Monday, January 16, 2017

Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World

29939208Hoover, P.J. Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World
February 28th 2017 by Starscape
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After saving the world in Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life,  Tut wants to spend his summer looking for his protector, Gil, who hasn't been heard from. His friend Henry, however, has decided that the two of them need to go to SCIENCE CAMP. Tut is not thrilled, although he feels a little bit better about it since Henry has a bit of a crush on Blair, whose father runs carnivals. Tut misses Tia, and curses the fate that made him perpetually 14 and awkward romantically! There's a bigger problem, though-- Apep is on the loose and probably not going to do Gil any good if the two run into each other. With the help of his support network (who knew there were so many ancient Egyptian deities in Washington, D.C.?) Tut realizes he must find the Sun Disk of Ra in order to thwarts Apep's plans. 
Strengths: This had a lot of middle grade humor, a nice romance, LOTS of action and adventure, and believable world building. The first book has been very popular with my students who have read all of Riordan's books and still want more mythology. I wouldn't mind one more book in the series. Henry "sneaking around" and trying to hide it from his parents was especially fun.
Weaknesses: Why does Apep want Gil? Why was Gil missing? I forgot some of the details that drove the story, but it didn't matter.
What I really think: I'm really interested to see what Hoover writes after this series. She has a good feel for middle grade, but I'd much rather see some stand alone titles!

MMGM- Strong Women

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.

Calkhoven, Laurie. Women Who Launched the Computer Age
September 6th 2016 by Simon Spotlight
Library copy

This short chapter book is packed with information about computers! It discusses early computers, the events surrounding World War II, the reason for hiring women to do the programming, the women that were hired, and how they worked on the project. The fact that they were not given any credit is highlighted, and a little information is given about their lives before and after their work with ENIAC. The back of the book has even more information about computers and programming, in smaller print. 

This is a well done book on a neglected group of women who should have been given more credit! Calkhoven (who does the great Boys of Wartime series) does a great job at offering difficult topics in a way that early readers can understand. Since there are few books on this topic, I appreciate that more notes were added at the back of the book. 

Alyssa Petersen's pictures are great-- I'd love to see her do more book covers, since her style is just the right balance of cartoon without looking too elementary. The pages are rather crowded, since the type is large. I would have almost preferred this to be in a larger format so there would be more white space, but the issued size brings to mind I Can Read books, which is an excellent hook. Books of this length are a great way to entice even middle school readers to pick up nonfiction books. 

Some great pictures of ENIAC appear on this site:

31939692Smith, Nikkolas. The Golden Girls of Rio
November 15th 2016 by Sky Pony Press
Library Copy

This is an overview of the women athletes who competed in the Summer 2016 Olympic games in Rio. It very briefly discusses their childhood and early training, then talks about the medals earned in the games. This is definitely more of a picture book introducing the topic than an early reader book with more information, and the tone is more celebratory than critical. A worthy purchase for elementary schools, although I don't know that I would buy this again for middle school. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winner Takes All (Kate the Great #2)

28952892Becker, Suzy. Kate the Great Takes All
November 1st 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Library copy

Kate the Great continues to make her way through her upper elementary life. She has plenty of friend drama with Brooke and Nora, has to deal with her very supportive but realistically quirky family, and has pleasant anecdotal experiences. Her school is doing a food drive, she befriends an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Verlagen, and gets her ears pierced. There is nothing earth shaking-- no one (not even Mrs. Verlagen!) dies, there's no horrible problems, and everyone eventually gets along as best they can. Hooray!
Strengths: I felt that the first book in this series was too young for middle school, but it has actually circulated quite well with fans of Wimpy Kid (it shares the lack of plot syndrome with that) and Dork Diaries, although it is MUCH more pleasant and upbeat. It is a semi-notebook novel; the text is typewritten, but there are a fair number of pictures. 
Weaknesses: While I enjoyed the pleasant nature of this book, nothing made me say "wow". It just doesn't have the clever writing of Eyre's The Mean Girl Meltdown or draw me in like Payton's It Takes Two series. Also, it is in paper-over-board format. 
What I really think: Perfectly serviceable title which will circulate until it falls apart. Big kudos for lack of sad events while still embracing tween drama. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- The Bad Guys

28128845Blabey, Aaron. The Bad Guys
January 13th 2017 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When a wolf decides that he's tired of always being "the bad guy" he joins forces with a snake, piranha, and shark. They are going to team up and do nice things for a change, like rescuing a kitten stuck in a tree and freeing dogs from a local pound. Oddly, things don't always go the way that they should, even though the shark makes a very convincing woman just by putting on a dress. 

