARC from the publisher

In 1242 France, a group of various characters share their stories in an inn. The big news: three children have been wandering around with the ghost of a dog, trying to effect social change. They are a girl from the dog's family, Jeanne, who sees visions and has fits; William, a young monk whose father was a pilgrim and whose mother was Saracen; and Jacob, a Jewish boy whose village has been burned down. Together, they fight the injustices they see around them, although initially they were wary of each other, having been brought with social preconceptions. In Canterbury Tales style, their story is told from the point of view of various people (a nun, a jongleur, and the inquisitor, who collects all of their tales), and the finished copy of the book is to have illuminated pages. 

Strengths: Engaging enough, and the characters seem more historically accurate-- Jeanne isn't a spunky girl, the children don't automatically get along. The idea of a ghost dog venerated by villagers is interesting. 
Weaknesses: I have tons of medieval books that sit on the shelves gathering dust, including The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Karen Cushman's books, and Beckman's fabulous 1973 Crusade in Jeans. I've had a lot more students reading fantasy lately (to the point where I might have to break down and get the rest of Michael Scott's The Alchemyst series), so maybe there will be an uptick on traffic for books with the Adam of the Road vibe as well. 
What I really think: For $10.79 at Baker and Taylor, I'll buy a copy because it is sure to appear on a Battle of the Books list at some point. And it's shiny. I suspect Gidwitz is one of those authors who seems to appeal more to adults (like Betsy Bird, who think this is awesome) than to tweens. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

MMGM- Get Coding

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.

Sorry that I don't have a fiction book as well-- I'm struggling to find enough books to post! I've checked Edelweiss AND Netgalley, and still have read just about everything being published in December and January that I want to read. (Meaning all of the realistic fiction and about half of the speculative fiction.)

Anything that people have really liked that I've missed and should look for? 

28948548Young Rewired StateGet Coding!: Learn HTML, CSS & JavaScript to build a website, app & game
May 5th 2016 by Walker Books
ARC provided by publisher

Unlike many of the coding initiatives to get kids coding, this book plunges young computer experts right into creating a web site with HTML and goes further with Java Script and even building an app. The instructions are clear and precise, and the projects that are addressed are ones that beginning coders will definitely want to use. 

There is also a "mission" that fictional characters talk about in the text. Each chapter starts with a message (in 4 point font) about what Professor Bairstone and his colleague Dr. Ruby Day need to do. Scattered through the instructions are more tasks tangent to this mission that go along with whatever is being designed. The artwork for these characters is a bit goofy and appealing, and in the final version will be in full color. 

The information in Get Coding is also available on their web site, but the book would be useful to have at one's side while working on the computer if it's hard for you to toggle back and forth between screens. There's a lot of information, it's very useful, and it's formatted in a good way with fun pictures. 

I'm a little torn about this one. It's fantastic that it's giving children actual coding information instead of drag-and-drop websites. A couple of years ago, when our students participated in the Day of Coding, the organizer couldn't tell me what language they were using. WAAAAAY back in the day, I coded in Basic, one of the versions of C, HTML, and JavaScript. I designed the school website in HTML in about 2000. Even so, this book was a little bit of a challenge for me. I never did try to make an app. It was too daunting.

Really motivated students who have someone to help them or who have worked with code before will find this to be helpful and amusing. For my students, many of whom don't have any coding experience, I am looking for something much simpler and less dense. If this hadn't included the "mission", it would have been more useful for my school's needs, but also less amusing. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mission to Moon Farm

28691905Rocha, K.E. Mission to Moon Farm (Secrets of Bearhaven #2)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Spencer is still living in Bearhaven with the Weaver family of bears, trying to find out what has happened to his parents, who have not come back from a mission. When he overhears the bears talking about the fact that they don't really know what has happened but they don't think they should alarm him, Spencer runs off into the woods. He meets a girl, Kirby, who is trying to study the bears. Kate Weaver, his bear friend, thinks that Spencer is in danger and charges Kirby, but Spencer yells at Kate to shoo. Startled and hurt, Kate runs off, and gets kidnapped by the people who run Moon Farm, a cover for an illegal bear selling ring. With the help of Aldo, Spencer manages to find Kate, but the Moon Farm operation is extensive and evil. Will he be able to save her? And will he ever learn more about his parents?

