Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dangerous Deception

20664416Kehret, Peg. Dangerous Deception
October 16th 2014 by Dutton Juvenile

Emmy's mother works in a department store, where she is in charge of selecting the winner of a yearly contest that grants someone's dream (available at the store, of course!). When Emmy snoops through the entries when the mother is sick, she finds a letter from a girl who says her family is hungry. Her mother can only turn over the details to a social service agency because the store policy is to not contact people individually, but Emmy not only decides to help, but takes the letter to school AND shows her teacher, who decides to turn a blind eye and let Emmy's group collect food for the family as a service project even after Emmy explains the situation. Emmy and her friends collect food from neighbors and arrange with Jelly Bean's brother to drive them to a bad part of town to deliver the food. They do this again, and Emmy talks to the girl, Sophie, who explains that her mother is sick. Things escalate, and Emmy not only talks to an elderly neighbor and climbs into a dumpster to rescue the family cat, but she talks to another creepy neighbor who seems suspicious, and takes a photo of what seems to be stolen merchandise in his apartment. She then leaves her contact information all around Sophie's abandoned apartment and goes to the police with the photo. Jelly Bean's brother crashes his car, and he and his brother end up in the hospital, and things go even more wrong from there.
Strengths: Kehret has done good suspense novels for years, and her following at my library is immense. Her writing is smooth and intriguing. I'm Not Who You Think I Am is in tatters, but the students still check it out. This book certainly has suspense, and the requisite children getting kidnapped and surviving by their wits.
Weaknesses: There are so, so many poor choices made by Emmy that this book just alarmed me from start to finish. Your mother could lose her job if her employer finds out she shared the entries? By all means tell your class and your teacher, as long as you instruct them to keep it a secret. Driving illegally with a teenager who is texting? No problem. Do it several times. Climb into a dumpster. Take a cat on the bus even if it scratches you with it's filthy claws. Make sure creepy criminals with stolen goods can find out exactly where you live. Argh! There are notes in the back of the book for various support organizations, and the mother says at the end that she would have gone through official channels to get the family help, but this included too many bad decisions for my taste. Also, what's with the horrible, computer generated cover? If we make it dark enough, no one will notice how bad the picture is?

20170580Ehrlich, Esther. Nest.
September 9th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

I strongly suggest reading this personally before putting it into a school library.

Admittedly, my problems with this were predominately personal. My best friend has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for over twenty years. My family has been affected by suicide. I cannot imagine giving this book to middle grade readers.

First, this is a historical novel, set in 1972. When the mother is diagnosed with MS, she becomes depressed in the extreme. While I'm sure this is still common, the treatment differs a lot today. We don't necessarily send people right to residential care, and I really don't know that electroconvulsive shock therapy is used to treat either condition. If this book were handed to a student whose parent had MS, I think it would be unnecessarily alarming. Notes at the end of the book (about past and current treatments) would be helpful.

Second, there are a growing number of books about suicide and its aftermath, and I don't think they are entertaining or helpful. I am at the end of my patience with books about parents who can't see past their own grief to help their children.

Most adult readers adore this book, but I would advise adult readers to look at this one and fully understand it before handing it to younger readers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ship of Dolls

20708785Parenteau, Shirley. Ship of Dolls.
August 5th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In 1926, Lexie is sent to live with her grandparents in Portland, Oregon because her mother has remarried and is working nights. The grandparents love Lexie, but are angry with her mother because they feel her lifestyle led to the death of their son in a fast automobile. Lexie is having some difficulty fitting in at school, even though she has a good friend in neighbor Jack. Her class is involved with raising money to pay to see Emily Grace, a blonde, blue-eyed doll, to Japan as part of a peace initiative. Snotty rich girl Louise bedevils her all the time, and the two both want to win the letter writing contest because the winner gets to go to San Francisco to see the dolls off to Japan. This is important to Lexie, because her mother will be singing at the ceremony. When Lexie takes the doll out of her teacher's room at Jack's boarding house so that she can understand her better in order to write the best letter, her teacher "punishes" her by making her sew a new dress for Emily Grace. This is not without its difficulties, but Lexie manages to do this with the help of her grandparents, and also manages to write the best letter... but Louise steals it and passes it off as her own, winning the contest. Lexie's grandmother decides that Lexie should go to San Francisco as well, and accompanies her on the boat there. During the trip, Louise is very ill and eventually owns up to her deception. Things don't go as smoothly as Lexie hopes they will in San Francisco, but she realizes which adults in her life care for her the most. A sequel, Ship of Hope, is in the works and will be from the point of view of a Japanese girl who gets one of the dolls.
Strengths: This would be a good companion to Kirby Larson's The Friendship Doll, and is a great introduction to a fascinating bit of history, since there were apparently more Japanese-American doll projects going on than I ever knew. Over 12,000 dolls were collected and sent to Japan, and although they were ordered destroyed during WWII, around 300 survive. Fun fact: more dolls were sent from Ohio than from any other state!
Weaknesses: There were parts of the book that were VERY slow. I loved dolls as a child, and loved to sew, but some of the descriptions of sewing the doll's dress dragged even for me. Also, the ending didn't ring true to me. I thought Lexie would have made a different choice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Evil Librarian

