Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bad Bella

Standish, Ali. Bad Bella
September 24th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bella lives with the McBrides, who have several small children and often forget Bella's needs. She gets in trouble for things like trying to water the Christmas tree by peeing in the holder, and for knocking the tree down while trying to get her favorite snack (popcorn) off the tree. With another child on the way, the McBrides can't deal with "bad" Bella, and take her to a shelter. There, Bella is disabused of her notion that the McBrides are her parents and she is their child by another dog who informs her that she has owners who care mainly for their own convenience. When she is adopted by a young couple, the Roses, Bella finally gets the attention she deserves, but is always wary. When the couple is expecting a baby, Bella misunderstands some of their remarks and thinks she is going to be abandoned again, so she runs away. Eventually, she is able to make it home and learn that her forever family is not going to abandon her.
Strenghths: It's sweet that Standish based this book on her own dog, and I enjoyed that she tries to make readers understand that "bad" behavior often has very good reasons if you understand the roots of it. This can be extrapolated to the behavior of people as well! I also like that the Roses modeled proper pet owning behavior and give Bella such a good life! I will say that Sylvie (my dog) now wants to know why she doesn't get ice cream every night! (Answer-- she has arthritis in her hip and must keep her weight down!)
Weaknesses: There's nothing new or especially innovative about this, but my readers who like this sort of story thrive on repetition, so it will work.
What I really think: I will purchase this, because dog books are something readers do ask for a lot, and this was a sweet story. I know just the reader who needs it, in fact! A must purchase for elementary libraries, and a good choice for middle school libraries with readers who enjoy dog stories like Ellen Miles' Puppy Place series.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, September 20, 2019

Guy Friday- The World Series Kids and Frankly in Love

Kelly, David A. The World Series Kids (Super Special#4)
September 10th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

Mike and Kate are glad that Colin and the Cooperstown team have made it to the Little League World Series, and they are happy to be there with Kate's mother, a reporter. When the team's bus has its tires slashed, the duo are suspicious, but when their equipment bags are missing, they start their investigation into the sabotage in earnest. Apparently, there is a teen in a neon shirt who is responsible, and they use their detective skills to hunt him down. They also come across two Little League pins that they use to barter for information. When they line up the clues, however, they find that the threat has come from a surprising place.
Strengths: Kelly writes a great early chapter book, with a good mix of sports, mystery, and friendship. I love how he works in facts about different locations, teams, and sports practices. (Never knew about the pin trading!) Kate and Mike work well together, and the mysteries are interesting. My own children were obsessed with the Ron Roy A to Z Mysteries (1997-2005), and would have loved these as well.
Weaknesses: Who was the person who gave them the Founders pin? Did I miss this? I was greatly distracted by that mystery!
What I really think: These are great, but I don't have a lot of readers on this level. I generally have the first two or three in series like these, so my struggling readers can see what they are like, and we then get the rest from the public library. I would definitely have all of these for an elementary library, and would buy copies for a young baseball fan.


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love
September 10th 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

N.B. This is NOT a middle grade book. Too much swearing and discussion of college and PSATs. But I love this author's work, and I am missing one of my student helpers who always requested books with Korean-American characters.

Frank Li is struggling through his senior year in high school. He has a great best friend, Q (aka Will) Lee, who is African-American and in many of the same AP classes that Frank is in. He works on Sundays at his father's store, and goes with his parents to "gatherings", get-togethers that his parents' friends host. He misses his sister, who made it through college, got a job that made his parents happy, and then was disowned when she started dating (and then married) an African-American man. Frank's parents came to the US with very little, and have struggled to give Frank and his sister every opportunity, but also have high expectations for Frank's academic and social life. When Frank starts dating a white girl, Brit, who is in his AP classes, he does NOT want his parents to find out. He and Joy, a girl from the gatherings who is dating Wu, a Chinese guy, decide that they will pretend to date each other to get their parents off their backs. This works for a while, but since Frank doesn't tell Brit that he is hiding her from his parents, it causes some tension. The more he hangs out with Joy, the more he enjoys her company. Even though he never thought that dating another Korean-American, he connects with Joy on a lot of different levels, and starts to wonder if there is a future with her rather than with Brit.
Strengths: This definitely lines up with the sort of things my student described about his  home life, and would definitely be something he would enjoy. This author does a great, funny, romance book for older boys. There is such a great sense of place and community. Very fun to read.
Weaknesses: So many f-bombs, used indiscriminately. I just can't hand that sort of language to middle school students, not when I occasionally get mortified children who bring back books with more pedestrian profanity in them. The sex isn't instructional, just mentioned, so this would be fine for a high school library.
What I really think: Is it creepy if I hunt down former students and recommend books to them? It's not, is it? There is a new librarian at his high school, or I would suggest that the school buy this just for him.

Early Release schedule today and no language arts classes means I can clean and work on books orders and sit back and eat bonbons, right? Hahahaha.

Students seem needier than they have been in years past. They don't just come in and grab a book to read. They need to talk to me for 5-10 minutes, tell me about their dog and why their math homework is too hard, and stand really, really close to me. I spent a lot of time saying "personal bubble!" this week and singing "So long, fair well, Wiedersehen, goodbye!" when students lingered after I told them to go back to study hall when I was working with another student, but when I looked up, they were still there.

