Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dash

20578966Larson, Kirby. Dash.
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mitsi's life in Seattle falls apart. Her friends no longer talk to her, and her family is given a week to report to a relocation camp. They sell or give away many of their belongings, but Mitsi is devastated to learn that she will not be able to take her beloved dog, Dash, with her. No one seems to want Dash, but eventually, a new neigbhor, Mrs. Bowker, agrees to take him in. Once Mitsi arrives in a camp, she must spend her time acclimating herself and her family. Her grandmother finds other older ladies to hang out with, and her parents busy themselves as well, but her brother Ted falls in with a bad crowd of teenaged boys who steal and generally cause trouble. Eventually, the family gets moved to somewhat nicer quarters and settle in, and Mitsi even makes a friend, Debbie. Mrs. Bowker has been sending Mitsi letters from Dash, and after a while, dogs are allowed at the camps, and Mrs. Bowker travels to deliver him.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what life was like for Japanese-Americans during this time period, and covers the events leading up to Japanese going into camps as well as events that happen once the family is there. Clearly, Larson has done her research. This also kept me turning the pages even though I've read a number of books on this subject. A good companion book to this author's Duke, and is a good resource if World War II is studied in school.
Weakneses: Mitsi's emotion was tied up more in Dash (and in her brother) rather than in anger at being in a camp. There are quite a few books out there on this topic-- Kadohata's Weedflower, Conkling's Sylvia and Aki, and baseball themed ones from Fitzmaurice and Hughes. Uchida's Journey to Topaz (1971) is still excellent, and based on her personal experiences. For emotional impact, I still think that Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine is still the most gut wrenching, especially when it comes to pets. This is certainly a good choice for a fresh title on this topic, although there are others I would buy instead if I had a limited need for books about the Japanese Internment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Slice of Life Tuesday- Busy

I don't do busy.

Well, normally.

When the planets align, I have a plan that I stick to very closely. I go to work early, get things organized, help a lot of students in the library, go home, talk to my daughter, snuggle with my dog, and read for five hours before going to bed early and repeating this routine.

Cross Country season, ailing parents and LIFE has gotten in the way of this recently.

Practice goes from 3-5, except on Tuesday, when we have meets and I get home closer to 7. We also go to invitationals on Saturday mornings, so instead of sleeping in and going grocery shopping, I leave the house at 6:00 a.m., stand in fields yelling at children for a while, and get home about 2 p.m. Naps occasionally happen despite the best plans. Visiting my parents and doing a variety of chores for them takes some time as well.

"Losing" a few hours a day throws my plans into chaos: my dining room table is full of all the clothes I have worn during the week, books pile up unread in my office, and meals become just plain weird-- last night Picky Reader and I had scrambled eggs and couscous. I put the last of the garden tomatoes on mine.

Because of the way my days are normally structured, I read a lot. When I don't, I get antsy. I also like my world to be tidy. REALLY tidy. When it isn't, I don't feel comfortable.

Cross Country is a really worthwhile endeavor, and I love supporting the students and getting to know them in another setting. That said, when we have our final meet on October 7, I will be a bit relieved. I will be glad to go to Kidlitcon in Sacramento that weekend and meet old blogging friends for the first time. Then, when I return home I can once again spend more time talking to my daughter while rubbing the dog's stomach, read lots of books, and corral all the untidy piles of LIFE that have accumulated in all the corners of my world.

Oh, and get to work on reading all of the CYBILS middle grade fiction nominations. That starts 1 October!

Home (The Magic Thief #4)

18298645Prineas, Sarah. Home (The Magic Thief #4)
September 16th 2014 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Someone is stealing the locus stones of the magisters, and Conn is accused because everyone else will die if they touch the stones. He wants to investigate, but Rowan (who is now the duchess) and Embre (the underlord) want him to stay safe in the Dawn Palace as ducal magister. The street urchin in Conn balks at this, so before long he is back in the Twilight, pretending to be a chimney swift and discovering that Crowe is back and trying to mastermind a plot to take the government back from "youngsters". The magics are acting up, and spells are going awry,and Conn needs to figure out what his role in the kingdom really is, especially since all he wants to do is to return to Heartease, where he can be warm and eat Benet's fantastic cooking. (There is a lovely illustration of his room in the attic, complete with fire. Sigh.)
Strengths: This seems like it is a nice and cozy conclusion to a steady series. After all of his travails, Conn finally figures out what his lot in life is. I liked the characters and the setting.
Weaknesses: Things threaten to blow up in this one but nothing really does. There could be a bit more action.

