Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Twelve

Lin, Cindy. The Twelve
July 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Usagi lives in a world where some children are born with extraordinary powers, either ones that are animal like qualities or work with the elements. She lives with her younger sister Uma and friend Toma, since her parents were killed when the Dragonlord took over and outlawed anyone with powers. Times are very hard, and the children survive by stealing food and trading it for necessities through Aunt Bobo. When they bring her some rice to trade, they watch a performance by musicians, and Aunt Bobo's yougn son Jago floats up into the air. The soliders capture him, and eventually get Toma and Uma as well. Usagi needs to get her sister and friend back, and when she comes across bandits Saru and Nezu, she joins forces with them. They are descendants of The Twelve, Warrior Heirs, and live on Mount Jade where they are trained by the Tigress and are attempting to gather the Twelve Treasures and keep them safe from the Dragonlord. Usagi has to undergo some trials before she can even be allowed onto Mount Jade, and must then go through extensive training before she and the Warrior Heirs can infiltrate the training site where her sister is held. Getting to the city is difficult, and when the group finally makes it into the training facility, Usagi finds that her sister and friend are enjoying living there and are angry at Usagi for abandoning them. Will Usagi and the other Warrior Heirs be able to rescue the children being trained from being sacrificed instead, and will the Dragonlord be allowed to continue his reign of terror?
Strengths: Even with the refreshing number of fantasy books that are not clones of Lord of the Rings, it's still hard to find ones that stand out. This one does. It incorporates elements traditional to fantasy book, but puts a nice spin on them. The details of a world where the Chinese zodiac influences some children's powers related to the animals is described in a way that made me believe it right away. I was very glad to see that Uma liked the training facility-- that's a good twist! There's a voyage similar to classic medieval quests, training similar to Jeff Stone's Five Ancestors books, and enough food that Flanagan's Will and the Rangers wouldn't go hungry!(Although they might need to bring their own coffee!) The plot moved along quickly, and I didn't get too confused, which is always a plus when it comes to fantasy. I'm sure this will be a series, and that's okay!
Weaknesses: It would have added an extra layer of interest to have more details about life in China, and maybe an idea of a time frame for the setting. (You can tell I'm more interested in historical fiction than in fantasy!)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and already have several students in mind to whom I want to hand this right away!

Ms. Yingling

Monday, July 15, 2019

Storm Blown

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Courage, Nick. Storm Blown
July 16th 2019 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Emily lives in New Orleans with her mother and older brother, Elliot, who has been very sick. Her father works on offshore oil rigs. Emily is not happy that the most exciting thing about her summer is going to be reading My Side of the Mountain, because her mother is being overprotective of her brother and doesn't want Emily to have any fun! Alejo lives in Puerto Rico, where he helps his padrino (godfather) do yardwork at a fancy hotel. His mother lives in New York City but hasn't been able to send for him yet. Both children make poor choices when Megastorm Valerie starts to head toward both of their homes. Emily is concerned with some of the wild life in Audubon Park, and at some point even brings a turtle home with her. She misses hanging out with her brother and is angry at her mother, so when her mother is worried that Emily has a cold that could compromise Elliot's health, she's happy that her mother sends her off to stay with a friend... who has just left town. She hangs out in the park, sleeping in trees, and doesn't answer her mother's phone calls. Alejo is working at the hotel, and when the staff is told to evacuate, he stays behind, since he doesn't know where his padrino is. He even goes back to their apartment as the storm comes closer, and ignores the neighborhood women who are evacuating. Luckily, a reporter whose van he stole comes to his rescue in a helicopter. Alejo ends up in New Orleans, near where Emily is staying. Her father has driven through the storm, having been evacuated from the oil rig, and her mother is frantic that she can't find Emily, and that Elliot is also missing, having gone to look for his sister. A weather service crew is in the process of evacuating, and tries to reunite Emily and her parents, but it's touch and go. Eventually, everyone makes it to safety, but it is a harrowing trip to get there!
Strengths: There have not been a lot of storm survival books lately; after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were a few, mostly involving dogs, but those are now all historical fiction! This was more interesting, because there were lots of weather details about the storm mixed in with lots of action and survival. While survival books aren't wildly popular in my library, there is always a need for new ones. The storm depicted is a fictional one, but the details are reflective of weather events students see in the news all the time.
Weaknesses: I did not like either Emily or Alejo, since their foolish, selfish actions put so many people in danger! I also could have done without the chapters from the birds' point of view, but those are both purely personal preferences.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this title to hand this to readers of Smith's Storm Runners or Messner's Eye of the Storm. The cover is fantastic, and the this has a timeless feel that will give it a long shelf life.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Startup Squad