When I say I see 250 students a day, while some of this is just checking out a Chrome Book, a LOT of it is much more time consuming! Not complaining at all, but it is a change, and probably why students are doing a Social and Emotional Learning lesson for an hour at the end of the day. Either that, or they all think I am like the best grandma ever and they just want to bask in my presence.

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Remarkables

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Remarkables
September 24th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marin and her family move from Indiana to Pennsylvania for her mother's new job as a professor of nursing. Her father, a physical education teacher, is still looking for work, so he is the at home parent for Marin and her baby brother Owen. Marin had two good friends in Indiana, Ashlyn and Kenner, but had fallen out with them because of typical friend drama. She is concerned that she won't be able to find new friends in the new town, so is intrigued when she sees high school age students at a house in the woods... until they disappear! She meets her neighbor's grandson, Charley, who has also seen these people, whom he calls "remarkables". Charley and his two brothers are living with their grandmother because his parents are struggling with drug addiction. The father's problems are tied to an incident twenty years in the past that claimed the life of his friend. At a party, the father was cooking and took the batteries out of a smoke detector when it when off; later, a fire caused his friend's death. Marin starts to understand that the "remarkables" are Charley's dad and his friends before the accident occurs, and she tries to figure out how the two of them can change the past. As she navigates her summer in her new town, she starts to understand that changing the past could change good things as well.
Strengths: Haddix certainly has a firm grasp of the magical realism/creepy supernatural niche, and crafts an interesting story about changing the past. My favorite part, however, was the strong family unit. They are shown dealing with ordinary problems like a sleepless infant, death of a friend, and job insecurity with strength and good humor. Just the topic of a tween having a baby sibling is a great, and underserved, one. I also liked the inclusion of going to church and Vacation Bible School. Although I figured out early on that church wasn't a good fit for me, I spent a LOT of time in middle school and high school attending church functions, and this also is underrepresented in middle grade literature. This seems like it will be a stand alone.
Weaknesses: This would have been more effective as a realistic fiction story without the "remarkables". Their appearance is never well explained, and didn't make much sense.
What I really think: I will purchase because Haddix is a local author and circulates well, but this wasn't my favorite. Part of that might be because I started reading thinking this was the sequel to The Strangers (Greystone Secrets #1), and it clearly wasn't!

What I read last night, because a Follett order came in. They were okay; liked Mac B. and Scout best, and found The Baby-Sitters Club and Dog Man disturbing for a variety of reasons that no one else will worry about:

Didn't buy these two; checked them out from public library, but they weren't what I wanted.

Slacks for the first time this year, with my Head Mistress of Private School jacket and a black shell I bought in 1991. It has shoulder pads. I love it, and it's one of the few articles of professional clothing I have that predates my children!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Child of the Dream

Robinson, Sharon. Child of the Dream
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this fiction-style memoir, Robinson recounts the personal and world events that occurred when she turned 13 in 1963. Sharon's father, baseball player Jackie Robinson, was hospitalized for a leg injury that became infected and worsened due to his diabetes, her older brother is having difficulties and runs away from home, and has to come to terms with the growing racial tensions in the US and how they affect her. This is especially important when George Wallace declares "Segregation forever!" and her father gets involved in various marches and demonstrations. Sharon starts to examine her own life, which is vastly different from the situations African Americans were facing in the South. Her family lives in a predominately white community, and she may even be bused to a mainly black school as part of local desegregation plans! She does have one African American friend, Candy, and she attends a local Jack and Jill social hour, where she gets more information about Civil Rights movement activities as well. This book also offers a glimpse of the Robinson's family life, with Sharon riding her horse, learning to knit and baking with her grandmother, and dealing with Jackie, Jr.'s behavior. There is a nice selection of family photographs as well. She wants to do more to help, and is inspired by the Children's March in the spring of 1963 and was present at Dr. Martin Luther King 's "I Have a Dream" speech in August of that year.
Strengths: As many times as classes have listened to the "I Have a Dream" speech, students are bound to be fascinated by a first hand account! What it was like to be there, and to be at so many pivotal moments in the Civil Rights movement in "front row seats" because of her father... wow. Like Shabazz's Betty Before X or English's It All Comes Down to This, it's great to have a book that covers first hand details of what it was like to be a teenager at this point in history. It wasn't all just Important Historical Events, either: I loved the details of the horse riding and reading of Marguerite Henry! And of course, the close up view of Jackie Robinson is touching and fascinating-- I didn't know that he became an executive in the Chock Full o' Nuts coffee company! (Which still exists. Who knew?)
Weaknesses: Some of the conversation is oddly stilted, which surprised me. Perhaps it's harder to write based on personal experiences. Slam Dunk and Safe at Home are still books that are popular with my readers, and I don't remember any similar problems in The Hero Two Doors Down. Also, this was an ARC, so maybe things will be tweaked.
What I really think: I love memoirs and biographies and wish that my students would read more of them. This is an excellent one to hand to students who are reluctant to pick up memoirs, since it reads much like a novel. It will also be perfect for the Civil Rights and Decades projects that are frequently assigned by language arts teachers



Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

Bowling, Dusti. Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus
September 17th 2019 by Sterling Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edleweiss Plus