The Bad Guys is formatted in a way that will be very helpful for struggling and emergent readers. Like Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta books, it has simple text accompanied by clear, explanatory pictures. I've never understood the appeal of graphic novels for this population because of the tiny print, but this was perfect. Not only was the text to picture ration great, but the length and size of the book makes it look like a middle grade novel instead of a "baby book". For middle school students who are struggling with reading, this can be very important. Even the cover looks middle school appropriate. 

This was also completely hysterical in a way that will be appealing to first graders as much as eighth graders. When the group is trying to break in to the dog pound, the wolf ties the snake and piranha to a grappling hook and repeatedly tries to throw them into a window, accompanying each failure with the assurance that THIS time he will definitely be successful. The slapstick element is broad, certainly, but still very funny. 

I showed the kitten-in-a-tree sequence to a couple of adult friends, and we laughed until we cried. 

This is a much purchase for school libraries as well as an excellent gift for a wide variety of readers who enjoy Eaton's The Flying Beaver Brothers, Krosoczka's Lunch Ladies, or Vernon's Dragonbreath series. I can't wait to see what these guys get up to next!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Guy Friday--Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

30687103Sheinkin, Steve. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
January 17th 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

While the vast majority of this book centers on Thorpe himself, there is a lot of good background information on the Carlisle School as well as the policies and politics surrounding the treatment of Native Americans at this time. Sheinkin always paints obsessively detailed accounts of history, and Undefeated is no exception. We get a complete overview of Thorpe's life from his time before being sent to the school to his later career. Along the way, we are treated to plenty of football plays and nailbiting descriptions of games. 

What I found most interesting was that Thorpe was allowed to play for what amounted to a high school team that was playing colleges for many years, even after he left to work on his relative's farm, but there was a great deal of difficulty about him having played "professional" baseball before winning just about every track event in the Olympics. In fact, he lost all of the medals that were awarded to him after his baseball career was revealed. Also, even though he was an excellent football player, there were no pro teams for him to join, so he ended up playing baseball for a while. 

Sheinkin does a great job at mixing historical events with football details. At 288 pages, this was a little more information than I wanted, but I will definitely purchase a copy, if only to go along with Meehl's Blowback '07.

Oddly, this book made me REALLY want to watch Gene Kelly in Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mystery Thursday

Greenwald, Tommy. It's a Doggy Dog World
October 11th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Library copy

After taking down the gang in My Dog is Better Than Your Dog, Jimmy and his dog Abby are back. The Crimebiters group is looking for mysteries, but there aren't too many, so Jimmy reluctantly joins the lacrosse team with Baxter. He turns out to be surprisingly good, but there are some issues. Their coach is thinking about going to another league, and their field is so unkempt that players keep getting hurt. Jimmy enjoys lacrosse to a certain extent, but would rather be hanging out with Daisy. His mother has insisted that Abby go to obedience school, and this changes Abby on many levels. She is very calm and seems to lack the vampire-like qualities that were intriguing and yet frustrating. Adding to the general odd and off feeling, Mrs. Cragg is reformed and back babysitting. As the injuries continue to mount on the lacrosse field, Jimmy brings the Crimebiters into his world of sport in order to figure out what is going on. 
Strengths: Greenwald never disappoints, and is one of the few authors I will buy without reading! I really liked how Jimmy got involved in a sport even though he was reluctant, and how he ended up liking it! His interchanges with his friends are realistic, and his family is intact and supportive, which I also appreciate. The dog training is also not covered enough in middle grade. The fact that Jimmy is able to forgive Mrs. Cragg and see that she is lonely and sad is great as well. I have a lot of fans of the first book, so they'll be glad to see this one.
Weaknesses: The mystery in this one was on the weak side. Going from taking down a criminal gang to having the lacrosse field sabotaged was disappointing.
What I really think: Always interested to see what Greenwald has in the works. Plus, I'm f
ascinated by the information that in Dutch, Charlie Joe Jackson is Otto-Jan

17571128Keene, Carolyn. The Phantom of Nantucket
September 23rd 2014 by Aladdin
Library copy