Weisfeld, Brian and Kear, Nicole C. The Startup Squad
May 7th 2019 by Imprint
Public library copy

Resa is super excited about the upcoming class trip to Adventure Central, and she definitely wants to win the money making competition to get the grand prize-- premium passes that will let her bypass the lines. Their teacher has assigned everyone in the class groups, and the groups must all sell lemonade at appointed times and locations. Resa is glad that her best friend, Didi, is in her group, and Harriet is amusing enough, but the new girl, Amelia, keeps shooting down all of Resa's best plans. TO make matters worse, there is a group of class overachievers who seem to undercut Resa's group at every available moment. They are certainly off to a poor start; they have trouble getting organized, making the lemonade, and even getting the supplies. Eventually, they figure out a way to make their product unique. Even though they run into some trouble even with that, they still manage to make a fair amount of profit. Will the competing group make more?
Strengths: I like books that show students doing and learning things, and this has some excellent notes on business practices at the back, and well as good tips during the story. The friend drama is very true to middle grade, and it's interesting to watch the girls learn how to get organized. This is a good length, and series books are always popular. The cover is very attractive.
Weaknesses: There is the typical multicultural group (Resa is Latinx, Didi in East Asian, Harriet is Vietnamese, and Amelia is the token blonde/redhead), but not many details that set the characters apart from the white default. While it's great to have a variety of characters on the cover and in the story, it would be nice to see more details.
What I really think: The whole premise of assigning children to sell a particular product out in public in order to raise money for a noneducational trip did not ring true to me. While I love books where girls are involved in business efforts (Santopolo's Sparkle Spa, Simon's Cupcake Diaries and Sprinkle Sundays, Schaeder's Teashop Girls), I think I will pass on this series unless the next book has the characters start a business that is less stereotypically  girl oriented. (Lawn mowing would be great!)
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Searching for Lottie

Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie
February 26th 2019 by Holiday House
Public library copy

Charlie has a school project to tell a family story, and she choses her namesake-- another girl named Charlotte who also played the violin. Her grandmother's since, known as Lottie, was getting impressive feedback for her playing but was caught up in WWII. She relocated to Hungary, but was never heard from after the war. Considering how many people in her family Charlie's Grandma Rose lost, it never surprised her that Lottie was also gone. As Charlie begins her project, however, she starts to get indications that Lottie might have survived the Holocaust. With the help from a friend's grandmother who can read the old fashioned German script in Lottie's diary, Charlie manages to hunt down a cousin who settled in the states. He has some information, and an unlikely translator helps Charlie with some essential information. Even in 2010, when the book is set, the war was a long time ago. Grandma Rose doesn't get to see her sister, but she does get more information about her fate.
Strengths: I really like this author's style of writing, and her Kiki and Jacques does very well in my library. The fact that the story is based on her own family's history makes this even more interesting. The connection between the generations (the violin playing) will resonate with readers who want to know more about their own families or are interested in music. There are just enough coincidences to make this fun and not make us suspend disbelief.
Weaknesses: More of the book is spent in the modern day, and I could have used more details about Lottie's experiences during the war.
What I really think: This is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews during that time, and younger readers will be inspired to learn more after reading this. However, I need books that are much more descriptive of the events of the Holocaust for my 8th graders who do an in depth unit on it in Language Arts classes.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Drone Pursuit (Tom Swift: Inventors' Academy #1)

