Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The King of Kazoo

28256458Feuti, Norm. The King of Kazoo
July 26th 2016 by GRAPHIX
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When a mysterious tunnel opens up in a nearby mountain, Bing, the daughter of King Cornelius and a budding magician, sets off to find out why it has appeared. She goes with her father, who is a bit dim and not the nicest monarch, and Cornelius, who is the royal inventor and does not speak. In comic book form, the three have an almost Phantom Tollbooth type adventure involving a local alchemist, Quaf, as well as other fantasy characters. 
Strengths: This reminded me a lot of the comic books we would buy at the Breezewood, PA gas stations when I was very. There was something about the artwork that reminded me of Richie Rich and Little Lulu. I was glad to see that Betsy Bird (who is much more well versed in comics and graphic novels than I am) offer a lengthy opinion of this book.
Weaknesses: I'm just not the audience for this. Reading this felt like watching random children's television from the 1960s for me.
What I really think: I will probably buy a copy, since my students would love this, but it just didn't do anything for me personally. 

28190256Krosoczka, Jarret J. A New Class (Star Wars Jedi Academy #4)
July 26th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Victor Starspeeder is excited to go to the Jedi Academy, even though his older sister claims that she won't talk to him at all. He has a lot of problems controlling his use of the Force, which gets him into a lot of trouble. When he arrives, he runs afoul of Artemis, who appears to be a Sith in training. In order to learn to control his anger, Yoda has him work on scenery for the school play, My Fair L8-E. This gets Victor close to his crush, Maya. He also spends a little too much time with Zach, an older cool kid who doesn't have Victor's interests at heart. 
Strengths: This is a combination of graphic and notebook novel, with Victor's journal interspersed with cartoon story panels. Many characters from the films are incorporated, there are others that are not from the canon. It's goofy fun, and fans of this author's other titles will not be too sad that this franchise has passed from Jeff Brown's hands. 
Weaknesses: These are for younger readers, or those who are not hard core Star Wars fans. I was surprised that Victor was allowed to use the Force irresponsibly. I'm just not the target demographic for this one!
What I really think: My 6th graders love these, so I'll purchase this once. Since it's paper over boards, I may or may not replace it when it falls apart. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Guy Friday- Still a Work in Progress

28814842Knowles, Jo. Still a Work in Progress
August 2nd 2016 by Candlewick

Noah's seventh grade year at his small school starts off a bit tense-- his friend Sam has left a tuna fish sandwich in his locker, boys are standing on the toilets to get in and out of the stall without unlocking the door (no one knows why, exactly), he's worried about the bigger kids giving him a hard time, and he and hid friends are trying their hands at asking girls out. Noah has bigger problems, too. His sister Emma had an unspecified issue last year, and he thinks it has returned, although his parents are so busy worrying about her vegan diet that they don't seem to notice. As the school year progresses, there is a school dance, Thanksgiving drama, Secret Santa difficulties, and a culmination of Emma's problems, which impact Noah's life considerably. 

I was expecting a straight forward, humorous school story with this one, but it ended up being an interesting issue novel involving anorexia. The cover, and the beginning anecdotes, all have gross, middle school humor such as the rotten tuna sandwich, a hairless school cat who wears pink sequined vests and gets into all kinds of scrapes, and anxiety about talking to the opposite sex (complete with glimpses of *gasp* a bra). Told in a standard, linear school year fashion, this will be an easy sell to readers who like funny stories that adhere fairly closely to their own experiences. 

There are some unusual quirks to the small school that will seem exotic to many readers. There are community meetings where students are asked about things like why people are standing on the toilets and what can be done to stop this from happening. Seventh graders are reading Lord of the Flies and then A Separate Peace, which are usually high school texts. Most schools no longer have Secret Santa exchanges, and some schools even lack the art classes at which Noah excels. 