Nancy, Bess and George travel to Nantucket for a short break and to visit Bess's cousin Jenna, who has an internship at a whaling museum there. The exhibit on which Jenna has been working is vandalized, leading Nancy to use her investigative skills to determine what is going on. They find miffed interns, a director who is selling scrimshaw to antique stores, a rival museum with an irritated founder, and many other people who might want to sabotage Jenna. So much for vacation! 
Strengths: This incarnation of Nancy Drew, along with the similarly decorated Phoebe Rivers books, are hugely popular. I have some 6th grade girls who are reading these, along with the Secrets of the Manor series. It tickles me, because I know that they will grow up to be avid readers of cozy mysteries!
Weaknesses: I was not feeling this particular story, even though I am oddly intrigued by Nantucket. Might have gotten distracted wondering about what children's book I read 40 years ago that got me so interested in the place. Doubt I'll ever get there!
What I really think: Finally put books 8-15 on my list to purchase. Even when they are no longer the hot ticket, they will be good to have on hand. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snakes & Stones

28695370Fowler, Lisa. Snakes & Stones
November 1st 2016 by Sky Pony Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Chestnut Hill's father is a traveling elixir (aka snake oil) salesman who travels around the south in 1921 trying to earn enough money to keep Chestnut and her triplet siblings Filbert, Hazelnut and Macadamia in food and clothing. This isn't easy, especially since the group is frequently run out of town by angry officers of the law who don't appreciate that there is an entertainment value in addition to the elixir. Chestnut is tired of traveling, and misses her mother dreadfully, and it doesn't help that she's not entirely sure why the family can't be with her mother. Joining the group is Abraham, a friend of her fathers who is black and has to deal with the prejudices of the time. When Chestnut steals a large amount of money from a general store, her father is eventually arrested and the children are put into foster homes. Will their mother come and retrieve them?

There are not too many books that cover the 1920s, which is a shame, since it was an interesting and diverse time. Snakes & Stones is a worthy entry to a short list that includes Long's Whistle in the Dark, Myers' Harlem Summer, and Fantaskey's Isabel Feeney: Star Reporter. It would be good to see more books on this era, since the best one is still the primary source Cheaper by the Dozen, the memoir by the Gilbreth children. 

Chestnut is a concerned sister who is trying to care for her siblings the best she can, even if she does make some bad decisions in the process. Her longing for her mother is palpable and sweet, so readers should know that the resolution of the situation might be worrisome to younger readers-- Chestnut's mother does state that she doesn't want to raise the children. Still, the father is a strong support and is trying to do what he thinks best for his family. 

Racial themes are apparent, and the father's equanimity about Abraham's background and in his own resistance to the societal expectations of the time are a nice touch. The treatment of African-Americans at the time isn't glossed over, but the group manages to work around as much as they can, which I imagine is the way that many people operated. 

Snakes and Stones is a good choice for anyone who enjoyed the movie Paper Moon and want a family travel adventure set during an interesting and underappreciated time period.

I wish there had been less bad grammar (you know me and my tolerance for all things Southern) and more details about ordinary life at the time. I also don't think that Macadamia nuts would have been well enough known at the time for a family to name their child after them!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Blather- Book Bingo

I challenged my students to fill out a Book Bingo sheet this quarter, so I had to fill in some of the blanks myself. I'm waiting until after the Newbery announcement to fill in my Award Winner, just in case I haven't read one of them. 

To get an idea of what I read in a typical evening, I read all of these and also got about halfway through Renee Watson's new Piecing Me Together (February 14th 2017 by Bloomsbury)

I wasn't a fan of Accelerated Reader in the past, but it's gotten to the point where my students spend so much time on their phones that they don't read very much unless we hold them accountable, so Accelerated Reader at least motivates a few of them. Phones. Argh. The bane of my existence. 

28179382Shoup, Kate.Billie Jean King: The Battle of the Sexes and Title IX
January 15th 2016 by Cavendish Square Publishing

This was really great! It followed King's life in a matter-of-fact way, but also gave readers a lot of background information about what it was like in the sociopolitical climate for women in sports. Well illustrated, with plenty of additional information. It quoted a lot from King's own writing, which I thought was a nice touch. This Game Changing Athlete series also includes Roberto Clemente, Althea Gibson/Arthur Ashe, Jesse Owens, Muhammed Ali and Jackie Robinson. I may have to get the whole series. 

3340Kurlansky, Mark and Schindler, S.D. The Story of Salt 
September 7th 2006 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers 

This was for my Dewey 500-600 square. 

Hand this one to students who think picture books are easy. The Accelerated Reader level on this is 7.0, which is really high. (High school core novels generally have a level of 4.5.)
I like Kurlansky's work, and this was fun. 

27206559Shaffer, Jody Jensen. The Way the Cookie Crumbled. 
July 5th 2016 by Simon Spotlight

Cookbook square (since titles have to be AR for some students.)