Appleton, Victor. The Drone Pursuit (Tom Swift: Inventors' Academy #1)
Published July 2nd 2019 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Tom Swift is a students at the academy started by his father (who must be the great grandson of Tom Swift and the grandson of Tom Swift, Jr.). The students are all technologically savvy, and the curriculum allows a lot of exploration. Tom and his friend Noah have a drone that they use to spy on others in the hallway, which isn't common, but isn't punished, either. When the school servers go down, a substitute shows them a video of famous hackers, and the boys become convinced that the school custodian s actually a much wanted hacker, Shadow Hawk. When their drone uncovers some interesting things in the school basement and the custodian starts to act suspiciously, they up their investigation, finding computers with code streaming on them and a more widespread conspiracy than they imagined when it comes to the school computers. Can the boys, along with classmates Sam and Amy, figure out why there is no information anywhere online about the custodian and who is compromising the school computers?
Strengths: Tom is a well meaning, good kid who doesn't take advantage of his family's position. He supports his friends, and is willing to take the blame when they get in trouble. Cyber crime is a real threat, and there are not enough books that depict it. Kids saving the day is always a good thing, and there's a little bit of a twist with the actual culprit (although I did see it coming). It's good to have an inventors' academy and children interested in science.
Weaknesses: This just didn't have the cheesy goodness of international terrorists stealing uranium and Tom busting them by using fantastical inventions. I can buy a drone at Best Buy, but I don't think they have Megascope Space Probers!  While there is an attempt at a diverse cast, to quote from the Kirkus review "Tom and Sam present white; Noah presents black, and Amy presents Asian." Other than names and physical descriptions, there is nothing to otherwise indicate diversity. 
What I really think: Like the Club CSI books, this is a series (upcoming) that has a light mystery, some action, and is told with humor. I can see it being very popular with reluctant 6th grade readers. I was just a bit disappointed that it wasn't more like the fun, pot boiler originals. #MGLit could use more pot boilers!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray

Keating, Jess. Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray
July 9th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nikki loves to experiment, but often does so with unfortunate consequences. After her latest "death ray" ("It's just a laser, Mom!) blasts a hole in her floor and makes the neighbors pay attention again, her mother gives up. Since the incarceration of her father for similar activities, Nikki and her mom have had to move several times, and her mother finally feels that going to a special school will challenge Nikki more and make her less destructive. Once Nikki realizes that if she doesn't go to the Academy, her mother will be imprisoned, she reluctantly goes, and is glad she can take her ferret with her. Once there, she learns that the curriculum is science based and interesting, but also very spy skill oriented. The other students are all related to other geniuses, like Einstein. Before Nikki can get really settled, however, a mission takes the group off to Italy to catch a thief.
Strengths: I love Keating's writing (How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel), and I love that she includes strong female characters with a love of science. Books set in secret schools are fairly popular in my library: this would be perfect for a reader I have who always wants an "academy" book. Science, international travel, and espionage, combined with ferrets, make this an appealing title.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Nikki as much as I had wanted. Maybe it was the ferret!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this, but it seemed like something I had read before.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Girl of the Southern Sea

Kadarusman, Michelle. Girl of the Southern Sea
May 23rd 2019 by Pajama Press
Public library copy

Nia lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her father, who runs a fried banana cart, and her brother, Rudi, whose birth led to their mother's death. Her father drinks excessively, often taking the money needed for rent on their shack or for food. Nia no longer goes to school, since the family does not have the fees. She works around the home and helps her father with the banana cart. When she is taking the rent to the landlord, she is involved in a bad bus accident and is the only one who escapes unharmed. A local merchant, Oskar, helps her home, and then spends a lot of time around the cart telling everyone about her miracle of survival. Nia charges more for the bananas and life seems to be looking up, since she has also decided not to let her father have any money at all, lest he spend it on alcohol. However, the people who willingly buy her good luck fritters eventually turn on her for her higher prices, her father leaves and is apparently in another city with another family, and Oskar breaks into the house claiming he is only looking for the dowry Nia's father promised him. Nia is not ready to go down so easily. She confronts Oskar and his mother, and even hunts down her father. She even gets a job as a literacy tutor at her old school, and is able to make a better life for her and Rudi.
Strengths: I love books like Cruz's Everlasting Nora, Saeed's Amal Unbound, or Venkatraman's A Bridge Home; and I don't know that I've ever read anything set in Indonesia! The details of housing, clothing and daily life are all good, and Nia's fight to improve her life is admirable. This is an #ownvoices book, but since the author doesn't currently live in Indonesia, she had a sensitivity writer. I love that attention to detail.
Weaknesses: Not a weakness with this book, but I would like to see books set in other countries where the children are not horribly treated. I don't want my students thinking that everywhere else in the world is a horrible place. They need to know that sometimes it is, but there should be some balance.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Canadian writers seem to be putting out books on more cultures than US ones? There have been a lot of great books coming out of Canada, and I'm glad that we get them. (Unlike Carrol's Ultra, Scholastic! I'm still bitter!)
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Blastaway and Rocket Man