The real stand out of this book is the unexpected inclusion of Emma's struggles with anorexia. While I had my suspicions after Emma's style of dress was described (three layers of sweaters and always being cold is rather a giveaway), Noah's narrative leaves the reader guessing until quite far in the book. While we see more of how this problem affects Noah instead of the progress Emma is making at her care facility, there are probably far more siblings affected by anorexia than there are people themselves affected, and there isn't as much in the literature from that perspective. 

While Still a Work in Progress is a great addition to eating disorder books such as Anderson's Wintergirls, Lytton's Jane in Bloom and Levenkron's classic 1978 The Best Little Girl in the World, the mix of humor and problems will find an audience with readers of books like Weeks' Guy Time, Acampora's Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face and Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mischief at Midnight

27882913Kerr, Esme. Mischief at Midnight
June 28th 2016 by Chicken House 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Edie and Anastasia return to Knight's Haddon after their adventures in The Girl with the Glass Bird only to find that Edie has to room with recalcitrant new girl, Janet. Not only that, but other things are changing as well. The tower, which had been used by the students, has been sold, and the students are very disappointed. Anastasia's father and mother are still very remote, and after her father cancels birthday plans, the girls decide to go to a fair in the village by themselves. They are found out, of course, but not until after someone presses two ferrets upon them, and they manage to take them back to school. Miss Fotheringay gives Edie approval to keep them in the animal shed even though Anastasia considers them hers, and Janet takes quite a liking to them. Janet gets Edie into all kinds of trouble, because she is perfectly happy to get kicked out of school. Edie and Anastasia have a fragile relationship anyway, and when Edie is accused of setting the ferrets free, the two fall out. Janet goes home with Edie for break, and seems to like Edie's family more than Edie does! Edie isn't comfortable breaking the rules, but she wants to remain friends with Janet, who manages to drag her into major trouble. 

Knight's Haddon is a boarding school that many readers would love to attend. I can think of a lot of older books that feature this type of school, but it's harder to find one set in modern times. Girls who liked Harry Potter but don't normally read fantasy will find this foray into the drama of interpersonal relationships when schoolmates are also roomates will enjoy both books in the series. 

Janet is an interesting character, if not a pleasant one. There are not a lot of students whose aim it is to get kicked out of school, but middle school certainly makes just about everyone entertain those thoughts from time to time! 

Drama, intrigue, and lots of unauthorized adventures make Mischief at Midnight a great read for students who harbor fantasies of attending a British boarding school.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Darkest Hour

26625720Richmond, Caroline Tung. The Darkest Hour
July 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Teenager Lucie Blaise's father is French, but she lived in the US. Now that her older brother has been killed in action during WWII, she has decided to use her linguistic skills and join the British covert ops team with other girls. Provided with a variety of different identities, she travels around on different missions. Her first mission is to kill an informant while she is disguised as a nun, but he claims to have more information, and she lets him go. When she finds out that the Nazi "secret weapon" is actually a horrific disease, she tries to figure out how to keep it from being used. It's hard to know whom to trust, as many people have divided loyalties or are not who they claim to be. There is a lot at stake-- can Lucie manage to keep herself safe while she is trying to keep the world safe?
Strengths: This had some interesting dealings with the Nazis and the various kinds of soldiers, doctors, etc. that had a part in that horrific war machine. Lucie isn't the most competent spy, but it's easy to identify with her and for the reader to put herself in Lucie's place. I like the cover. 
Weaknesses: It was hard to believe that Lucie was really recruited as a spy. Historical notes on real life spy organizations that involved young women might have helped. 
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy of this, but it lacked some spark. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Ministry of Ghosts