Aven is back after Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and high school is a frightening prospect. Three thousand students, most of who  won't understand that her lack of arms isn't something they don't need to mention to her. It's even worse that Connor has moved across town to live with his father, but at least she has Zion. Josephine is in a nursing home, and Henry is rapidly failing, but Trilby is still working at her parents' smoothie shop at the wild west theme park, Stagecoach Pass, that Aven's parents run. Aven still plays guitar and is training to ride a horse and jump with it, but high school brings new challenges. One of them is Joshua, who is on the football team with Zion's brother Lando, and seems to be flirting with Aven. This is both exciting and frightening, and Aven is not alone in thinking "why would he be interested in me?" Zion thinks she's imagining things, and an unpleasant incident occurs that proves them both wrong and leaves Aven's self esteem in the gutter. She doesn't want to tell anyone, takes nearly a week off school, begs to be homeschooled like Trilby, but eventually goes back determined to make her mark on high school. It helps that Zion's family is going to Comic Con; Aven enthusiastically gets into it, even if her costume of Armless Tiger Man (who was armless, yes, but also a Nazi) is ill-conceived. Aven starts to investigate punk rock music at Trilby's suggestion, even though the two don't spend a lot of time together, even though Trilby and Zion are a bit interested in each other. As Henry's condition worsens, Aven tries to find out more about this past to see if he has family who can help him.
Strengths: It was great to follow a character from middle school to high school. I wish there were a lot more books where this happened. My students want to read about older students, but they don't really want to read YA. This was perfect. I enjoyed the first book, and it was fun to catch up on all the small things in Aven's life, like her riding, Stagecoach Pass, friendship with Connor and Zion, etc. Of course, the brilliant parts of this book are the depictions-in-passing of Aven answering her phone with her toes and doing other small tasks most of us take for granted. While her lack of arms is certainly something major, this book isn't about that. It's about... life. The other fantastic scene was where Aven goes to Joshua's football coach and rats him out. The growing relationship with Lando is sweet.
Weaknesses: Aven has a blog, and I'm pretty sure that very few high school freshman do that. Instagram, perhaps, a SnapChat streak, definitely, but blogging is a dying format!
What I really think:  The first book has done well in my library, so I will definitely purchase.

Brallier, Max. The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade #5
September 17th 2019 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the Publisher

There will be hot competition for this new title in my library! Have to admit, I'm a little curious to see how this would be adapted into a television series, but I don't have Netflix. Also, this is described as Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets The Walking Dead, which my students love. Neither is really my cup of brains.

From the author's web site:
"Surviving their first winter after the Monster Apocalypse was no easy feat, yet Jack and his buddies waste no time springing to action against some of the nastiest, most evil monsters around. When Jack discovers his Louisville Slicer has new, otherworldly powers, he's thrown into epic training to find out what kind of destruction the blade can wield. But between fighting off zombies, fleeing from strange, glowy Vine-Thingies erupting from the ground, and squeezing in a video game session or two, there's barely time left to figure out what's wrong with their buddy, Dirk, who's been acting weird any time he's around the undead. When an unexpected villain appears, can Jack and his friends save themselves--and the rest of the world--from cosmic domination?"



Funny how little things can unbalance our whole week. I'm dealing with both a new phone and a new e reader, and it's not going well. Being a digital immigrant is usually not a huge problem-- I'm the school tech liaison-- but the smart phone drains the battery on things I don't want, and is harder to text on. The slider dumb phone was everything I wanted, and could be dropped on the ground without shattering, but NO ONE supports them or offers them any more. 


Luckily, clothing does not require a network. If I want to wear something from the 1980s, and I can find it at the thrift store, I can wear it. Maybe this is why I take such comfort in clothing!

Monday, September 16, 2019

MMGM- Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.


Gibbs, Stuart. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation
September 17th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Charlie is a twelve year old intellectual prodigy who has uncaring, manipulative parents whom she has escaped by enrolling in college in Denver. Of course, she would rather be dangerously snowboarding with sorority girls than attending classes where she knows more than the professor, so it's easy for the CIA to bring her in for a mission. Well, not really easy, because she also has a finely tuned sense of her surroundings and the ability to steal and drive vehicles. Once Dante and Milana finally get Charlie on a private jet, they explain to her why they have captured her. Albert Einstein had been working on a formula for a source of energy, called Pandora's Box, years before his death. It was never reported that he found it, but new information indicated that he did, and that an evil Neo Nazi group called the Furies knows of its whereabouts. There were some clues, left by Einstein as he was dying, but no one in the CIA can figure them out. Dante is Charlie's half brother, and he knows of her skills as well as her fleecing of  a corporation that stole her idea, so uses this to blackmail her into helping. She is a big help, not only with her mental abilities, but with her surprising knowledge of how to knock bad guys unconscious. The quest for the formula takes them from Israel to the Hubble lab in California, following clues that look like formulas. There are several nefarious groups racing to get the formula, and a lot of double crossing. In the end, it looks like Charlie has been killed, but anyone who has ever read Horowitz's Alex Rider books knows that tween spies are notoriously hard to kill.
Strengths: Wow. This was one tumultuous ride! I loved the beginning, with Albert Einstein's death and the immediate descent of agents on his house, and the clues from books he owned. Including famous historical figures into more modern stories is a great way to get children interested in biographies, and Einstein was a great choice. The fact that Charlie doesn't have to worry about parents or money will appeal to young readers, and the travel to different places appealed to me! This really doesn't slow down for a minute, in the best possible way.
Weaknesses: I did not like Charlie, nor did I feel that her background prepared her to be so amazing. She was definitely bratty. Will younger readers feel this way? No. But the thing I loved about Alex Rider was that his uncle prepared him for being a spy without him knowing, and while he was reluctant, he always pitched in and did his best. I also wish Charlie had been a bit older.
What I really think: I haven't really shifted books since 2010, the year Gibbs' Belly Up came out. I'm going to have to shift things around in the G's (also due to Alan Gratz!) to accommodate all of the great books that have come out since then. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book. Perhaps it will feature another scientist?