Bearhaven is a well constructed world, with the Weavers' house being the warm and cozy center. There are lot so fun details about the kind of food the bears eat (salmon nuggets and some homemade peanut and seed butter for Spencer!) as well as flopping onto enormous couches. 

It's not all lazing about though, far from it! Moon Farm is a treacherous place, and other bears from the community have been lost to its evil devices. The cover of this book, with Spencer riding on the fierce Aldo, is indicative of the action in this title-- there's lots of running, close calls, and fighting. 

With its talking animals, Mission to Moon Farm will find fans from the Warriors crowd, but will also be enjoyed by connoisseurs of Northop's Amulet Keepers, Martin's The Ark Plan, and Rylander's Codename Conspiracy books. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cartoon Saturday-- Geronimo Stilton Fest

Yep. I'm pretty sure I can add to my resume "Geronimo Stilton Expert". At least, that's how it seems at Young Adult Books Central! I still have my readers who are enormous fans, and by reviewing them for YABC, I can meet demand without sacrificing book budget. I think I've gotten the different series figured out now. 

Stilton, Geronimo. The Wizard's Wand (Kingdom of Fantasy #9)
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central 

When Geronimo is worried about his stressful newspaper writing job, he travels in his dreams to the Kingdom of Fantasy. This time, he arrives to find that Queen Blossom is missing. When King Regal built the Crystal Castle, he had the help of the Book of Spells, Crystal Sphere, and Whispering Wand, and these artifacts could help rescue Blossom. However, Geronimo finds that they are missing as well, so along with his friends, tries to retrieve them in order to rescue the princess. 

For some reason, this series is often published in a paper over board hardcover, which is good news for libraries. The multiple full color illustrations make for a very lovely, if heavy, tome. Also a plus is the fact that these don't have the heavy chemical smell that other graphic novels have! 

The Kingdom of Fantasty series books tend to be longer and more complicated than the first series. There are more pictures, including maps and puzzles. New fantasy characters often get a two page spread describing them, and even objects in the story occasionally rate a break in the narrative to explain them. There are still the illustrations on every page, as well as the words in different colors and fonts, but these are a bit longer because of the additional information.

The story lines are also more complicated. While the Miceking series has simple plots where Geronimo must go and accomplish one thing, the fantasy plots often have two complimentary story lines as well as more characters. This makes the book a fun choice for more sophisticated readers who might like books like Harry Potter or Nimmo's Charlie Bone but who want a fun read with more pictures. 

29993757Stilton, Geronimo. Pull the Dragon's Tooth. 
November 29th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The chief of the Micekings is bound and determined to make Geronimo a "true macho mouseking" and enlists the aid of Max Musclepaw, who has an inordinate number of Miceking helmets to his credit. They decide to sail with Olaf and go off on an adventure to take care of some dragons who are causing problems. The group (which includes the regular gang, including cousin Trap) jumps off cliffs, rides wild horses, and smashes lots of things while eating lots of stinky cheese. Of course, Geronimo saves the day, which gives him a chance to impress his crush, Thora. 

The Miceking series usually has one major adventure that Geronimo must undertake in order to impress his crush. Along the way, there are lots of misguided adventures that usually end with several of the crew getting into trouble and needing to be saved. There is a lot more food mentioned in this series, usually progressively grosser, like pots of gloog. 

I think the real appeal of this series is the array of creatures who chase our main characters around. Geronimo always comes close to earning his mouseking helmet-- this time, he loses out because he falls asleep and misses the ceremony, even though he earned the honor. 

Have readers who adore the Redwall cartoon series? This is the book for them!
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