22654827Shearer, Alex. The Ministry of Ghosts
3 May 2016, Sky Ponly Press
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mr. Beeston, from the Department of Economics, is bound and determined to trim the fat from the budget, so when he finds information about the Ministry of Ghosts, he sets out to see if anything is being accomplished there. What he finds is Mr. Copperstone, who probably should have retired years ago, his able assistants Miss Rolly and Mr. Gibbins, and their flighty secretary, Mrs. Scant. There is also a cat, whose expenses come out of petty cash. Even though there is the pretense of getting work done, there have been no ghosts found or dealt with in the 200 plus years that the ministry has been in existence, which strikes Mr. Beeston as ludicrous. He gives the group two months to find a ghost or they will all be sent to the Department of Sewage or forced to retire. Upon reflection, the group decides that children are the way to lure ghosts, so they post an advertisement in the window of their dusty office. Two students from the nearby school answer it-- Thruppence, whose father owns a local fish store, and Tim, whose family has a woodworking shop that used to make prosthetic legs. The two are glad of a little spending money and investigate ways that they could find ghosts. In the end, they decide it is necessary to fool Mr. Beeston and contrive to fool him into thinking that a ghost has appeared... until they uncover a number of ghosts in an unusual place. 

Shearer, who has written a number of children's books in Great Britain but got his start by writing for television, seems to have a firm grasp on British bureaucracy. The details of the daily routine of the Ministry of Ghosts is rather amusing, as are the eccentricities of the people working there-- Mr. Copperstone takes naps, Miss Rolly writes letters to the newspapers about women's issues, Mr. Gibbins tries to do the crossword puzzle without anyone noticing, and Mrs. Scant is forever offering to make tea that never appears. 

Tim and Thruppence (a nod, perhaps, to Agatha Christie's characters Tommy and Tuppence?) are very modern children thrust into an old fashioned world, but they take their ghost hunting very seriously, investigating the dusty tomes and antiquated equipment in the Ministry, and using their knowledge to find a way to trick Mr. Beeston after their midnight trips to the graveyard yield nothing. 

There is a decided lack of ghosts until the fabulous twist at the end of the book, but this would still be a good choice for readers who enjoyed the work of Eva Ibbotson or Ruth Chew but aren't quite ready for the more violent ghost adventures of Catherine Jink's City of Orphans or Stroud's Lockwood and Company. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

MMGM-Click Here to Start

23502057Markell, Denis. Click Here to Start
July 19th 2016 by Delacorte BFYR 
E ARC from
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Ted's mother's Uncle Ted is in the hospital, and it doesn't look good, so Ted visits him one last time. He's a quirky guy who ran a liquor store and had fought during WWII with a Japanese division. He can no longer speak, but he gives Ted some instructions that seem odd until the will is read. Ted has been given the contents of his great uncles apartment, and he must unravel a mystery to find a "treasure". To help him along, there is an online "Game of Ted" that shows him clues as to how he might be able to find objects in his uncle's apartment, and later, other places as well. Aided by his best friend Caleb (whose father works with Ted's at the university, teaching English, but has recently left Caleb and his mother) and the daughter of the new department head, Isabel, Ted starts to clean out the apartment and learns a lot about his uncle's background. When "Clark Kent" shows up from a Hawaiian newspaper, wanting to do an article on the elder Ted's war experience, the children are apprehensive. Clark later claims to be Stan Kellerman, whose father was one of the Monuments Men who tried to get artwork stolen by the Nazis back to rightful owners. The children don't want to give away any of their own clues, but eventually get dragged deep into some real life danger. 

The use of video games will give this instant appeal to middle grade readers, and it was well done to have the game be involved in the mystery. The real life parallels of finding clues in the apartment, and later, using escape room game skills to help Isabel get out of her house were fascinating even if the reader does not play games. 

Isabel, a transplant from New York City, has a different view of the San Fernando Valley than Caleb and Ted do, and seeing it through her eyes (and seeing her through Ted's) creates some interesting juxtaposition. I love it when a city or area is so richly described throughout a book so that it almost becomes a character. Isabel's recent loss of her mother gives her father a good excuse for moving cross country, and isn't talked about excessively. 

Caleb's family situation is realistic as well, and not overdone. The best family situation is, of course, Ted's. His father brings his own quirkiness to the family-- he is of Jewish descent, with family back in New York, teaches English literature, and has an obsession with a catalog of French farmhouse furniture. Ted's mother is of Japanese descent and was raised in Hawaii, but came to California to study as a nurse. Using this cultural background to then bring in WWII history was especially brilliant. 