Started keeping library statistics, and so far see an average of five classes a day plus an additional 150-200 children. Mondays seem to be a lot busier, and Fridays slower. It's been an adjustment, getting used to the seven day rotation; on Thursday morning it occurred to me that I needed a new lesson! The first one was Publication Data Information (surprising number of children don't know where to find this!), and now it's Three Sources of Digital Books. (Follett Discover, where we have 20 all access nonfiction titles, The Westerville Public Library, and The Ohio Digital Library.) I also have library card applications available for students who want them.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Pérez, Celia C. Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers 
September 3rd 2019 by Kokila
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Lane DiSanti has to move from London to Sabal Palms, Florida to stay with her grandmother while her parents are divorcing, she isn't sure how to make friends. She leaves invitations to the Ostentation of Outsiders and Others in library books at the local library, and draws three girls to her meeting; Ofelia, whose mother is working for Mrs. DiSanti, Aster, who loves to cook, and Cat, who is very interested in birds. Cat is a member of a local girls' group, the Floras, who sell brownies and have a competition for Miss Flora. Cat is appalled that the hat the winner wears includes egret and flamingo feathers, but when she voices her concern to the leader that the hat shouldn't be used, she is ignored. She stops going to the group and enlists Lane and the others in her attempts to tell the community about the unfairness of the hat and have it relegated to a museum. Aster's grandfather, the first African American professor at the local university, teachers Aster that activism is sometimes necessary to right wrongs, but it can be difficult. He is researching the history of the DiSanti family's Winter Sun oranges, which may actually have been brought to the US and made into the family's signature Winter Sun pie by an African American family that has been ignored by history. All of her attempts backfire (putting Lane's stickers around as protest, installing flamingos on the leaders lawn, writing letters to the editor), so the girls decide to steal the hat. This doesn't go well, but it does get everyone concerned to listen to the girls. Mrs. DiSanti, who is also influential in the Floras, finally gets involved, helps the girls come up with a constructive solution, and is even amenable to the attempts to establish the true developer of the family's signature fruit.
Strengths: It's always good to read about young people who have a passion for something, and any book that involves tweens biking around town is always great. There are some important lessons about how to make and maintain friendships that will speak to young readers. The Florida setting is very vivid and well drawn, and there's a lot of information about birds. Aster's recipes are fun to read-- I may have to make the Chip-Chip Cookies with chocolate chips and potato chips! (Recipe included.)
Weaknesses: This was on the long side, and was rather slow going at many points.
What I really think: There have  been a number of books recently with birding and/or bird preservation as the main theme, and they have not circulated at all well in my library. I will probably pass on this title, especially since I can't get The First Rule of Punk to circulate, even though I really liked that one.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Cartoon Saturday- Guts

Telgemeier, Raina. Guts (Smile #3)
September 17th 2019 by Graphix
Copy provided by the publisher

In this third graphic novel memoir, popular author Telgemeier recounts the difficulties she faced in fourth and fifth grade. Living in a small apartment with her parents and younger sister and brother, her family often passed around stomach flu. Combined with the anxiety she felt at school, this morphed into a fear of certain foods, and a terror about vomiting. She often would have an upset stomach, which caused her to miss a lot of school. The doctors could never find any physical ailment, so eventually her parents sent her to a therapist, who helped her with her anxiety. Late elementary school has a lot of friend drama, and Raina had to deal with the impending move of her best friend, as well as a mean girl. Therapy helped her learn some coping mechanisms that made it possible for her to get through school and even make some supportive friends.
Strengths: There are not many books that deal with children participating in therapy (Gerber's Focused being the most recent exception), and with the growing number of children with anxiety issues, this is a needed topic. It is good to see that there were supportive adults in Telgemeier's life who got her the help she needed; perhaps readers who aren't getting this help will be able to use this book as a springboard for conversations with their own family.
Weaknesses: If this were a fiction book, I would have wanted more of a plot (in Gerber's book, the main character was also involved in a chess competition), but since it's a memoir, it's not technically needed.
What I really think: I will definitely have to purchase several copies, but this is not my cup of tea. It does show the power of attractive illustrations to sell a story that would be hard to push if it were straight narrative fiction!

Savage, Doug. Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy: Time Trout
September 17th 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Following the Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy and Disco Fever (which I missed), our forest friends return with a new adventure. A time traveler from the future loses his time travel device, which gets swallowed by Trout. This leads to both Moose and Rabbit traveling through time while also worrying about reattaching Frank the Deer's legs. They also encounter the evil AquaBear and have to fight him off.
Strengths: There's a nice moral lesson about Laser Moose suffering as a small moose alone in the forest but deciding not to change his life, because doing so might lead to him not having laser powers.
Weaknesses: Frank's leg! Ick! Ick! Ick! I am not skeeved by too many things (Except headphones. And earbuds. No, I don't keep them in the library for everyone to use. Ew.), but the images of Frank's cut off leg turn my stomach.
What I really think: It doesn't matter if I like these. My students do. Usually, it's not the same target demographic that reads Guts, but my graphic novel readers are not very discerning. If it's got pictures, it's fine. They will even pick up Anne of Green Gables, which fascinates me.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Cracking the Bell and Strike Zone (Heat #2)

