Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Thanksgiving Treasure

1742897Rock, Gail. The Thanksgiving Treasure
September 12th 1974 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young

Addie and her friend Carla Mae want to make flower arrangements for Thanksgiving for their teacher and for home, so they go on a slightly forbidden bicycle ride to the other side of the Platte River in 1947 to get cattails at Old Man Rehnquist's farm. He refused to pay her father after he dug a pond on the property, and is generally the kind of old man who waves his shotgun around at people who trespass on his property, but Addie sees his horse, who looks like she needs exercise, and after listening to her teacher's discussion of the real meaning of Thanksgiving, decides to befriend the old man and take him a holiday dinner. She manages to hide enough food to take out to him, and Mr. Rehnquist reluctantly eats and and agrees to Addie's plan to exercise the horse, Treasure. In a development that should shock no one who grew up reading books like A Girl Called Al, Mr. Rehnquist becomes ill, Addie brings over her doctor uncle... but it's too late. She is left the horse, and the father is left the money he is owed.
Strengths: There are very few middle grade holiday tales, and students still ask for them. This is a short, easy read, and would be great for students reluctant to read historical fiction. It is one of the few books I remember reading in middle school, and I have The House Without a Christmas Tree as well.
Weaknesses: Both (hangs head in shame) of my copies look a bit ragged, having been in the library for over 40 years. The copy in my hand hasn't left the shelf for seven years. Sigh. They should go. I'm sure there were too copies because of the television programs with Jason Robards and Mildred Natwick. Even those programs look extremely dated, having been videotaped instead of filmed, and suffering from a 1970s lack of action!

Interestingly, also an eBook published November 4th 2014 by Open Road Media Teen & Tween.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks- Oh, Snap! (The Cruisers #4)

17166345Myers, Walter Dean. Oh, Snap!
August 1st 2013 by Scholastic Press

The students who run the "underground" newspaper at DaVinci Academy Middle School in Harlem are pretty pleased that their paper, the Cruiser, comes in third place in a survey by the School Journalism Association, but Ashley, who is editor of the official paper, the Palette, is less than pleased. The two papers start running competing editorials about a number of things, and when the Palette manages to arrange with a well known British school newspaper to run copies of their articles, the staff of the Cruiser contacts the school to see if they can connect somehow as well, mentioning that they have a picture of Phat Tony, who may or may not be involved in a gang related robbery at the local mall. Phat Tony, who has been arrested in conjunction with the suspected event, has capitalized on his "gangsta" status to try to gather would-be rappers at DaVinci, but the British school contacts Scotland Yard, which contacts the local police, and soon the staff of the Cruisers must explain themselves to the local authorities. More light is shed on the event, and Fat Tony is exonerated. and the newspapers agree to disagree.

Other books in this series are The Cruisers, Checkmate and A Star is Born.

Strengths: It's great to see inner city GIFTED children portrayed, and while gangs are addressed, the book is about journalism and things other than race. These books are all very short. I only have the first one in my library, but I'm going to order the other two now that I have a copy of the fourth. They are reminiscent in size and type face to Paulsen's Liar, Liar series, and while not funny like that series, will appeal to the reluctant middle grade reader who doesn't want to read "baby books". There were several other issues, like a mother who did modeling and commercials and was irritated that her ex-husband found an acting job, that readers will like.
Weaknesses: It's hard for me to believe that a middle school has ONE newspaper, let alone two, but that could be the case. The language seemed a bit off to me. There was some slang, not a lot, and it seemed somehow forced. Does anyone use the word "dig" to mean "understand" anymore?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Forbidden Flats

20342489Eddleman, Peggy. The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2)
September 23rd 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In this sequel to Sky Jumpers, Hopes community of White Rock is hit by an earthquake. The damage to the buildings is  bad enough, but the real danger lies in the fact that the Bomb's Breath, a fifteen foot wall of deadly gas, is lowering dangerously and will affect the community very soon. Local scientists decide that this can be reversed if they introduce seforium into the atmosphere, but the closest place this can be found is 500 miles away across the Forbidden Flats, in the Rocky Mountains. With the help of guide, Luke, several townspeople, including Hope and her friends, take off to try to get the seforium in time, taking with them Ameiphus (the medicine they discovered in the last book) to trade. The journey is treacherous, but Hope finds out information about her birth mother from an unlikely source.
Strengths: This series is a great dystopian one for middle grade readers. I liked the details about what happened during WWIII to make the climate and topography so treacherous, and the structure of the various towns and settlements that the group encounters gives a good cross-section of how people in a post-apocalyptic world might reimagine civilization. The children being the brave ones who save the day never hurts, either!
Weaknesses: The story line about Hope's mother wasn't all that necessary, and slowed down the narrative for me and felt a bit interpolative.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coolest video EVER!

Is there any doubt remaining that Rick Riordan is a rock star? I love this video! Now if I could just get my hands on a copy of Blood of Olympus! There's been such demand in my library that when a copy comes back in, I have to immediately check it out and deliver it to whomever is next on the reserve list.

Best moment last week: standing behind a student while he was at the lunch table and lowering the book in front of his face. I could see the HUGE grin, and the grab he made for the book was perfect!

MMGM-- Lady Liberty

2869724Rappaport, Doreen, and Taveres, Matt. Lady Liberty: A Biography
May 13th 2008 by Candlewick Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Told from multiple viewpoints in free verse, this slim volume covers a lot of little known and interesting facts about the design and implementation of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with Eduoard de Laboulaye, a Frenchman who wanted to thank the US, on the occasion of our 100th birthday, for setting France on their own road to independence, this book considers the points of view of workers, people who donated money, and people who saw the statue upon their arrival to the US. Accompanied with illustrations, this brings to life the importance of this national landmark.
Strengths: This is a topic that is good for students to know about, and this is a good length and reading level for a wide range of younger students.
Weaknesses: Like One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin, this suffers from horrible formatting. The words are crammed on one side of a two page spread in maybe an 8 point font. The pictures are okay, but not fantastic enough to crowd out the text. This would have benefitted significantly from being a larger format book with larger type, or even from giving an entire page to the text. It may sound ridiculous, but students base a lot of their choices on the size of the text. I have not been able to get anyone to check out the Charles Darwin book, which is a shame. Good text should not have to suffer from bad formatting choices.