These didn't quite blow me away, but they are enjoyable and have circulated well. Good comfort reading for your die hard fantasy fans. Check out the others in the series:
The Magic Thief, The Magic Thief: Lost, The Magic Thief: Found

Monday, September 15, 2014

MMGM- Fantasy League

20821010Lupica, Mike. Fantasy League
September 16th 2014 by Philomel 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Charlie has a head for football statistics and can pick winning players out for the various fantasy leagues he is in. His best friend, Anna, is the granddaughter of Joe Warren, the owner of the Los Angeles Bulldogs. The team hasn't been doing very well, and has become the object of ridicule on local radio shows. Anna thinks that Charlie should do his own podcast in support of the team, and encourages him to talk about the players he thinks might help. Charlie has crunched the numbers and has some ideas for players that the Bulldogs should consider adding-- and mentions them to Joe. On of these is Tom Pinkett, whom everyone seems to think is too old, but whom Joe had rather wanted on the team. The general manager, Anna's Uncle Matt, disagreed. Tom is eventually brought onto the team, and later, another wild card picked by Charlie, the injured bad boy Sack Sutton, is brought on as well. The national media picks up on Charlie's involvement, and Joe feels that if he and Matt shy away from the publicity, it will look bad, so Charlie is invited to all the games. It doesn't help that Joe is fighting lymphoma, and his relationship with Matt is a delicate one. Charlie is leery of all of the attention because it takes a lot of time, and he's still trying to keep up with school and his own lukewarm career in Pop Warner football, where he is a big help to the coach but not as good on the field as he would like. Will Charlie's talents help him out in the long run, or cause him more troubles than they are worth?
Strengths: Lots and lots of good information on football strategies and statistics. There are game descriptions for the Bulldogs as well as Charlie's Pop Warner games. I love that Anna is such a strong female character-- she knows her football, she likes technology, and she and Charlie have an easy friendship where they both respect the other. Tweens will love the brush with fame that Charlie has, and the family relationships are all positive and strong, even when less than ideal. This will never make it back to the shelf in my library, since it has so many elements for which students ask.
Weaknesses: There's a bit too much discussion of Charlie's longing for his absent father for my taste, but Lupica does manages to stop just short of being maudlin about it. It does lay the foundation for Charlie's nice friendship with Joe.

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Takes Two

18775435Payton, Bell. A Whole New Ball Game (It Takes Two #1)
May 20th 2014 by Simon Spotlight 

Ava and Alex's family relocate from Boston to Texas so that their father can take a job as the head football coach. Little did the girls know how crazy the town was about football. They become local celebrities, but worry about the stress that their father is under. Their older brother, Tommy, is on the high school football team, and there is some tension since he is the coach's son. Ava, who is very sporty, is more concerned about making friends (especially with the cute Jack) and surviving her middle school courses; Alex, who is very interested in fashion, is more concerned with doing well academically and adding school activities to her resume. They have some misunderstandings, and both struggle a bit to fit into the new environment, especially since they have their own rooms for the first time, but fit in well enough.
Strengths: Interesting topic-- what is it like if your father is the football coach in a town that actually cares about high school football? Relocating from Boston to Texas is an interesting transition as well, and what middle grade girl doesn't secretly want to have a twin? Fun series.
Weaknesses: Why are twins always portrayed as polar opposites? I would think there are some twins who are extremely similar to each other!