Super fun! Who knew that baking ammonia was made from the horns of deer, or that the most popular cookie in the world is NOT chocolate chip? Now I really want The Sweet Story of Hot Chocolate, The Deep Dish on Pizza, The Tricks and Treats of Halloween, The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks, and ALL the other titles. These are great for my struggling readers and are just fun to read. 

28455188Courtney Carbone, William Shakespeare. Macbeth #killingit (OMG Shakespeare)
January 5th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers

This was for my "Recommended by a friend" square. An elementary library aide had asked me about this one. 

I don't even know what to do with this. I'm not a Shakespeare fan at all, and I'm even less of a fan of stories told in text messages. Maybe for high school collections with more money than they know what to do with?

9890119Bowden, Rob. United Kingdom (Destination Detectives)
April 16th 2007 by Raintree

Book About Another Country in the World

I've given up on keeping the country books up to date. I have bought a few that are just fun to read and have Accelerated Reader tests. That's about the only time these get used. When kids do reports, we get updated statistics from the encyclopedia or CIA World Factbook. I probably need to weed again; anything published before 1990 should go. My standards are really low for these. I have a book about Greece from 1985 because there is a picture of the shop where I bought my briefcase in 1986 in it!


28954190Sylvester, Kevin. MiNRS2
October 11th 2016 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Library copy

Life on Perses goes from bad to worse after MiNRS. Chris, Elena and the other children have carved out an uneasy existence when they find out that one of the Landers, Thatcher, is going to attack them. Thatcher has a huge hatred of Grinders, and wants to kill them all, and seems to have the support of people on Earth. Chris gets some help from the Oracle, who is a vague entity but will answer his questions on the computer. There's a lot of running, hiding, and fighting, as well as constructing several makeshift homes, all of which get destroyed. When Nazeem is very badly injured, the group appeals to Thatcher to help him, but Thatcher is instead brutal and kills his own doctor who tries to help. There are a few other deaths, and the ending is still not resolved, since the children desperately need to get back to Earth. No mention of book three yet, but maybe in October of 2018.
Strengths: This has a LOT of action and adventure, a clear cut villain, and a great group of characters. There are some very nice moments between Chris and Elena, and I loved how brave Nazeem was. I'm really hoping he survives! It was helpful to show how the children rallied and worked together even though they were mourning their parents, and I also appreciated how most of the children were horrified at the treatment of the Grinders and didn't have any prejudice against them. Pavel is not a pleasant character, but he's a good one to have to balance the feelings of the rest of the group.
Weaknesses: I would still like more information about the colony before the attack and was hoping for more back story. Also, I am still not sure why Thatcher is such a jerk. What's his real motivation. 

What I really think: The cover of the third book needs to be green. 

I love this picture of Mr. Sylvester. I may have to take another look at Neil Flambe.

Monday, January 09, 2017

MMGM- Left Out

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.

I'm going to ALA Midwinter for the first time! I would love to meet up with anyone who is going to be there! Comment below if you'd like to get together. I'm also planning to go to New York for Book Expo in May, so it's going to be a BIG year!

Begin Rant: If you are a school librarian and you have never read a football or basketball book except for Kwame Alexander's The Crossover, stop it right now! Think of all the students you have who are avid sports books readers. You must serve them as well. If you still refuse to read the books, at least buy every one you see. Oddly, there are very few blog reviews of most sports books, which is a real shame. Students need these books. They aren't my cup of tea, since I haven't seen a football game since my cousin was a majorette in 1975, but I still read all I can find. End rant!

Green, Tim. Left Out.
September 27th 2016 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Landon Dorch's family moves from Cleveland to Bronxville, New York so that his mother can take another high powered job with a food company. His father is an unpublished novelist who works from home and takes care of the house. Landon is deaf, but was fitted with cochlear implants at the age of four. He is a big seventh grader, and decides that he will use his mother's guilt over the move to get her to agree to him playing football. His sister Genevieve, to whom he is very close, is okay with this plan, since she thinks it will help him to be socially accepted. She also goes to a lot of trouble to befriend the most popular (but meanest!) girl in their grade so that Landon, who has been bullied before, will not run into trouble. Sadly, however, the local bullies are also on the football team, and they are not able to accept Landon's need to look at faces when people are talking to him or his somewhat different speech. There are a few people who treat Landon with respect and not pity-- Genevieve's other friend, Megan, who is pretty, popular, nice, AND good at soccer, and Brett Bell, who is on the football team and always sticks up for Landon. There are good educators, who pay attention to how Landon can learn best, and bad ones, like the principal who refuses to recognize that Landon is being bullied. Through it all, his family is supportive and loving, and Landon eventually secures a tenuous but comfortable place in the middle school hierarchy. 
Strengths: This was a super intriguing read, and one which included so much girl drama that I may recommend it to my girls as well! Green researched a lot about deafness and interviewed students who deal with this issue. The result is a very solid middle grade novel that will be hugely popular. 
Weaknesses: Landon is an emotional wreck a lot of the time. I guess it's good that he is shown as being allowed to cry and comforted by his father; I guess my personal style with the girls was to tell them to suck it up. Which he does, eventually. Okay. I guess an emotionally fragile boy is a good thing. 
What I really think: I'm fine with this level of drama as long as it balances the good with the bad, has a great family and supporting characters, and includes a boy suited up for football on the cover!