Knudsen, Michelle. Evil Librarian
September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Isobel Brown at publisher.

Completely hysterical. NOT for MY middle school library.

Cynthia's best friend Annie is smitten with the new, hot librarian, Mr. Gabriel, But Cynthia gets a weird vibe from him... because he's a demon. He wants to make Annie his bride and suck out the souls of everyone in the high school, and Cynthia is not about to let him. With the help of her crush, Ryan, the two consult the adults they think can help-- their Italian teacher, who ends up being killed, and the owner of an occult bookstore who gives them good advice but has his own demon-related agenda. They come up with a workable plan, but fighting demons isn't really covered in the curriculum, and when the new principal and a bunch of substitutes also turn out to be demons that have found the high school to be a handy portal into our world, will Ryan and Cynthia be able to fight them all?
Strengths: Clearly, Ms. Knudsen knows her library humor, but what I liked best was Cynthia's obsession with Ryan. She knows it's wrong; she doesn't need a guy; but she can't stop herself. Lived that! Their shared interest brings them closer, and I loved how they both came to respect each other. Predict this will be wildly popular in our high school library, where I am sending this one. Sadly.
Weaknesses: The first f-bomb was used under mitigating circumstances. The second... okay. But at one point they were just being dropped everywhere. Add to this a lot of demon violence AND Cynthia giving us a bit too much information about her, um, feelings for Ryan, as well as the bookstore owner's.. passion for the female demon, and I would not be comfortable if  6th graders ended up with this in their hands.

This is a shame, since a few editing choices COULD have rendered this just as enjoyable AND ALSO suitable for younger students.

Monday, November 17, 2014

MMGM- At Your Service

18104774Malone, Jen. At Your Service.
August 26th 2014 by Simon & Schuster/ Aladdin M!X
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Chloe loves living in the St. Michele hotel in New York City, where her father is the concierge. She also likes helping out, and is made a junior concierge by the owner, Mr. Buttercup, so that she can help with the younger guests. She manages to make even the brattiest children happy by scheduling things like practice sessions with the Rockettes for them. When King Robert of Somerstein and his three children stay at the hotel, Chloe is put in charge of their itinery, and accompanied by bodyguards, the royals (along with Chloe's friend Paisley) set off to see the sights. Prince Alex turns out not only to be cute, but also very nice; Princess Sophie seems stuck up at first, but warms to the adventure; but Princess Ingrid, the youngest, decides to run off from the group to investigate all of the penny smashing machines in the city. Chloe doesn't want to tell her father, thinking she will get in trouble, so the children band together to find Ingrid but not alarm anyone back at the hotel. Adventures ensue, there are some nice romantic moments, and everyone is okay in the end.
Strengths: This is a fantastic middle grade adventure. I love that Chloe is empowered to deal with other concierges and businesses in the city, and given opportunities to see New York, but always under some kind of supervision. I think this is probably the sort of book that my readers enjoy the most-- ordinary children who DO something.
Weaknesses: M!X publishes most of their books only in e book and paperback format, which doesn't work well for a school library!

The best thing about this book is that it's HAPPY. There are just not enough happy books for middle grade readers this year. The Cybils nomination list (my own choice included) is enough to drive adults to antidepressants. One 8th grader finished up a book the other day, returned it, and said, in all seriousness "Ms. Yingling, I know you don't hug people, but that book was so sad that I REALLY NEED A HUG!" So I hugged her and gave her a book with pictures of the 100 cutest cats, as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

So hear this, middle grade writers: We need happier books. I know they are harder to write. I know that humor doesn't feel as literary. But looking back at my past week of reading, there's been mental depression, economic depression, suicide, genocide, fantasy kingdoms going belly up, and dead or dysfunctional parents in nearly every single book. Gah! I really can't take any more sad books, and my students are getting weary of them as well.

Leave the title of the happiest book you can think of in the comments. Please!