18775456 Payton, Bell. Two Cool For School (It Takes Two #2)
May 20th 2014 by Simon Spotlight

The Sackett twins start seventh grade, and there are issues right away. Ava is struggling with language arts, and is having a lot of trouble concentrating on her assignments, and getting bad grades. Alex is wanting to get in with the popular crowd, but it might mean choosing a group of girls over a boy she thinks is cute. Meanwhile, their parents are really stressed out with the demands of the coaching schedule-- their mother is trying to keep up with her pottery business, but the PTA makes it very clear that her primary function is to be a good coach's wife and plan things around the football team. Their father forgets their 20th anniversary, but the girls and their brother make plans for a nice dinner. Ava ends up being tested for ADHD, and the family (and their community) realize that football can't be the end all, be all for the family.
Strengths: Ava's troubles in school are interesting and well done, although really, who wouldn't struggle with White Fang in the seventh grade? Let's punished the advanced students by making them read Classics! I liked the involvement of the whole family in the story. Just fun.
Weaknesses:If Alex were my twin, I would probably slap her. She'll become a cheerleader yet. Still, looking forward to Double of Nothing ( August 26th 2014 by Simon Spotlight; even though it's about a school election. YAWN!) and Go! Fight! Twin (October 28th 2014 by Simon Spotlight).



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sew Zoey

18689725 Taylor, Chloe. Knot Too Shabby! (#7)
June 3rd 2014 by Simon Spotlight

Zoey is having an awesome summer! She gets to go to New York and visit the design studio of her favorite designer, Daphne Shaw, and even gets a t shirt! Then, she and Priti are whisked off for six weeks of an arts summer camp. Zoey isn't happy that she isn't able to keep up with her blog AND that she doesn't have her own sewing machine so that she can keep making clothes. Priti hopes that her parents will reconcile while she is gone, since they have been fighting so much. Camp is a fun experience-- Zoey gets to help with costumes, Priti finds a boyfriend, and Zoey designs clothes for twins whose parents make them dress alike.
Strengths: Summer camp stories are hard to write, but this works. I like how Zoey is concerned for Priti and supportive of her.
Weaknesses: Still not buying the success of Zoey's blog! Might just be the bitter talking.

18723143Taylor, Chloe. Swatch Out! (#8)
June 3rd 2014 by Simon Spotlight

Priti's parents are getting a divorce, and her father has moved out. Priti is devastated, and Zoey tries to make her feel better by helping her decorate her new bedroom with the help of her aunt. She also helps her brother enter a band competition, and he does really well. Zoey designs a t shirt from the band and gets some attention from one of her favorite young rock stars and his sister! She tries to figure out who the very generous Fashionista is. She runs into trouble when her fabrics swatches go missing and she offends people by asking if they picked them up by mistake. Zoey also gets to design a dress for her friend's very young sister, Sophie.
Strengths: Again, the support of Priti is very nice, as is Zoey's patience with Sophie.
Weaknesses:  Meeting the rock start required a suspension of disbelief.

There are at least four more books coming out in this series: A Change of Lace, Bursting at the Seams, Clothes Minded, and Dressed to Frill ( June 16th 2015). I do like them very much, but after a while I start to wonder if buying such a long series is a good investment of funds! Much to my relief, I have had a handful of 6th and even 7th graders who are warming to the series! Hooray!

18607159 Harrington, Karen. Courage for Beginners
August 12th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Mysti is having a hard time. Her mother is rather quirky-- likes to bake bread, repaint murals on the walls, and never leave the house. Mysti's father is supportive and takes care of Mysti and her younger sister Lauren, but when he sustains a major head injury in a fall, he is hospitalized and the girls are left with their mother, who won't go to the hospital or to the grocery store even when the family starts to run out of food. At school, Mysti's only friend, Anibal, has reinvented himself as a hipster in order to get a girl to like him, and raises his social standing to a point where he not only won't talk to Mysti at school, he makes fun of her. Luckily, Mysti befriends the studious Rama, who has little patience for other students, especially when they make fun of her headscarf. As the months drag on and Mysti's father recuperates very slowly, food becomes an issue, and Mysti starts to have even more problems at school.When will the situatoin become dire enough for her mother to seek help?
Strengths: Middle grade readers like problem novels, as well as books where the children are in charge of their own survival. I especially liked Rama, and the subplot with Anibal rang true.
Weaknesses: The biggest complaint about books? "Nothing happens." This book starts out with Mysti describing nothing happening. Had it started with the father's injury, and then we slowly because aware of the mother's agoraphobia, this would have been more effective for me. It was also rather alarming that the neighbors who drive the girls to the hospital don't step in to help-- no one really does. When the doctor treating their father never sees the mother, he doesn't alert social services? Seems unlikely.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Guy Friday--The Walk On (Triple Threat #1)