29875402Krull, Kathleen. America's First Ladies.
January 3rd 2017 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Need a book that has a good overview of all of the first ladies up through Michelle Obama? This would be the book to buy. It not only covers the wives of the presidents; there are even mentions of the daughters, nieces, etc. who stood in as hostesses if no first lady was available. While both the pre presidency and post presidency lives were covered, I especially appreciated the focus on the accomplishment of each woman while in office. There were also snippets about the progress of women's rights during each term of office, which gives the book a good historical perspective. 

While there's not enough information on each lady to formulate an entire report, it would be a good general knowledge volume or a starting place to pick a first lady on whom to do a report. There are line drawings instead of reproductions of portraits or photographs-- I suppose this has something to do with credits and cost, but it always seems incomplete when a biography lacks photographs of modern people. Mamie Eisenhower had a very interesting hair do to which a line drawing cannot do justice. 

Krull is certainly a go-to author for biographies, and her research is impeccable. However, there were several instances where the grammar was very awkward, and the language seemed too flippant for the general tone of the book. Will young readers notice? No, but it surprised me. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Revenge of the Green Banana

28114477Murphy, Jim. Revenge of the Green Banana
January 3rd 2017 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In the 1950s, young Jimmy Murphy is a handful, and bedevils the poor nuns at his Catholic school. He rails against all of their rules, and his exuberant nature causes him to get into trouble. After one particularly exuberant outbreak, his teacher, Sister Angelica, decides that he should help the younger children out with a play, and he gets cast as the head banana. In retaliation, Jimmy and his friends plan a booby trap on the newly refurbished school bowling alley with pulleys and bags of flour, but Jimmy has a change of heart after teacher the nun about basketball so that she can start a girls' team. 
Strengths: There were some funny moments, as well as some good details about life at the time. Students enjoy reading about characters that aren't particularly good kids. The author's note states that the events in the book actually happened, and clearly there is a lot of fondness behind the memories. 
Weaknesses: I have decided that I really like plot. This didn't have much of one, and was the type of middle grade book that just followed the school year anecdotally. There's a little bit of character development, and it's great that this is a stand alone, but it would have been greatly improved if there were a more cohesive story. 
What I really think: I love Murphy's nonfiction work, and this is a good effort. I always need funny books for boys, so I will probably buy it. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Cartoon Saturday- Dogs and Cats

28594353Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Slurps Spaghetti (Stick Dog #6)
October 4th 2016 by HarperCollins
Library Copy

The dogs are hungry again, and Stick Dog reluctantly admits that he ate something he didn't share-- some rope. The dogs decide that it's been a long time since they played tug of war, so send Karen (who is a dachshund and "perfectly proportioned" for the task) underneath a dumpster by the hardware store to look for another piece. There, she finds a Styrofoam takeout container with flimsy ropes in it. Poo-Poo, the food journalist of the group, compares them to the pizza they once had. Stick Dog notices that the top of the container says "Tip-Top Spaghetti" and, remembering the location, sets off on an expedition to get there. This involves much finagling of his troops to entice them up the hill, and impressive strategy to get into the kitchen and liberate the pasta. After some perilous moments, they are successful, and even find a plastic bag full of meatballs. Balls of MEAT! Aside from a freshly squashed squirrel, I can think of nothing my own dog would like better. 
Strengths: These books appeal to everyone from strong emergent readers and stressed middle schoolers to librarians who have a secret desire to hide all of the Wimpy Kid books from 8th graders. These are cleverly written have great character development. While the plots are predictable (dogs need food; dogs go in search of food; dogs eventually get food), there are enough twists, jokes, and humor that each book is fresh. 
Weaknesses: Horrible paper-over-board bindings that don't hold up to the use these receive.
What I really think: I am sad only that my own personal children were too old for these by the time they were published. High school and college students are about the only people for whom these lack appeal!