Herbach, Geoff. Cracking the Bell
September 10th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Isaiah's family has struggled after the death of his sister in a car accident that wasn't her fault. The parents divorced, and Isaiah got in so much trouble that he had to spend some time institutionalized and was finally given the choice by his father-- either play football, or stay in the institution until he graduated. Football has been good for Isaiah. It has given him structure, a support group, and a long term goal of playing at college. When his poor tackling technique (head down!) causes him to sustain a significant concussion, he tries to hide it, getting up after being knocked out on the field, and continuing about his evening even though he later has no recollection of his actions. When he throws up the next day and feels unable to concentrate or even stand up for too long, his mother takes him to the doctor, who says that the concussion on top of earlier ones puts him at greater risk in the future, and that he would advise Isaiah not play football any more. That's enough for his mother, who doesn't want to lose another child, but Isaiah and his father are unwilling to give up the activity. Isaiah does a lot of soul searching about his sister's death, his relationship with the troubled Grace, and his plans for the future if he decides to quit football.

Herbach writes tremendous Young Adult novels about characters who love sports and use them as a framework for their very existence. This is so true of many young people, and this depth of involvement in sports is rarely shown in books. To then take this focus away from a character because of a very current and real concern about the lasting impact of concussions is brilliant. Isaiah is a character with a troubled past who has been able to turn things around through his participation in football, and watching as he determines whether he can maintain these positive changes without the sport is fascinating. The varied cast supporting characters work with Isaiah in an interesting way; they are all people Isaiah cares about, but they all seem somehow less important to him than football, with the exception of Grace.

There's just enough football descriptions to hold the interest of sports fans, who will hopefully use this book to think about their own health concerning head trauma. Like Greenwald's Game Changer, Lupica's Lone Stars, Korman's Pop, Northrop's Plunked or Weyn's Full Impact, Cracking the Bell considers the many facets of traumatic brain injury and its effect on young sports enthusiasts.


Lupica, Mike. Strike Zone (Heat #2)
September 10th 2019 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nick Garcia's baseball team, the Blazers, is playing in the Dream League championships, and Nick hopes that his pitching is good enough to earn him the MVP award, which would let him throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. He and his friends are all doing their best, and since Nick loves baseball, he has a good chance, even though he has an old mitt and has to listen to Yankees games on the radio. He feels a strong kinship with one of the star players, Michael Arroyo, who had a difficult time growing up, losing his father and being undocumented immigrant (I think this is not a real player; the one who shows up in an internet search is from Puerto Rico). His friend Marisol is supportive of his playing, but Nick is careful around her; her father is a police officer, and his father is an undocumented immigrant who has a police record for a minor offense. Nick's father and mother came to the US on tourist visas from the Dominican Republic, have jobs, and pay taxes, but are waiting for Nick's sister Amelia to turn 21 and sponsor them for citizenship. Amelia suffers from lupus, and her medical treatments are hard for the family to manage, although there are some clinics in their Bronz neighborhood that have been helpful. Nick has seen a strange man hanging around the neighborhood, and thinks he is on of the ICE agents responsible for arresting one of his neighbors, so is worried when the man shows up at his baseball game. It turns out that Mr. Gasson is an attorney who helps immigrants, and he gives Nick his information. This is useful when Mr. Garcia is attacked by a drunk outside the hospital when he and Nick have taken Amelia in for an emergency and Mr. Garcia is arrested. He ends up in prison, and the family is frantic. Will his father be able to work with ICE and not be deported? Help comes from an unexpected person.
Strengths: This is a timely story, even though it is not an #ownvoices one, and it's interesting to pick up a character from a previous book. As always, Lupica does great girl characters, and Marisol has her own interest in tennis, and has a very equal relationship with Nick. The baseball details are a good way to break up the episodes of Nick's anxiety over his sister and his parents.
Weaknesses: The first book, Heat (2006), is no longer in print in hardback. My copy certainly hasn't circulated much. I have plenty of baseball books, and there are more readers who want football and basketball books.
What I really think: Debating. I do have two copies of Heat, and it's not essential to read that book first; I certainly don't remember anything about it! I would be buying this for the immigration story more than the baseball aspect of it.

I live in Ohio State Buckeye country, so a lot of teacher wear Buckeye gear on Fridays. This is as close as I come.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Free Lunch