Landers, Melissa. Blastaway.
July 9th 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kyler Centaurus have four obnoxious brothers who play soccer or other sports, while Kyler is more interested in science. He would really like to visit the Fasti Sun Festival, but his parents are against it, since Quasar Niatrix is behind it. Niatrix is a businessman who runs a successful corporation and is fabulously wealthy, but Kyler's dad is always protesting against him. Tired of dealing with his brothers and not getting his own way, Kyler decides to take the family ship and go to the festival by himself. He decides this is a bad idea, but falls asleep at the wheel and accidentally steals the vehicle. He gets to Fasti, where he meets Figerella Jammeslot. Fig is a mutant, which means she is the descendant of people who left Earth to live, mutated to better survive in space, and are now not welcome on the planet without a lot of paperwork. Fig's family contracted to destroy things, but her parents were killed and their ship destroyed. She accepts an assignment from two space pirates, Corpse and Cadaver, to blow up a man made star at the festival. Since she needs a new blaster as well as some money, Fig takes the assignment. She also plans to steal Kyler's ship, so she befriends him. He had already had a run in with the pirates, managing to kick them out of his ship. Soon, the two take off back to earth. Before long, there are all kinds of complications, including meeting up with Captain Holyoake, another mutant who knew Fig's family and tries to convince her to stay away from earth. Kyler's parents keep trying to reach him, and after the news that a star was stolen from the festival and is heading to earth, he finally returns their call. It will take all of Fig's skills and Kyler's determination to save the earth, arrive their safely, and not fall prey to giant dust mites or space explosions!
Strengths: I liked Kyler and Fig, for different reasons. Kyler doesn't fit in with his family, and decides not to take the abuse his brothers give out. He knows that taking the family ship is wrong, and really thinks it through. He is understandably naive, but survives well. Fig is reacting to how her people are treated, and does some things that aren't too nice, but has a core of grief that motivates her to do them. Neither character is perfect, but they are likable despite their actions, due to their backgrounds. That's a hard thing to pull off. There's plenty of space action as well, an understandable plot, and some cool science. Also, Quasar is a good evil villain!
Weaknesses: There are a few slow spots; some of the details about the interplanetary politics and Fig's guardianship could have been pared down.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I always need more space adventure books like Levy's Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy,  Fry's Jupiter Pirates, McDougall's Mars Evacuees, and Kraatz's Space Runners.

Ashby, Ruth. Rocket Man: The Mercury Adventure of John Glenn
Published February 1st 2019 by Peachtree Publishing Company
(first published October 30th 2004)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Not only was John Glenn the first person to orbit the Earth, a military veteran, and politician, but he was from all accounts a kind and exemplary human being. While this book focuses more on his Mercury Seven mission, it also includes information about his childhood, military career, and training with NASA.

While there have been a number of other books about Glenn and his mission
including We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves by Carpenter, et al.,  Wolfe's The Right Stuff,  Burgan's John Glenn: Young Astronaut (Childhood of Famous Americans) and the excellent National Geographic Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn (Photobiographies) by Don Mitchell, this short book is a combination of many of these. Told in a Childhood of Famous Americans with many dramatized conversations, but with more details about the actual mission, the book is highly engaging and readable.