29840104McCool, Ben et al. Grumpy Cat and Pokey (Grumpy Cat #2)
July 26th 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment
Library copy

Grumpy Cat and his more upbeat brother, Pokey, get into a series of comic book-style adventures. There are nine in this very slim volume. Even though this is ostensibly book two, there's really no plot building between stories, so the anecdotal installments could be read in any order. Grumpy Cat is always bitter and sarcastic, while his brother tries to make him a bit happier, to no avail. 
Strengths: Students will fight over this one when they see it. Comics and Grumpy Cat? Slam dunk. 
Weaknesses: Tiny, tiny print, awful smell, difficult to follow stories.
What I really think: I'm not understanding the appeal of this, but I'm not the target demographic. Had a weak moment. It was less than $8 at Baker and Taylor and will certainly get $8 worth of use.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Homework Strike

30255009Pincus, Greg. The Homework Strike
January 3rd 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this sequel to The 14 Fibs of Gregory K., Gregory and his friends are back. Even with his homework group, Gregory struggles to get all of his work done, especially for his history teacher, Dr. Bankster. After spending time at the author camp, he would rather be spending his time writing what he wants instead of doing busy work that he doesn't feel helps him understand the material. It's especially hard that his parents won't let him attend the open mic night at a bookstore in the next town unless his grades are all C's or higher. Since his friend Kelly and her mother have moved away, he doesn't need to lose this as well. Eventually, he decides to go on a homework strike but still make sure that his grades are good on all of his other work. He gets his classmates interested in trying to get an old town law outlawing homework reinstated, and causes a huge news flurry.
Strengths: This is a textbook example of many things that I would love to see more frequently in middle grade literature-- lots of humor, intact, supportive family, good mix of friends, student with a particular interest, light romance, realistic school interactions. The best part of this, however, was how CIVIL everyone was! That was fantastic, especially given how contentious things have been in the world. Gregory has issues but addresses them constructively with the help of informed adults in his life. How wonderful!
Weaknesses: This could have been a tighter, more amusing story if the details of the strike had been less pedantic. I appreciated how Dr. Bankster was getting Gregory to learn more through a bit of deception, but the third quarter of this dragged a bit. 
What I really think: I didn't enjoy the first book as much as I liked this one, but now I have to make sure my library has both. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Compass Point South (Four Points 1)

25689025Larson, Hope and Mock, Rebecca. Compass Point South (Four Points 1)
June 28th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Library copy

Twins Cleopatra and Alexander have been abandoned by their adoptive father in 1860s New York City and have been taken in by the Black Hook Gang, for whom they commit petty theft. When they are caught, they agree to be extradited to New Orleans instead of sent to Randall's Island. They see an advertisement for lost red headed twin boys, and decide to present themselves (with Cleo cutting her hair and wearing boys' clothes) to the poster of the ad in order to have someone to take care of them. They meet another set of twins trying to do the same thing. They get separated, and Cleo develops a relationship with Silas, while Alex forms an uneasy partnership with his brother. The two pairs travel on ships around Cape Horn and hope to meet up in San Francisco, and maybe even find their father. Book two, Knife's Edge,  comes out in June of 2017. 

31145083Strengths: This was a great action/adventure story that I would have loved had it been in chapter book form. My students do NOT like their history that way, so perhaps this is a good compromise, since they will read anything in graphic form. Solid characters, amusing budding romance, lots of danger.
Weaknesses: Tiny print and very detailed, small pictures. I had trouble keeping the characters straight since there were four red headed, nearly identical characters, and their names were not mentioned frequently. The story was complicated, especially since there were two main lines in similar settings. 
What I really think: My students will check it out, but I have my concerns as to how much they will really understand about the story. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Stef Soto, Taco Queen

25150366Torres, Jennifer. Stef Soto, Taco Queen
January 3rd 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Stef used to love her father's taco truck, Tia Perla. She was glad that he didn't have to work long hours, and she loved going along with him and getting to eat some of his delicious cooking. Once her former best friend, Julia, starts calling her "taco queen", though, Stef wants her father to stop picking her up at school in the truck, and balks at spending her weekends sitting out in parking lots at markets and festivals. However, when the town starts moving towards laws that will negatively impact her father's business, Stef gets to work. Can she and her friends support her father as he stands up to the town in support of the food trucks?
Strengths: Spot on middle grade friend drama, as well as the difficult issue of being embarrassed by ones parents in public. There are nice subplots with putting together a dance to raise money for art supplies as well as the girls wanting to go to a concert. I particularly enjoyed the fact that this was set in a largely Hispanic community, so Stef was not embarrassed by the taco part of the food truck, just the truck part! It's good to see working class families who are struggling a bit. When I was growing up, it seemed like all of the fathers in the books I read were college professor and the mothers were free lance journalists.
Weaknesses: The cover isn't very strong. With some reworking, I could get 8th graders to read this, but with this cover, it looks too young. 