Ogle, Rex. Free Lunch
September 10th 2019 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In this fiction-style memoir, we get the real story of the author's sixth grade year. His family (which includes mother, younger half brother, and the brother's father) struggles financially. Rex is mortified by being on free lunch, which is hard to hide from his friends when the lunch lady makes him give his name and identify that he is in the program every day. He also doesn't like the thrift store clothing he wears, or the neighborhood in which his family lives. He wishes that grocery shopping weren't so painful; his mother won't buy the "fun" food he wants because she often doesn't have enough money for the entire order and sometimes must put items back. He does have friends at school, but they don't know what is really going on in his life; even when they want him to play football and he can't because of the money, he doesn't tell them his reason. When things go from bad to worse, the family ends up in subsidized housing and receives food stamps, and several items, including Rex's boom box, are pawned and not retrieved. The one bright spot in Rex's life is his abuela, who visits and brings food, clothing, and gifts. Unfortunately, the mother, who has a violent temper, does not allow Rex to keep those things, and goes so far as to throw away the food. Even though the teachers are not as supportive of Rex as they should be (he feels that one teacher in particular discriminates against him because he is poor, and she eventually apologizes for the way she has treated him), he is able to make good choices, and doesn't get involved in some of the really bad pursuits that some of the neighborhood children do. Eventually, both of the adults have jobs, Rex has a bit of a break from the struggles of poverty, and he tells his friend Ethan about his background.
Strengths: While we are seeing more books with economically diverse characters, I am not sure how many of them are #ownvoices stories, so this is good to see. We do have a language arts unit where students need to read a memoir of their choice, and this is a short, fast paced book that would appeal to reluctant readers. It's helpful to have books that show different experiences, so that students who don't have Rex's struggles can learn to be empathetic, and students who have similar experiences can find out that they are not alone.
Weaknesses: I wish that there had been more explanation for the way Rex's mom acted. She reinforces every bad stereotype of "trailer trash" (a term which is used by the author). Since this is nonfiction, the author couldn't really make her a more sympathetic character, but I'm not sure that readers who might hold prejudices (through their parents' comments) about people who struggle financially will understand that this is not the way all people in poverty act. While there are lists of resources at the back of the book, some light shed on the mother's behavior (a cursory Internet search indicates she may have had some mental health issues that were not addressed) would possibly help children who are in a similar circumstance.
What I really think: This hit a bit close to home. There are lots of different ways of dealing with all life circumstances, and it's good to see a variety of narratives, but when books come close to my own experiences but then diverges, it's hard to keep that in mind. While I had a stable childhood (despite the number of relatives I had who did indeed live in trailer parks), my own children were raised for a long time in a neighborhood where thrift store clothing and economic insecurity were common and unremarkable. My children were very close to being on free lunch, yet did  not complain about powered milk, scratch-and-dent boxed food, or hand-me-downs. I think I will purchase this book, because it has an important story, but I do worry that it will cause well off readers (about half of my students) to think that poor people are poor because they are mean and don't try. Anyone have thoughts about this? Again, I feel like my own experiences are coloring my reaction to this book.



Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

More to the Story

Khan, Hena. More to the Story
September 3rd 2019 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jameela is pleased that she has been named the features editor of her school paper, even though she is in 7th grade, and doesn't get along well with Travis, an 8th grader who is editor. Her grandfather was an investigative reported, and she wants to follow in his footsteps. She wants to make her father proud, and stand out from her three sisters a bit. Things are a bit rough in her household since her father lost his latest contract job with the Center for Disease Control, and there have been lots of whispered parental conversations about this. When he gets a new contract, to set up a unit in a hospital in Abu Dhabi, it's good that there is income, but the family will miss him. Jameela has an honorary aunt and uncle who spend time with the family a lot, and they have a nephew, Ali, staying with them. Ali's mother and younger sister are still living in London, but are relocating to the US after the death of the father. Ali is a lot of fun, and a year ahead of Jameela at middle school. When she gets a chance to interview him for the paper, she has the focus of the article be microagressions, which the two had discussed. Ali doesn't want this article to be published, and Jameela reluctantly agrees. The article does appear, and it turns out to be a misunderstanding with Travis over files. It's a good article, but Ali is deeply hurt. Adding to her tension is the fact that Bisma, her younger sister, has been diagnosed with leukemia and is undergoing treatment while her father is out of the country. Luckily, Jameela has a strong family and friends to help her through these difficult times.
Strengths: I love this author's Zayd Saleem series, and the depiction of family gatherings and extended family (whether related or not) is strong in this one as well. Like Varsha Bajaj's new Count Me In (which deals with much more series racial issues), this novel breaks down a current topic of concern, microaggressions, in a way that middle grade readers can understand. There is also the father's job difficulties and the sister's cancer, but the book revolves around how these things affect Jameela, which is how middle grade readers (and really, most of us!) process difficult situations. Despite the heavy topics, this never gets soggy sad, which I appreciate. I love the cover-- this illustrator doesn't seem familiar, but has just the right tone for middle grade.
Weaknesses: The Columbus Dispatch just laid off a significant amount of its staff, including my favorite columnist, Joe Blundo, so I am loathe to encourage students to pursue careers in journalism. I know there has been a resurgence in journalism classes in high schools because of concerns with "fake news", but I have still not gotten over not being able to find a job teaching Latin (after 25 years!), so fear for students who pursue their dreams that are sure to get dashed to the ground.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and think this will do well with all manner of readers.

This dress was the plan, but it's supposed to be 90 and rainy, so I had to put on my Emergency Outfit, which is a purpleish washable Coldwater Creek jumper and a striped Lands End oxford.

Some people put on jeans and a t shirt when they can't do clothes; I put on a jumper. With a shiny broach. And loafers.