The mix of personal and public events makes this even more intriguing. While I generally like more chronologically arranged biographies, there is a good annotated timeline at the back of the book to help navigate the narrative if necessary. It was fun to see glimpses of Glenn earning money to get a bike for a paper route in order to help his family, and the experiences of his wife and children when he was involved with NASA are something I have not really seen in other biographies. It would have been nice to have more pictures accompanying the text, but there are a number at the back of the book.

Since Glenn passed away in 2016, it is good to have updated biographies of him. With the fiftieth anniversary of the moon walk in 2019, there seems to be a renewed interest in all things NASA. This re-issue is great to hand to readers who have also devoured Olson's Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13, Aldrin's To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure,  Slade's Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon,  and Mark Kelly's Astrotwins fiction series.

I could have used more information about Glenn's life after the mission. While his death is listed in this, there does not seem to be much revision from the earlier version.

Monday, July 08, 2019

MMGM- Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Spradlin, Michael. Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai (Medal of Honor #3)
July 9th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

The Medal of Honor series covers the events that won real people the Medal of Honor. Like  Ryan Pitts Afghanistan and Jack Montgomery: World War II, and the upcoming (January 14, 2020) John Basilone: World War II: Bravery at Guadalcanal, Leo Thorsness is a well-researched, short read (144 pages) that students who enjoy books about wars gulp down! These are nonfiction, but in the vein of the Landmark Books. If you have a middle school or high school library, you MUST take a look at these biographies!

Leo Thorsness was young when World War II was being fought. He grew up on a farm, and times were tough. When he graduated, he followed in his brother's footsteps and joined the Air Force. He had a career well underway and a lot of training under his belt when he was sent to Vietnam to fly missions that destroyed Vietnam strongholds. Pilots had to fly 100 missions before being sent home, and Leo was well into the 90s when an air fight went badly wrong and he went down over enemy territory, along with several pilots from his unit. He was held prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton and endured six years or torture and deprivation before being set free. He won the medal of honor for this mission, although he didn't think he deserved it. Glad to be home after being set free, he threw himself into a life public service and wrote his own book about his experiences, Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey.

These books are brilliantly plotted. I'm usually a fan of linear narrative-- tell me about the main characters childhood, then follow a timeline through the war. However, that leads to dull stretches that young readers don't appreciate. Instead, Spradlin intersperses Thorsness' back history with the more interesting scenes of him in air battles. While I have read a lot about WWII, I must admit that it doesn't really interest me. When there are enough details about particular types of planes, weaponry and battle strategies that I get a little lost, I know that this is just the right amount of details for my readers who can't get enough about WWII.

Tying these "adventures" during war times to real individuals who were recognized for their bravery is a great way to put a face on history. Spradlin shares just enough biographical details to make us want to root for Thorsness without dragging the story down. The short length is fantastic for nonfiction, and I've had lots of students who will polish one of these off in a day! I hope that this series continues for quite some time!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Past Perfect Life