This book will appeal to a wide audience. Readers who enjoyed Schreiber's Game Over, Pete Watson will enjoy the video game component; fans of Fitzgerald's Under the Egg will enjoy reading more about the Monuments Men; detective story aficionados will revel in the inclusion of The Maltese Falcon story. This is a great book to hand to just about any middle grade reader since the cover is bright and appealing and the story highlights good friends involved in an intriguing mystery. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Thing About Leftovers

27272417Payne, C.C. The Thing About Leftovers
July 19th 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Fizzy (aka Elizabeth) is having a hard time-- her parents are divorced and there's no chance that they will get back together. Her father is remarried, and his wife is expecting, and her mother is going to marry her fussy boyfriend who doesn't seem to like children. At least her aunt is supportive, and believes that Fizzy can win the Southern Living cook off, and helps her practice and register. Fizzy's friends, Zach and Miyoko (who has her own issues with parents) are understanding as well, but Fizzy feels like every thing she does makes her unlikable, and she worries that she will get thrown out by both of her parents and have to live in foster care. 
Strengths: Even though there are problems in Fizzy's life, this is a generally upbeat book, and even the "difficult" substitute has Fizzy's best interest at heart. Books involving cooking, and especially competitions, are always popular with my students. Will definitely purchase. 
Weaknesses: Fizzy really was rather annoying, and I just wanted to slap her most of the time. I'm sure that children of divorce feel anxious a lot of the time, but Fizzy took this to extremes. Miyoko's parents were over the top as well. I prefer characters with a little more shading. 
What I really think: This will circulate well, my own personal objections to Fizzy aside. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Rise of the Robot Army

27206407Venditti, Robert and Higgins, Dusty. Rise of the Robot Army (Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape #2)
June 14th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Having spent the entire summer being the superhero Gilded and saving the world from all manner of crises, Miles has a hard time going back to middle school. His father wants him to concentrate on his studies and only use his superpowers for extreme cases that regular law enforcement can't handle, but school is boring, and saving the world is fun! Even his best friend, Henry, thinks he is over using his powers, and agrees with Miles' dad that he should be grounded. Angry at this intervention, Miles lets down his guard and is kidnapped by General Breckenridge, who thinks that Miles is an enemy of the US, and who wants to become Gilded himself. Henry is also kidnapped, and the two meet Lenore, a foster child who had the bad luck to be near the first Gilded's onion farm when the General unearthed a space ship there. It's not easy to escape, especially when the General gets his hands on the cape. Can the three make it out, and defeat the robot army?
Strengths: I loved Miles' supportive father, and they way that he tried to get Miles to pay attention to school. This story moved along fairly well, with enough super hero action to keep me interested. I like the inclusion of comic strip style art.
Weaknesses: This had some slow moments since everyone was in captivity and kept getting drugged. The first book hasn't circulated as well as I'd hoped. The covers should somehow incorporate the cartoon panel format so I don't have to flip through the book to sell it to readers. 
What I really think: This should be more popular. I'll see if I can drum up interest in the first book before I invest in the second. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Guy Friday- Supergirl at Super Hero High

27405470Yee, Lisa. Supergirl at Super Hero High
July 5th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by publisher 

When the planet Krypton is in danger of exploding, Kara Zor-El's parents put her in an escape craft and send her to earth. She ends up living with the Kents, although Clark is a good ten years older due to variances in the time-space continuum. While the Kents are very nice to her, she feels that she should probably go to school somewhere else, and Korugar Academy. She also is a fan of Wonder Woman, so she's okay with going to Super Hero High. When she arrives, however, she damages the Amethyst Tower and proceeds to make a lot of klutzy moves. She does make friends with tech support helper Barbara Gordon, who works at the school but doesn't go there, and people aren't too unkind. She even makes some good friends when she invites everyone to the Kents for Thanksgiving. When dastardly deeds are occurring involving the school's Boom Tubes (sort of portals to other times and places), Supergirl helps to investigate, and comes to feel that Super Hero High could be her home. 