Also, I read a lot of books last night that are in a series, and I couldn't bring myself to do reviews for things like I Survived: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, book 5 of Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong and Dogman: Brawl of the Wild. I do have to read them so I can still say I've read all the fiction, though!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Anya and the Dragon

Pasternack , Sofiya. Anya and the Dragon
September 24th 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Anya's family is struggling in a small village in a Medieval, Slavic area. Her father has been conscripted, and the local magistrate claims that the family haven't payed taxes (from which they thought they were exempt) and so owe 500 rubles or their property will be seized. Ivan and his family of fools move to town in search of a dragon and offer Anya money to help find one after she saves a local religious leader from being choked by a violent dragon hunter, Sigurd, by beaning Sigurd with a horseshoe! She takes the job even though she doesn't hate dragons, or, indeed, know much a bout them. Ivan's family is also unusual in that they openly use magic. Anya's grandmother and mother have mild forms of magic at their command, but they are very careful about using it lest they be arrested. Anya reads some of Ivan's books and thinks that his take on magical creatures is wrong; he doesn't even understand their house spirit, who is certainly not evil. When Anya finds Håkon, a dragon, she is concerned that Ivan will turn him over to his father, but he doesn't. Some information about various members of their community comes to light, and of course, Sigurd comes after Håkon. Anya and Ivan are involved in this epic battle, but will they be able to save their friend?
Strengths: I really enjoyed the Jewish culture in this book, and the depiction of how Anya and her family are treated because they are "foreigners". The grandmother is a great character, and I liked the scenes with Anya and her goat and making challah. Dragon books have been hot in my library because of Sutherland's Wings of Fire, so the cover will appeal to those readers. The friendship with Ivan is a good one, and his realization that perhaps magical creatures are not all evil, despite what his father says, is a good one for young readers to see.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more set up of Anya's world; the use of Russian and Serbian words puts it in a particular area, but doesn't specify, and I wasn't sure it was a Medieval setting until a note in the back. It could easily have been set in the 1800s (with dragons). Also, I've seen a lot of books that have the basic premise of magic being illegal but people wanting to use it anyway, and of the population being unsure whether dragons are good or evil.
What I really think: I will have to see how many fans of dragon books I have this year; the ending of this book leaves it open to be a series. Also, I wish the cover had been a silhouette of Anya in her head scarf (which is described in the book) instead of her with a Barbie-style ponytail.

Khorana, Aditi. Liferaft (Horizon #5)
September 3rd 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

If you have gotten any of these books, know that this is the last book in the series. I have had problems following the video game style action of these, although the Cub Tones amused me greatly. The books are short, and a decent science fiction adventure, just not my personal favorite.

From Goodreads:
"They've been looming in the distance the whole time, watching silently as the young survivors of the crash-landed Aero Horizon Flight 16 crossed a gauntlet of dangerous, unnatural landscapes.

After weeks of terror and heartbreak, Molly and her friends have reached the eerie structure they spotted at the start of their journey, all in a desperate bid that it will provide answers to their ordeal... and perhaps a way home.

Here, the survivors will finally learn the truth behind the rift.

And here they'll encounter a monster far deadlier than anything they've faced yet.
 "


Recently started a Google form to track drop in library visits from study halls and other classes. This is both for security and also to make sure that the library is being used. Yesterday, I saw about 150 kids with seven classes and had almost 300 drop ins for books, technology questions, and Chrome Books. It was a decently busy day. We checked out 346 books!
Ms. Yingling

Monday, September 09, 2019

MMGM- The World Ends in April

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

McAnulty, Stacy. The World Ends in April
September 3rd 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Eleanor Dross is not having a successful middle school experience. Aside from her best friend, Mack, she has few people with whom she connects, and once she tries to dye and cut her own hair, she gets a lot of negative comments from her peers that make her even more anxious about everything. Londyn, who was somewhat friendly in elementary school, is downright scary now, and throws a ball in Eleanor's face in gym class. When Eleanor finds out that an asteroid is headed to earth and impact will occur in the spring, she is very concerned. Her Grandpa Joe is a survivalist "prepper" who runs frequent bug out drills and expects Eleanor and her two younger brothers to have their bags packed and organized. While she hasn't really enjoyed the drills lately, she loves her grandfather, and the thought of an asteroid hitting is a little bit of a relief. Along with Mack, Eleanor starts a "nature club" that is a cover for helping other kids learn how to prepare for TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). A sympathetic teacher, Mrs. Walsh, lets the group meet in her room after school. Eleanor is very anxious about running the meetings, especially when Londyn shows up. Londyn challenges Eleanor's thoughts, but is the mos fascinated by the thought of the asteroid. She helps write and pass out a tip sheet, and starts to hang out with Eleanor. Londyn's home life is a bit complicated, since her parents are divorcing and she and her mom are living with an aunt, and she hopes that her father will take the asteroid seriously and come to be with her. Eleanor's father is not happy with her obsession, and as the days tick down, she becomes more and more distraught, especially when she finds out that Mack is going to attend a school for the blind the following year. When the two girls (aided by Mack's distraction of the librarian) take over the video morning announcements and warn the students about what is supposed to happen in April, they get suspended. Does it even matter, since the world is supposed to be hit in a few days?
Strengths: We know Eleanor. We see her in the hallways at school all the time. Perfectly pleasant enough child, does okay in school, but has trouble making friends and just dealing with classmates. This is exactly the sort of student who would obsess over something like an asteroid. It's this verisimilitude that draws me to McAnulty's work; like The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, the synopsis of book didn't make it seem like it would interest me, but the writing and characters drew me right in. Mack's limited vision, and the way he manages, is a great addition to the story-- it's a fine line writing between writing a blind character and a character who is blind, and McAnulty nails it. She is also very matter-of-fact when describing characters, saying that they are white, black, etc. and mentioning a defining characteristic. I liked that. The grandfather is a terrific character, the father's frustration and apprehension warranted, and  the bits about reliable resources will warm any librarians heart. I loved that Mrs. Walsh and the father were very supportive and asked good questions about Eleanor's feelings.
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the long side, and the cover is not fantastic.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. It may take a little bit of hand selling, but it's a great story of middle school insecurity that students will read once they pick it up.