Eulberg, Elizabeth. Past Perfect Life
July 9th 2019 by Bloomsbury YA
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ally's life in a small Wisconsin town hasn't been perfect, but she's happy. Her father works in construction, and sometimes things are financially difficult, but she's applying for college scholarships and has a good chance of attending a state university, since she's always done well in school. Her best friend, Marian, is from the biggest family in town, so Ally has built in "cousins" and even a grandma. As her 18th birthday approaches, she may even have a boyfriend in Neil, but things start to go wrong. Her father is arrested... for kidnapping her when she was three. The two are separated and not even allowed to talk, Ally has to move in with Marian's family, and her long lost mother is determined to visit her. Ally is angry with her father, but also misses him, and just wants to stay with Marian and the people in town who are fending off reporters for her. When her mother, Paula, arrives, she is relieved to see Ally (whom she calls Amanda), and demands that she come back and live with her, her husband, and her ten year old daughter in Florida. Since Ally is actually NOT 18 (her age was another thing her father lied about), she has to go. Paula lives in a much nicer house and buys Ally lots of clothes and a new cell phone, and makes a great effort to spend time with Ally and make sure her life is perfect. But it's not, and Paula can't understand why Ally would rather be back in Wisconsin with her friends. Ally's young sister is also very upset, since she has had to live her whole live in the shadow of Ally's disappearance. After Marian and Neil visit Florida, Ally has to decide if she will continue to try to work things out, or return to her regularly scheduled life.
Strengths: Secretly and occasionally, I think every middle grade reader imagines life with other parents, or thinks that surely they are really someone else! I loved that Ally had a great life with her dad and the two were close, playing games and having Taco Tuesdays. The father's backstory of why he kidnapped her was also very effective. The step father was also great-- he really understood want Ally was going through and really tried to help. The sister's reaction was realistic. The small Wisconsin town and the Gleason family were delightful as well. Eulberg is right up there with Smith, Dessen, West and Colasanti for high school books that cross over well to middle school.
Weaknesses: There are two f-bombs, but they are used in times of crisis. The mother comes off very badly; I almost wish she were a bit more sympathetic so that Ally's choice was a little harder to make.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm not happy about the language, but I have a desperate need for books just like this for some of my advanced 8th grade readers-- they want more high school drama and romance. Aside from the two f-bombs, this is circumspect in behaviors and otherwise very middle grade appropriate. This is sort of a The Face on the Milk Carton (Cooney, 1990) for a new generation. It was a great way for me to wile away a sunny afternoon!

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Emperor of the Universe and Babymouse: School-Tripped

Lubar, David. Emperor of the Universe
July 2nd 2019 by Starscape Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nicholas is a seventh grader who gets in trouble in school, probably because his parents are off traveling and he is living on his own, having finagled his way out of staying with an aunt and uncle. No matter-- he is soon whisked away into space, along with his hamster, Henrietta, and a package of ground beef. He accidentally smashes some Craborzi, who are trying to take him, and some of their technology makes Henrietta self-aware and makes her able to talk to Nicholas. The same is true of the package of ground beef, which Nicholas dubs "Jeef". Considered a brutal assasin, Nicholas is now on the run. With the help of Menmar space pirate Clave, the trio start their adventure through space. Having to deal with President Nixon, Zefinoran planet torchers,  and beagle headed Beradaxians isn't easy, nor is Jeef's lack of refrigeration, but the group manages to survive and, oh, yeah, Nicholas gets crowned Emperor of the Universe, which will make the second book in the series interesting indeed!
Strengths: Like Lubar's Weenies short story collections, this is packed with funny thoughts and lines. Henrietta is absolutely adorable, and Clave's desire to rule the intergalactic social media world an inspiration. Nicholas is just clueless enough to get himself into scrapes, but smart enough to get himself out. The variety of space aliens and different planets and technologies is impressive. This was a fun, quick read.
Weaknesses: This falls on the elementary side of the Pilkey line. I think it was the talking package of ground beef that pushed it over. Middle school students would only buy that if the packaged of ground beef stabbed someone in a violent and gory manner!
What I really think: I will pass on purchase, but elementary libraries should certainly have this on their shelves for discerning third graders who love space adventure... with a side of talking hamsters and alien slime!

Holm, Jennifer L. and Holm, Matthew. School-Tripped (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #3)
July 9th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Babymouse has found that middle school is NOT as exciting as she had hoped it would be, at least after the initial couple of weeks. She is still pretty thrilled about her smart phone, but otherwise middle school has settled into a routine. When her art teacher announces that the class will be traveling into New York City and visiting the art museum. Not only that, but because they are older and can be trusted, they will spend the day in the museum and not have to check in with chaperones; they just need to NOT leave the museum and be on the bus at 5:00 p.m. They are also not supposed to bring their cell phones. This, of course, is a ridiculous expectation, and Babymouse brings hers along. She also brings a portfolio of her work to show the curator, just in case she might want to stage a Babymouse art exhibition. Babymouse hears that some of the girls are going to leave the museum and go shopping, and she thinks this is a great idea. Along with her friend Penny, she leaves the museum and almost immediately finds a lost kitten. Dubbing the animal "Pizza Cat", the girls try to find the owners and end up having all sorts of adventures, including meeting Tommy H., their pop idol. At the last minute, they find the kitten's owner and barely make the bus, followed closely by the girls and their shopping bags. Babymouse is worried that she can't tell anyone information about the museum (other than the gift shop), but she manages to fake her way through in true Babymouse fashion.
Strengths: School trips have so much potential for humor and adventure, and are not depicted nearly enough in middle grade literature. This may, of course, be because no one takes trips any more because of funding cuts. This is a fun adventure in New York City with lots of food, fun characters, a cute kitten, and Babymouse trying (sort of) to do the right thing.
Weaknesses: The teacher in me wants to scream "This would never happen!" When we were in D.C., a group of kids wanted to eat at a shop right outside the Pentagon Mall, so I stayed with them while everyone else was outside. We just don't let children wander unaccounted away from school EVER. *Deep breaths* It makes for a great story, though.
What I really think: This will do well; my students always seem to be surprised that this series exists, which strikes me as odd.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, July 05, 2019