20262599Feinstein, John. The Walk On (Triple Threat #1)
September 9th 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Alex Myers moves to a new town because his parents are divorcing, and finds, to his dismay, that the football position he plays, and is good at, is taken by the coach’s son. He’s not alone—there are other players who are not going to be able to play quarterback not so much because of Matt Gordon (who has some weakness in his throwing abilities) but because of Coach Gordon. No one doubts Coach’s results, but his methods leave something to be desired. In fact, one of his rules is that NO ONE questions his plays or his judgement. When Alex is nearly badly injured by a member of another team because of a call the Coach makes, the school newspaper runs an article about it, resulting in the reporter being banned and the coach (and newspaper editor) being fired. Alex is struggling with the move, missing his father, having a crush on a girl reporter who thinks he’s an entitled jock, and dealing with the politics of the team, but when he is accused of something he knows he did not do, he fights back with the help of his reporter friend as well as his teammates.
Strengths: SO glad that Feinstein has ended the series of reporting mysteries and moved on to things like Foul Trouble and this. This was very good. The fact that Alex is a high school freshman on the varsity team, the relationship with the girl who won’t give him the time of day romantically, the coach who is evil but has a son with integrity—I enjoyed it very much. There were a lot of football details, some of which I didn’t know about or understand, but that makes it all the better for my fans of sports fiction. Should probably buy two copies, since this looks to be a three book series.
Weaknesses: Don’t want to spoil things, but when Alex was accused of doing something bad, it was almost too much. Things were progressing nicely in the story, and that added a huge level of complexity that wasn’t quite necessary. A topic sports readers like, however, so big problem.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Waiver Day

We don't have students today in my district because we are all attending professional development sessions. For the last five years, I have presented "100 Great New Books" for a variety of educators. For those of you who couldn't make the sessions or who want copies, here is what I will cover today!



Just a Drop of Water

20344662Cerra, Kerry O’Malley. Just a Drop of Water
September 2nd 2014 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from the author/publisher
Jake doesn’t like to run cross country but loves track, and knows that his coach demands that he do cross country or he’ll be cut in the spring. He hopes to be made a team captain along with his long time best friend Sam, but a new boy and fast runner, Kirk, is made captain instead. When the Twin Towers in New York are bombed, Jake’s world is shaken. His mother, whose father was killed in a war, is nervous and upset, especially since his father had flown on business on Monday the 10th. One of the bombers was from the boys town of Coral Springs, Florida, and had withdrawn a large amount of money at the bank and was assisted by Sam’s father. Because his card was found with the terrorists things, he is questioned by the FBI and eventually taken away… because the family is Muslim. Sam suffers greatly at the hands of local bullies Bobby and Rigo, who are targeting any Muslims they can find. To make matters worse, Kirk’s father was working at the Pentagon and was killed. Cross country meets are suspended, school is a tense place to be, and both Jake and Sam are struggling to get through the days following the bombing. The school decides to try to help students by planning a peace assembly, and Jake realizes that Bobby and Rigo have something planned. Can he stop them from being complete idiots and causing even more pain to the community? Jake’s grandmother believes that “just a drop of water” can have a big impact, and Jake starts to realize that he can, too.
Strengths: This book does an excellent job of addressing a need in historical fiction—9/11. By next year, all of the students in our school will be much too young to remember 9/11. Not only was the day itself described much as I remember it, but the aftermath of public outcry and support are also accurate. Jake, Sam, and Kirk all have ties to the event that are convincingly described, and the cross country details are good as well. Sam’s lack of knowledge about his cultural heritage and then his suffering on behalf of it are a genius stroke.
Weaknesses: While the involvement of Jake’s grandfather in a previous war situation is a nice twist, and the presence of a neighbor who was in WWII adds some depth to the story, it also makes it slightly confusing.
 
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