Pro fashion tip: Key chains are inexpensive and make great necklaces! I traded out the beads for my Deathly Hallows necklace, which was much less expensive than an actual necklace, and larger as well. I also have a nice Rosetta Stone necklace from the British Museum.

Wearing key chains as jewelry. Always classy.
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, September 08, 2019

My Jasper June

Snyder, Laurel. My Jasper June
September 3rd 2019 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's summer time, but Leah is bored. She's old enough that her parents let her stay home, but she isn't going to camp, her friends are gone, and she's just... bored. Her parents aren't interested in what she does, since they can barely drag themselves through the day after a tragedy that befell the family a year ago. When she is out in her suburban Atlanta neighborhood, looking for things to do, she meets a girl, Jasper. Jasper is trying to wash her clothes in a creek, so Leah asks her home. The girls do laundry, have snacks, and hang out. For the first time, Leah feels normal and happy. Jasper doesn't know her past, so doesn't ask questions. For a while after that, the girls don't see each other, and when they do meet again, Leah finds out that Jasper doesn't like to accept help. She sees Jasper's living situation, which is an abandoned shack, and learns a bit about her life. Jasper learns Leah's secret as well, but the girls get along well, and are glad to have someone with whom to spend the long summer days. When she finds out the full truth about Jasper's circumstances, Leah is afraid for her and wants to tell her parents, although she has promised not to. Eventually, Jasper does visit, gets along well with Leah's parents, and even restores them to their former involved selves a little bit. When Jasper needs Leah and her family's help, will they be able to provide it? (Trying not to spoil some of the plot elements.)
Strengths: Jasper's home reminded me a little of the shell house in Edward's Mandy, so it was interesting that Leah saw it as a kind of playhouse but it was really more serious. Jasper's circumstances are laid out in a very believable way. The friendship is a relief to both girls, and middle grade readers will relate to the idea of finding someone who lets them be themselves, despite the things that have gone on in their lives. Snyder's writing is always very vividly descriptive, easy to read, and innovative.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of grief being portrayed in a way that makes the characters seem completely devastated and unable to go on, especially when parents stop caring for living children. Leah mentions having been in therapy briefly; clearly, the entire family needed to go.
What I really think: Snyder's work doesn't circulate well in my library even though I love some of her titles, so I will probably not purchase this. Portraying grieving parents like this is personally hurtful to me; I just can't. The public library has a copy on order, and they deliver directly to my school.
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, September 07, 2019

All the Impossible Things

Lackey, Lindsay. All the Impossible Things
September 3rd 2019 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Red has been in the foster care system for three years, after the death of her grandmother and the arrest of her mother for drug possession. She has been in several foster care placements, and has a caring case worker, Ms. Anders, who tries to help as much as she can. When her latest placement doesn't work out, she ends up being placed with the Grooves, an older couple who run a petting zoo with rescued animals. They are kind, helpful, and don't presume that Red wants to be with them any longer than necessary. Red tentatively settles in, and makes friends with a neighbor boy, Marvin, whose family is from Hawaii and who is very interested in film making. Red misses her grandmother, who helped her keep a journal of "impossible things" that they tried to figure out together, and her mother, who shares Red's supernatural abilities to stir up wind and storms with her emotions during heated interchanges. Eventually, Red is allowed visits with her mother, but the joy in this is tempered both by her mother's behavior and also by the fact that her foster mother, Celine, has some serious health concerns. After a incident with Celine's grandsons over Christmas (Red tries to use a rake to protect them from a large rat in the barn, and their mother thinks Red is attacking the boys), Red is moved to another placement, but this turns out to be temporary, and she is soon back with the Grooves. As her mother's custody hearing approaches, Red tries to make a video with Marvin pleading her mother's case with the court, but several incidents make Red doubt whether or not she really wants to be with her mother. How will Red make the best of this impossible situation?
Strengths: The depiction of foster care in this one was very interesting, since it showed Red's less than optimal placement before it showed the Grooves. It also dealt with how Red felt about her mother, and drew a heart rending portrait of a woman who just was not able to care for her daughter. With an increasing number of children in foster care, it's good to have a variety of depictions in middle grade novels to act as "windows and mirrors"; if children identify with the characters, they can know they are not alone, and if they have no experience with foster care, it can teach them to be sympathetic to classmates who might be in that situation. It also shows that even the most ideal foster care placement can run into difficulties, like health problems. Ruby's emotions are realistically portrayed, and I appreciated her grandmother's philosophy about impossible things. The inclusion of the rescue animals and Marvin helped give more hope to Red's story.
Weaknesses: Red and her mother's ability to raise windstorms is odd and never really explained. Every time an incident occurred, it ripped me right out of the realism of the rest of the story.
What I really think: I am debating this one. The details about foster care were so intriguing that I was willing to forget about the supernatural part of the story, but the cover makes Red look about six years old, and the magical quality of the cover doesn't make this appealing to students who want problem novels. I enjoyed this one and will probably purchase it, but it's not a book that made me want to buy it immediately.