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Delacorte Books for Young Readers (April 9, 2019)
Public Library Copy

The author was born in South Africa in 1984. His mother had a difficult, impoverished childhood but managed to get secretarial training at a time when South African businesses were being pressured to have Black employees in more professional jobs. She managed to live in areas where only white people were allowed to live legally. She met Noah's father in her apartment building. He was Swiss, so did not particularly care that it was illegal for blacks and whites to have relationships. The crime of the title stems from this; while there were colored people (who were both black and white) who held a certain place in society, it was rare to have someone who had one white and one black parent. Trevor was not allowed to associate with his father in public, and it was even dicey for him to claim his mother, since he was light skinned and she was not. His grandmother didn't even like him to go outside when he visited her house!

Descriptions of things like these is why this is an important book for US students to read. While we still have a long way to go to achieve racial equality, we do not have the level of prejudice and racial violence that the author saw growing up. There are stories of bus trips gone wrong, descriptions of the places he and his mother had to live, and the tale of his step father, Abel, who shot his mother. What was most alarming to me was that Noah had a fairly privileged childhood in some respects. He had supportive family who were in good health, got an education, and had places to live and food to eat. There is an upcoming book Krone's Small Mercies (Catalyst Press, March 2020) that shows an even harder South African Childhood.

Apparently the author is on a television program, The Daily Show. I'm not sure if this will make this book more popular, but I will purchase it because I am always looking for books that show what daily life is like in other countries. It's always good to keep our own lives in perspective!
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Echo Park Castaways

Hennessey, M.G. The Echo Park Castaways
July 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Neveah has been in the foster care system her whole life, and has seen less than optimal placements. That's why she's glad to be with Mrs. K. The house is fairly organized, there is always food, and no one is mean to her. Mrs. K., however, has struggled since the death of her husband and is not very interested in being involved with the children, so a lot of the care of the younger Mara and Vic falls on her shoulders. She's okay with that-- if she can help Mrs. K. out, her place is secure, and she can make it through the four years of high school and get into college on a scholarship for foster children and become a doctor. When a new child, Quentin, is added to the mix, things start to get complicated. It's difficult enough that Vic deals with his grief by pretending to be a spy, and that Mara rarely speaks, and is more fluent in Spanish, but Quentin is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of different behavioral issues than Neveah has seen. When Vic promises Quentin that they will go find his mother, who is ill and in the hospital, Neveah panics when all three younger children are gone, and follows their trail from Echo Park to Torrance, California (about twenty miles) on a variety of buses and trains. She catches up with them eventually, but the trip in general does not go smoothly. The children find out some secrets, narrowly escape tragedy, and bond in a way that makes them more of a family. They also finally get through to Mrs. K., who realizes that she must move beyond her own difficulties to care for the children.
Strengths: I love Neveah's attitude about life! Things are great, but they could be worse, and if she works hard enough, things will get better! I wish more middle grade characters embraced this philosophy! Vic's spy interests seem a bit quirky, but are well described, Mara's silence is understandable, and Quention's depiction is realistic for a child on the spectrum with few life experiences. Their adventure to Torrance is also portrayed realistically, with enough challenges to make it interesting, but with no horrible consequences. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Weaknesses: Ever since Linda Mullaly Hunt's One for the Murphy's, I've been careful about books involving foster care. There were portions of this that seemed odd to me (Nevaeh describes the people who foster children as either very religious, in it for the money, or old, and she describes a placement where children were forced to make dog beds after school each day before being fed.) I'm sure there are horrible foster parents out there, and since Hennessy works with children in foster care in LA, so I will assume she knows more about children in the program than I do.
What I really think: I wish the cover were a little better, but I think this book will circulate with my readers who like problem novels. This author's other book, The Other Boy does well. Definitely purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