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Letting Ana Go

16074809Anonymous. Letting Ana Go.
June 4th 2013 by Simon Pulse

When her cross country coach makes her keep a food diary to make sure that she and the other girls on the team keep up their calorie counts and DON'T descend into an eating disorder, our unnamed character starts to lose weight. Her best friend, Jill, is a ballerina on a dangerously restrictive diet, and her mother has gained weight and is given a hard time about it by her father. When her father ends up leaving her mother for another woman, and she starts to run faster times after losing about ten pounds, she starts to work with her friend on ridiculously low calorie amounts. This brings her the attention of a boy she likes, and she's determined to lose weight to get into a size two dress, even though she is 5'7". Vanessa, another girl on the team, is worried about her, but she attributes that to jealously. After collapsing at a meet, she has to bring her weight up, her mother starts working days in order to be with her, and her friends watch her more closely, but she is now struggling with anorexia and finds it hard to break the cycle. Her friend Jill is hospitalized, as is she, and she does gain weight for a while, but the book has a very sad ending.
Strengths: My readers are already craving a lot of problem novels-- this doesn't usually occur until deep into February! This was a good read, along the lines of The Best Little Girl in the World. There is some kissing and touching, but nothing too bad.
Weaknesses: I was bothered that this is an "anonymous" diary, when you know it was written by an adult somewhere. It's just too specific and message heavy to have been a real diary. I also wish there had been some information at the back of the book about eating disorder support.

I struggle with giving girls books about eating disorders, but in 17 years of teaching, I have only had two girls who had to go into treatment. In the one case, the girl came to my attention BECAUSE she was reading so many books about the topic, and she is doing better now. This book certainly didn't make an eating disorder look in any way attractive, although the fact that the father left the mother in part because of her weight (or at least that was her daughter's perception) was a bit alarming.) At any rate, a good spring board for discussion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Puppy Version

McDonnell, Patrick. The Mutt Diaries
October 7th 2014 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy received from the publisher.

This is another of the Amp! Comics for Kids series. This chronicles the adventures of Mooch (the cat) and Earl (the dog) as they seek out food, have love affairs with little pink socks, and generally bedevil their owners with their antics. A section is devoted to each of the animals, and shorter chapters are written by compatriots Sour Puss, Crabby, and Chickpea. Unlike Phoebe and Her Unicorn, this is a much more episodic collection, and the artwork is much simpler, with a charming minimalistic universality underscoring the messages of friendship. What I really want now is AAA! A FoxTrot Kids Collection.

Clearly, too much vocabulary for a comic book review!

20708823Hughes, Shirley and Vulliamy, Clara. Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane.
August 26th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

This early chapter book follows Digby, an English, anthropomorphic dog, through his adventures with his classic but faltering car. He and his friend Percy almost run off a cliff, get involved in a road race, and are at odds with Digby's neighbor, the wealthy Lou Ella, who buys a new car every year. Digby and Percy are more concerned with helping out neighbors than in winning the race. This is charmingly illustrated in black and red, with a retro feel to a lot of it. I am torn between knowing this should go to the elementary school and wanting to keep it for myself because it somehow reminds me of Basil of Baker Street.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Guy Friday- Arcady's Goal

20613835Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady's Goal.
October 14th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from Kidlitcon

Arcady is being raised on the eve of WWII in a brutal orphanage  run by an overbearing man he nicknames "Butterball" because his parents were deemed enemies of the state and killed. Food is scarce and punishment is plentiful, but Arcady has skills at playing soccer that set him apart. Hearing the rumor that the inspectors who visit the orphanage are sometimes soccer scouts, Arcady does his best to impress one inspector who does not seem like all the rest. It turns out that the man, Ivan Ivanych, wants to adopt Arcady because his wife left his life before they could have children. Ivan tries to put together a children's soccer team so that Arcady can play, but when the other fathers find out why Arcady was in the orphanage, they kick Ivan off the team as coach and refuse to let Arcady play. When the famous Red Army soccer team is recruiting in a nearby town, the two try everything they can to get a letter signed by the school so that Arcady can try out, but circumstances conspire against them.
Strengths: There are few books written about this period in Soviet history, and there are many things that would be useful to learn about this era. This has a nice sports tie in, and the inclusion of a picture of the authors father with a soccer team in the 1940s is a nice touch.
Weaknesses: There seems to be a disturbing trend in children's historical fiction to not adequately explain the historical setting for readers who have no prior knowledge. This is a nice story, but students might struggle with making sense of the emotional situations when they don't have the back story of the privations in the setting. I liked this better than Stalin's Nose, but still wanted more historical context.
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