18594423 Brown, Jennifer. Life on Mars
August 5th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Nominated for the Cybils by Bibliovore

Arcturus Betelgeuse (Arty) and his friends Tripp and Priya are working on the Clandestine Interplanetary Communications Module (CICM) that might allow them to talk to Martians. Arty's dad works at a planetarium, and the whole family is nuts for space, except for sisters Vega (who is more interested in her boyfriend) and Cassie (who is more interested in cheerleading). When their father loses his job and finds a new one in Las Vegas, Arty is mortified because the skies will have too much light pollution for him to continue his work. When the parents have to look for houses in Las Vegas, they leave the children with a pregnant aunt, who of course goes into labor. The sisters go visit friends, but Tripp and Priya are busy, so Arty goes to the home of a new and shadowy neighbor, Cash. His parents don't even know Cash's name, but it turns out that Cash was in the space program but never got to space. He and Arty start hanging out together before the family has to move, and Arty tries to make his peace with leaving his friends and his home.
Strengths: Lots of nice curriculum tie ins and good details on the friendships both with the children his age and with Cash. It was nice to see a story about a boy with a particular interest and passion for a topic. Good cover.
Weaknesses: Found it hard to believe that Arty's mother would send him to be with a neighbor she didn't even know, and the beginning of the book was a tad science heavy. I'll encourage students to struggle through the odd family names and get to the story.

Side note: Even I was not crazy enough to name my children Aurelia and Zenobia, which I was tempted to do. That's just mean, to give your children weird names.

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 23, 2014

Black Flame

16073070Blackcrane, Gerelchimeg. Black Flame
April 30th 2013 by Groundwood Books 

Kelsang is an enormous Tibetan mastiff puppy who is born to a shepherding family. His mother is killed early on, and his master is tricked into selling him to an unscrupulous buyer, He gets taken to Lhasa, where he escapes and runs wild in the city. An elderly artist lets him stay in his courtyard and brings the dog food when he comes home, but the two mainly ignore each other. Since mastiffs arevery valuable, other men take him and keep him locked up, which is horrible, since mastiffs like to run. Eventually, he is found by Han Ma, who is a volunteer working to save antelopes, and Kelsang proves to be a great asset in many ways. When Han Ma has to go back to work at a school for disabled children, Kelsang stays with a friend of Han Ma's, and has various adventures guarding a store. When Han Ma and Kelsang are finally able to be together, the two are very glad, and Kelsang is able to roam the mountains, get his exercise, and love his human.
Strengths: This is a great book for #WeNeedDiverseBooks since it was translated (very beautifully) from the Chinese. It is a must read with Secret of the Mountain Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, since both have Tibetan mastiffs! Readers who like classic animal tales, like Jim Kjelgaard's books or Farley's The Black Stallion series will adore this.
Weaknesses: US readers might struggle to make sense of the setting at first, since they won't have prior knowledge of this area of the world.

I'm just glad that I don't have a Tibetan mastiff! What an enormous dog! It probably sheds the equivalent of my Yorkie Poo every single day!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- Lowriders in Space

20980944Camper, Cathy and Gonzalez, Raul. Lowriders in Space.
November 4th 2014 by Chronicle Books
Copy received at Kidlitcon

Lupe (an anthropomorphic fox?), Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), and Flapjack Octopus all work long hours at a car dealership, where they wish that they could open their own store. A way to do this presents itself-- there is a lowrider competition, and the three find a junk car and use their skills to trick it out. Using parts from an abandoned airplane factory, they create a vehicle that manages to go into space, where it gets further embellishment from the stars and scientific phenomena the group runs across. Coming back to earth, their car is deemed the best, and they are able to contemplate new adventures once they have their own shop.
Strengths: The artwork in this is great-- it's done in three colors of ball point pen, which gives it a very unique look. It was great that the main mechanic was female. There is a lot of Hispanic culture as well as some Spanish language in this book. If there is a strong interest in cars in your library, this is a must have.
Weaknesses: The octopus and mosquito seemed like slightly odd character choices, and there's not much interest in cars at my school. Still, middle grade readers will pick up just about anything in comic/graphic novel format. Be interested to see how this does.

Book trailer available here:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Guy Friday- Zombies of the Caribbean, John. Zombies of the Caribbean (Zombie Chasers #6)
October 7th 2014 by HarperCollins

Now that Rice's addition of Spazola Energy Cola to the antidote has not only rezombified everyone but made them into Super Zombies, the crew must find a way to save everyone. Luckily, they have a boat and can sail around the Caribbean, hopefully avoiding most of the zombies. They look for scientist Nigel Black, and find him in a zombie proof fortress. He tells them that they need to find a frilled tiger shark and bring it back to him so he can work on an antidote. After much adventuring, the group does, but the zombie plague is not over yet-- the back of the book warns us that book seven will be The Zombie Chasers: Chews Your Own Adventure.
Strengths: Students LOVE this series. It's goofy and gross, and the cartoons of zombies with eyeballs popping out, people throwing up, etc. is part of the... charm. Lots of action/adventure and children saving the world. Also, a cute dog.
Weaknesses: Not my personal cup of tea. Glad that every single book by this author is always checked out, but getting a bit weary of having the read the books! Seven books is plenty in a series!
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