Strengths: DC and Marvel comics are huge right now, and I have a lot of students who are REALLY into the stories and movies. (I had a big conversation with one about whether Batman or Superman would win. I'm sorry. Batman? No. But comics are not my flavor of geek.) I think it's especially important to get boys to read books about all sorts of girls and given the problems that have faced women who do embrace the world of comics, throwing in some female super heroes is an excellent idea. I'm very sure that this series (Wonder Woman at Super Hero High) was started with the best of intentions. 
Weaknesses: Like the first book in the series, this felt a bit contrived. Clearly well researched, with lots of DC characters thrown in, it would have helped to have an index of characters in the back, for those of us who aren't fluent in DC. I was a little confused by Granny Goodness not being evil and thought she would come into play more. 
What I really think: Even though I would like these books to be a little better written (and not be in cheap paper over board bindings!), I'm kind of looking forward to reading about Barbara Gordon when it comes out January 3rd, 2017, especially since these can be read independently. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Inside Job: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy (Superspy #2)

26073006Pearce, Jackson. The Inside Job: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy (Superspy #2)
July 12th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ARC from Baker and Taylor

After Hale realizes in Doublecross that Sub Rosa Society is evil and the League is good, he and his friend Walter are joining forces with the League members to try to get money for the financially strapped organization by going to Switzerland and getting the money out of a bank there. They are stymied, however, because the teller is being blackmailed by SRS. They work out a deal with Hastings-- if they get forged papers for his Tibetan Mastiff Annabelle and get back jeweled books that were stolen for him, he will give them access to the money. Hale and his companions frolic around Europe, stealing golf carts, locating the clown Twinkle Meatloaf and generally getting into trouble, even running into Walter's mom. They eventually fulfill Hastings' wishes and get enough money for the League to do some renovations.

22929538Strengths: This was a lot of fun, and a good choice for readers who like comic crime novels like Horowitz's Diamond Brother Mysteries, Salane's Lawless, and other books where things blow up and children are on the run. While Hale is still portrayed as unathletic, there are not as many comments about his avoirdupois. 
Weaknesses: The first one hasn't been a hit in my library. The cover is cartoony in an elementary way that a middle school way. I'm not sure what all that entails, but it is a problem. 
What I really think: I got a copy of the first book at a book look. Will see if it circulates better in the coming year before I buy this second book. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Outrun the Moon

26192915Lee, Stacey. Outrun the Moon
May 24th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Mercy Wong has graduated from the local grammar school in 1906 San Francisco and would like to attend the exclusive St. Clare's School for Girls. However, she knows that it is unlikely that the daughter of the owner of a Chinese laundry will be accepted into such a place, so she uses subterfuge, a little bribery, and some business leverage to secure her position there.  She is introduced as a wealthy, aristocratic Chinese girl to the other students, but the daughter of the man whom she offers to help, Elodie, knows the truth. In fact, in her father's absence, Elodie has to speak before the family association in order for her father's chocolate business to be allowed to open a branch in Chinatown. Mercy wants to learn more about commerce and business in order to escape the crushing poverty that makes her asthmatic brother Jack's life seem so treacherous, and she is surprised to find that the girls at St. Clare's have classes in embroidery and tea pouring so that they can find good husbands. Some of the students are nice, but Mercy's path is not an easy one. When the Great San Francisco Earthquake occurs, no one's life is easy, and the girls from St. Clare's, along with the headmistress, try their best to survive and locate their families. Many, including Mercy, lose those dear to them, but they all try to make the best of the situation and help other survivors by setting up a kitchen and providing food.
Strengths: In some ways, it is mind boggling that this book is set only 110 years ago. The depictions of life in Chinatown and the treatment of the Chinese was very interesting, and Mercy's determination to better her life was fascinating. There was a nice romance, mean girls, AND a boarding school. I enjoyed this tremendously. 
Weaknesses: In fact, I was having so much fun reading about Mercy's efforts to break free of her life of poverty that I was a bit surprised when the earthquake happened! I almost wished that the book was set well before or after that event, because I while I've read book about the earthquake, I'd never read one about a young Chinese girl at this time trying to become educated. Once the earthquake hit, her plans had to be put on hold. 
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy, but it will be tough to get students to read it. It's long (400 pages), historical fiction, and doesn't have a whole lot of romance. Still, it's really good, and I wish more of my students read historical fiction.