What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Books dealing with food and families do well in my library, and this was generally a fun, hopeful book. 

24561496Oh, Ellen (Editor) Flying Lessons and Other Stories
January 3rd 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Like any collection of short stories, this book has a wide variety of experiences and different styles of writing. It's great that the We Need Diverse Books group had a competition, and this book is a collection of the winners. Really, looking at the authors, it's hard to see how anyone was able to choose! I'll probably buy a copy because of all of the great writers who are included, but I don't know if I will be able to get anyone to read it. My students will not pick up short story collections unless they are Scary Stories to tell in the Dark. It's weird, and I certainly try to give these collections to my readers, but they won't even pick up the marvelous  Guys Read books. Maybe I can pitch the collections to teachers. This is a good companion to Open Mic, another diverse story collection edited by Mitali Perkins. 

From "Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories."

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Variety of Fantasy

Yee, Lisa. Batgirl at Super Hero High (Super Hero High #2)
January 3rd 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Barbara Gordon has finally convinced her father, the Commissioner, to let her leave Gotham High and attend Super Hero High, where she had a joke as tech support. She's worried that the students with powers won't like her, but she has a strong ally in Super Girl. Her biggest problem is balancing everything-- her father insists she live at home, she is still doing some tech things, she adopts a baby bat, and gets picked to be on a teen tech challenge. She is partnered with nerdy Noah Kuttler, and works well with him, but ultimately wins the entire competition. Returning to school, she still struggles with classwork, and also is approached by Harley Quinn to do a tech innovation for her blog. With Noah's help, she puts a hologram on Harley's web site, but things quickly go wrong, and instead of Harley Grams, there are Harley Whams, a virus that slowly takes over the whole country. Having tricked her father into letting her live at school, Batgirl now moves home, doesn't answer her phone, and is about to give up on her super hero goals when her classmates help her pin point where everything went wrong and use their own powers to help her solve it. 
Strengths: It's great to see books with some comic book girl power, and there are some of my students who really love these. Yee has clearly done her research into the DC canon of characters and has included a huge number of them. Readers who haven't read the comics might be motivated to try them after these frenetically action packed stories. 
Weaknesses: I didn't like how Barbara "pulled one over" on her father to get him to let her live at school-- it didn't seem like a super hero move to me. A small quibble. My bigger one is that these are so packed with adventures and information about random characters that they are a bit hard to follow. 
What I really think: These fill a need but aren't my personal favorite. I'd rather see Yee turning her impressive writing skills to novels like Warp Speed or Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, which have a bit more staying power. 

Grunberg, Greg and Turnbloom, Lucas. Nightmare Escape (Dream Jumper #1)

June 28th 2016 by GRAPHIX
Library copy

Ben can travel into other people's dreams and help them. When his crush goes into a coma, he travels into her dreams and realizes she is trapped there, along with some other people. With the help of a white rabbit and a magic stone necklace, he manages to save the day and also meets his grandfather. There is still the mystery of what has happened to his father to be solved, setting up the series. 

I'm not a fan of graphic novels, but then I am not a visual person. I like to read words, and preferably ones in 14-16 point font. I don't understand why my struggling readers are drawn to them, since the print is often so small, and it's hard for ME to integrate the text with the pictures to get the whole story. Also, I can't stand the smell of these, and it never seems to dissipate.

That said, this had some good points. The text was clearer and easier to read, and the pictures were simpler as well. The story is easy enough to follow, although not fabulous. Much of the book was spent just setting up the series. Still, for my struggling readers, this is a step up from some the prefab graphic titles, but not as good as Hilo or Sunny Side Up

30227922Priebe, Gigi and Duncan, Daniel (illustrations).The Adventures of Henry Whiskers
January 3rd 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The Borrowers meets The Rescuers, all set in Queen Mary's dollhouse in Windsor Castle. I should have adored this one. 

It was okay. I think that it somehow seemed a bit young, and I had just spent a week trying to get students to check out The Rescuers, to no avail, even with the far superior Garth Williams illustrations. Elementary libraries will definitely want to take a look at this, but I'll pass for right now. 