A Storm of Strawberries

Cotterill, Jo. A Storm of Strawberries
March 5th 2019 by Yellow Jacket
Public library copy

Darby and her family live on a strawberry farm. Her older sister used to be very close to her, but as Darby is a tween and Kaydee is in high school, the two grow further apart. Her step father's son, Oliver, is very understanding and helps out a lot. Darby has Down Syndrome, and we see this reflected in her interests and behavior; for instance, she is very insistent that the yearly chocolate egg hunt happen as scheduled, even though her family is dealing with other issues. The business is struggling, and there are bad storms on the way. Not only does one of these damage a glass greenhouse, but the polytunnels also are in danger. Kaydee's friend, Lissa, is visiting for the weekend, so Darby is sad that the two of them are spending time together and excluding her. The bad weather continues, and Darby's mother becomes increasingly worried and agitated, but Darby is only concerned about the egg hunt. That is, until she sees Kaydee and Lissa kissing-- then she is concerned that Kaydee will spend even less time with her. Darby is instrumental in helping Kaydee when she goes out in the storm, and the family pulls together to weather the damage to the farm as well as the new information about Kaydee and Lissa.
Strengths: I was hoping for something that was a mix of Secrets, Blueberries, Brothers, Moose and Me and 14 Hollow Road, and this was pretty close. Darby was an interesting character, and I can't think of any other books narrated by a character with Down Syndrome. The sub plot with the sister was interesting, and the family reacted in a reasonable way. This is a British import, but didn't feel that way.
Weaknesses: I wish this had had more about strawberry farming and about the storm. Also, Darby's voice was a little inconsistent. A third person narrator might have been more successful.
What I really think: I may pass on purchase. This had elements that I liked, but didn't come together as a whole for me. My public library has it.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Rocket to the Moon

Brown, Don. Rocket to the Moon
March 5th 2019 by Harry N. Abrams
Public library copy

Yep. We've reached the point where historical events that happened fifty years ago are things I remember. Granted, I had just turned four and was much more interested in staying up past my bedtime than watching the moon landing, but I remember it!

Like Maurere's recent Destination Moon, Brown's overview of this event starts with some early technology. Rodman Law tried some very primitive rockets, but didn't have a lot of luck. This is interesting to see, though, since people have been trying to fly and get into outer space for a long time. Robert Goddard is covered, as is von Braun, but most of the book details the Apollo 11 Mission itself. More time is spent covering the details of what the astronauts experienced (nausea-- why wouldn't one get motion sickness in space?--and particles of poop floating in the air!) We find out specifics about the different mechanisms used in the flight, and get details about the moon walk, including the controversy about what Armstrong actually said. There are brief descriptions of Apollo 12 and Apollo 13, a very nice timeline, more information on Rodman Law, and a complete index.

Strengths: As much as I enjoyed Destination Moon, it's a lot of text. This graphic novel has more text than my students usually prefer (Holm's Sunny Side Up has the perfect ration of text to pictures and size of text), but since this has a ton of information, it's warranted. Brown's book, The Great American Dust Bowl, is the same way, and is one of the few things that made me understand the causes of the Depression. I'll buy Rocket to the Moon, and my students will certainly read it.
Weaknesses: The binding is paper over boards, so won't last long.
What I really think: I'll buy Rocket to the Moon, and my students will certainly read it. I am jsut feeling nostalgic for Babar's Moon Trip (1969)!

Ms. Yingling