WHAT I MEAN BY THIS is that I have all sorts of displays with historical fiction, especially when teachers are doing a unit on a particular era in class. I book talk it. I recommend it. I put it in children's hands, only to have them wrinkle their noses and put the books down. I love historical fiction, having consumed a steady diet of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Childhood of Famous Americans, Children of the Covered Wagon, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. There is only so much I can do to encourage their love of it before they start getting annoyed with me that I am not honoring their requests but rather giving them what I would like to read. 

Maybe next school year, when we don't let them have their cell phones during Sustained Silent Reading. Well, I hope that we don't. I'm becoming very concerned about their reliance on the devices! Lunch is too, too sad with all of the children glued to a screen instead of interacting with others. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Lost Compass

26198855Ross, Joel. The Lost Compass
May 24th 2016 by HarperCollins

After narrowly escaping Kodoc in The Fog Diver, Chess is once again injured, and he and his friends are trying to get Mrs. E. to safety at Port Oro. There, he meets two leaders who also have fog in their eyes, but theirs is a result of an experiment that failed, and their eyes are now glass. They want Chess to travel to the bottom floor of the Station to locate a map that will tell them more about the Compass, which is supposed to somehow clean the nanites out of the air when the time is right. Chess does find the map, but Kodoc is hot on his tail, attacking his friends whenever possible. Chess eventually realizes what the Compass is, and how the air will be cleaned, but also thinks he has lead Kodoc to it and is responsible for it being bombed. Luckily, this is not the case, and by the end of the book, it looks good for Port Oro that the fog will be cleared up. 
Strengths: Good world building, fun characters who have convincing interactions, and lots of action and adventure.
Weaknesses: The history in the father's scrapbook leads to any number of misremembered things- parking greeters instead of meters, e eaters instead of e readers, etc. I always find this sort of thing overly precious and annoying. Kodoc is exceptionally mean, which seemed odd for this book somehow. 

What I really think: I'm not the audience for this one. I'll buy it, although the first book has not done as well as I'd hoped with my students, since it won the Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction award. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Towers Falling

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.

24846343Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Towers Falling.
July 12th 2016 by Little, Brown BFYR  
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Déja is living with her family in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Her mother is working, but her father is ill and unable to hold a job or even get out of bed some days. Déja needs to take care ofsiblings Raymond and Leda as well as go to a new school and understand her new classmates. The school is better than her previous one, but Déja doesn't care too much for the writing assignments-- she didn't have a summer vacation, and "home" is a difficult concept. She does make friends with Ben, who has moved to NYC from Arizona with his mother after his parents' divorce, and Sabeen, who tries very hard to befriend her. Sabeen's family is from Turkey, and she wears a head scarf, so when the class starts to study the events of 9/11, there's a lot of discussion about what it has meant for Sabeen's family to be Muslim. Déja's father gets very upset when he finds out that the school is teaching about 9/11. He feels Déja is too young to know about it, but his real reason is that he was at work at one of the towers, and has post traumatic stress disorder as the result of his experience. After she and Ben visit the 9/11 Memorial by themselves, her father finally talks to her about his experiences, and she is able to understand his experience, as well as her family's situation, a bit better. 

There are many books about Hurricane Katrina, but surprisingly few about 9/11. This is a topic that has been covered every year in my school, and Towers Falling is a great introduction to the event for middle grade readers who were not alive in 2001. It covers the basics with a delicate touch, balancing the horrors against the sensibilities of younger readers. The multicultural students are realistic and much appreciated, and the economic diversity shown in Déja's family is also one that needs more coverage in middle grade literature. 