Description from

"Henry Whiskers must face his fears and rescue his little sister from the scary Rat Alley in this fun, fast-paced debut chapter book set in Queen Mary’s historical dollhouse at Windsor Castle.

Twenty-five generations of Whiskers have lived in Windsor Castle’s most famous exhibit: Queen Mary’s Dollhouse. For young, book-loving Henry Whiskers and his family, this is the perfect place to call home.

But when the dollhouse undergoes unexpected repairs and Henry’s youngest sister, Isabel, goes missing, he risks everything in a whisker-whipping race against time to save her. His rescue mission will take him to the murky and scary world of Rat Alley, and Henry will have to dig deep and find the courage he never knew he had in order to bring his sister back home."

Monday, January 02, 2017

MMGM--Scar Island and the River of Doubt

29847473Gemeinhart, Dan. Scar Island.
January 3rd 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jonathan arrives on Slabhenge Island, where there is a windswept reform school administered by evil, grasping, gnarled men. At roll call one morning, when the fifteen boys are made to say they are present and "content and well-cared for", all of the adults on the island are electrocuted and killed in a freak lightning accident. The boys are dumbstruck, but having been treated badly, are not sad that their oppressors are gone. Headed by the oldest inmate, Sebastian, the group decides to neglect to inform the mail carrier, who is the only person to visit the island regularly, of this turn of events. Instead, the boys break into the wardens' rooms, eat their food, and generally enjoy throwing off their yokes. Of course, there are dark secrets to why the boys are there, power struggles, and changes of allegiances. Jonathan befriends Colin, as well as a librarian who never strays from the bowels of the school, and comes to terms with why he has been sent away from home. Sebastian tries to wield his power, and ends up punishing the boys for minor infractions in the same way the wardens had punished him. When a storm hits the island, the boys must band together in order to survive, and realize that being on their own might not have been the best idea. 

This has a Series of Unfortunate Events feel to it, especially at the beginning, when it is difficult to pin down the place and time of Scar Island. It has a prewar, almost British feel to it at first (all of the wardens are wearing wool, and the head warden wields a sword), but the setting is never confirmed. It doesn't really matter-- the boys are on their own with limited adult contact, but are well-provisioned with food and coal for the generator. In this way, it is very much a middle grade fantasy, although there is no magic or actual fantastical elements. 

With nods to both Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm, this is a fast-paced adventure for readers who want to envision a world where children who are mistreated are able to turn the tables. The encroaching storm adds an element of survival to this, and there is also a bit of a mystery concerning Jonathan's placement in the institution. 

While this was not a book that I personally enjoyed, I can see it appealing to a lot of readers in the target demographic. It is unlike most of the middle grade books I've come across, although it does have some elements of sadness, and yet shows a tremendous understanding of what tweens want to read. Hand this to reluctant readers who like survival, adventure, or books that show children overcoming adversity. 

Some Kind of Courage was a story I really liked, while The Honest Truth wasn't. I do appreciate the fact that the covers for Gemeinhart's books are all the same style! The covers are growing on me.  I hope this doesn't change! They look nice together, like Gratz's Code of Honor, Prisoner B-3087, and Projekt 1065.

30254965Seiple, Samantha. Death of the River of Doubt
January 3rd 2017 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Seiple has done it again-- come out with a narrative nonfiction book filled with odd facts I never knew as well as adventure. I adored Ghosts in the Fog, and it's been wildly popular with my WWII fanatics, and her Byrd and Igloo was one that an 8th grader loved so much that he said "I don't normally like nonfiction, but that was really good! Can I have another like that?" (He ended up with No Better Friend.)

We all have this vague idea that Teddy Roosevelt was an adventurer, but I had no idea the depth of his passion! Seiple wisely starts with an overview of his early life and career, which just prepares us for this description of the Roosevelt and Rondon expedition to map an unknown river in Brazil. Roosevelt was 55 at the time, and not in the best of health. He brought along his son Kermit, who also was fond of adventuring. 

Personally, I'm not sure that I would have been as motivated to map an obscure river in an area with piranhas, understandably hostile indigenous people, and large bugs. This is also why I will never live south of the state of Ohio! But this group felt that it was important enough that they kept going despite wounds, catastrophes, and danger of starvation. 

A lot of students will have a picture in their minds of Roosevelt ala Night in the Museum. This is a great adventure tale that will make them understand and appreciate not only how dedicated Roosevelt was to conquering new experiences but to what lengths people went, not too long ago, to discovering unknown parts of the world. There are no longer that many opportunities to do this!

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