This is a good book to include in any elementary or middle school collection, along with Cerra's excellent Just a Drop of Water, Tarshis' I Survived the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11, Mills All We Have Left, Baskin's Nine, Ten, and Brown's nonfiction America is Under Attack.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rookie of The Year

22665007Bildner, Phil. Rookie of the Year
July 12th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
E ARC from

Rip and Red are back after A Whole New Ballgame. They are still with Mr. Acevedo, who still has them doing a lot of reading and discussing of topics. When new student Takara (Tiki) Eid shows up, the class is thrown into turmoil. Tiki is very loud and outspoken, makes up lots of words, and has trouble taking her turn when speaking in class. She decides that the Lunch Bunch, the cafeteria ladies who used to work at the school but were replaced when a new food service took over, should be brought back, and that the sub par food must be fixed. She gets Avery really interested in the project, and installs a video camera on Avery's wheelchair. Rip knows that they are flaunting the school rules, but he has a lot going on. Tiki also shows up on his basketball team and is really good... and Rip gets put on the bench and used on the second team. Red is slowly improving his interactions with others, but he, too, has problems dealing with Tiki. When the group gets in trouble for the cafeteria incident, there are consequences that include Mr. Acevedo as well. 
Strengths: Lots of basketball in this one, which I need desperately. I liked how the team was coed. Tiki was an interesting character, and the type of student I see from time to time, and seeing her backstory and how the other students interact with her is fun. This book managed to have a fresh take on school problems in a humorous and fast paced way. Very much appreciated. 
Weaknessess: If anything, this is overly multicultural and almost felt forced. It probably just felt that way because my school is in a rather homogeneous community.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will see a lot of use. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

British Imports- Princess DisGrace and Dara Palmer

Princess DisGrace: A Royal DisasterKuenzler, Lou. Princess DisGrace
21 June 2016, Random House
Copy provided by the publisher

When Grace and her father realize that her cousin, Precious, is off to boarding school at Tall Towers Princess Academy, Grace decides to tag along even though her cousin doesn't want her there and Grace has not applied or made any of the preparations the other princesses have. There's not even any room on the boat that takes everyone to the island! Luckily, even though Precious is rather rude, Grace makes friends with Scarlett and Izumi. Awkward and clumsy, Grace manages to make a mess of just about every princess lesson, from riding a unicorn to learning how to walk and sit properly. The other girls are mean to her, and when Precious steps over the line, her job as Golden Princess at a celebration is given to Grace. In typical fashion, Grace manages to destroy her dress and wreak havoc, although in the end, she does find that she has some skills. 
Strengths: This is a British import with large print and a decent amount of illustrations. I can see beginning readers who haven't overcome their princess obsessions finding this to be the perfect book. 
Weaknesses: I was very uncomfortable with the way Grace was treated by the other girls and also the staff. Her background was a caricature, and her clumsiness made fun of but never helped. Something about this is not in tune with modern US mores.
What I really think: Perhaps this is just too young for my students, and I don't fully understand it. 

27015409Shevah, Emma. Dara Palmer's Major Drama
July 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dara and her friend Lacey-Lou are bound and determined to get into the school play, The Sound of Music. When they get put in the chorus, they believe that it's because Dara is Cambodian and doesn't look like an Austrian nun. When Dara's adoptive mother goes to school to complain to the teacher, she finds out that Dara didn't get the part because she THINKS she can already act and refuses to take part in workshops. Can Dara overcome her innate brattiness and learn enough to actually be in plays, rather than just daydreaming about being a star?
Strengths: It is an interesting to have a child adopted from another country, and there's lots of details about being in plays. This had some clever lines. 
Weaknesses: Dara was SO whiny that I wanted to slap her, and the book had that breathless, whirlwind British style that US readers tend not to like. I was also slightly alarmed that Dara's own vision of herself included vanilla skin and golden hair. Something just struck me as off about the whole book. 
What I really think: My readers who like British books are fewer, and I've got a ton of Renninson, Whytock, and Wilson to keep them happy. Will pass. 

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