Monday, September 26, 2016

MMGM- Sonnenblick's Falling Over Sideways

Time to party! There's a new Jordan Sonnblick book coming out. Ever since I read Notes from the Midnight Driver, every new Sonnenblick book is an OCCASION!!

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.

28675749Sonnblick, Jordan. Falling Over Sideways
September 27th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Claire has a lot going on when 7th grade starts, so it doesn't help that crazy old Mrs. Selinsky's homeroom is an odd mishmash of people who are at odds with each other but still have to go through the entire day together. She and Ryder used to be friends, but now he goes out of his way to make fun of her. Regina calls Claire "Starbucks" and strong arms Skittles from her. Leigh "compliments" her boots in a way that makes Claire want to immediately burn them in a way only snotty, popular middle school girls can. On top of school, she has dance, where she is not promoted to the next level with her friends. When you spend every night at the dance studio, this is a problem. Then, suddenly, her father has a stroke, Claire is with him and calls the ambulance, but the damage to her funny, charismatic author father is significant. Now, on top of everything else, she and her mother and older brother find themselves dealing with her father's impairment and recuperation. Claire is reluctant to tell her friends and teachers, but eventually she has to tell them the truth about how difficult her life has been... and realize that she will have to learn to deal with the new reality of her life. 

As with any Sonnenblick novel, the subject matter is immaterial. I read him for the absurdly clever turns of phrase that pop up when I least expect them. How anyone can write an essentially sad scene in such a hysterically funny way impresses and amuses me. This mixture of tones also makes occurrences such as the father's stroke oddly compelling because we are forced to laugh when it seems like we should be very somber. 

Claire's character is so realistic that I half expect her to show up at my school on the first day and ask to work in the library. I loved that her family was intact and supportive, and also that she had a schedule full of dance, clarinet, and hanging out with friends. Her older brother, whom she thinks is her father's favorite, is also overbooked. He is also stoic and silently resentful; there could be another book written about Matthew's reaction to the same events. Even the supporting characters like Ryder and Regina, and the brilliantly flawed Mrs. Selinsky, are given subtle motivations and convoluted backstories. Falling Over Sideways shows brilliantly that it's impossible to know what baggage others are carrying. 

It's easy to say "recommend this to readers of books dealing with serious family issues, such as Sovern's The Meaning of Maggie or Applegate's Crenshaw", but this book deserves a wider audience. Sonnenblick's fans will be waiting for this book to arrive on the shelves, but hopefully new readers will be drawn to the book for its connections to dance, saxophone playing, or the representation of someone else's experience in the confounding swirl of people and activities that comprise the Hell that is middle school. 

The only downside to this book was the inclusion of Claire's torment when she gets her period at school; while the scene is completely true to life and brings up serious issues about how we treat girls in middle school (no purses, having to explain the need to go to the restroom or nurse), its inclusion in the first chapter might cause some readers to put down the book. 

25688990Greenwald, Tommy. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Growing Up
August 9th 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Library Copy

Charlie Joe didn't really like middle school, but he's not quite ready to leave. The day of his 8th grade graduation (which is also his birthday) is packed with activity, including a pool party, a trip to the park with his sister Megan, and an emergency visit to the vet with Moose. In between, we get rare flashbacks into Charlie Joe's life that explain the beginnings of some of his friendships or preferences. In true Charlie Joe fashion, he manages to go out of Eastport Middle School with a bang, but somehow manages to NOT get in too much trouble. 

This is the sixth and final book in a series that has a huge amount of appeal for middle grade readers, and it doesn't disappoint. Charlie stays true to form with his standard higjinks, and we get a better understanding for some of his motivations. Clearly, Greenwald is drawing from his own experiences and is feeling a lot of nostalgia.  Will middle school readers miss Charlie Joe, or their own middle school experience, for that matter? Enough of them will that this makes a perfect ending for a fun series. 

I appreciate that the covers retained the same format, but am NOT happy about the truly horrible bindings on the last three books. Paper over board does not hold up to library usage, and I certainly would have paid more to have a dust jacketed hardcover so that Charlie Joe could remain in my library for years to come. 

Good luck in high school, Charlie Joe. I'm glad that you have come to terms with reading.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Children of Exile (Children of Exile #1)

27240552Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Children of Exile (Children of Exile #1)
September 13th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Rosi and Edwy are two of the oldest children in Fred-town. They have been raised knowing that their Fred-mothers and Fred-fathers are just raising them while there is unrest in the community where their real parents live. Fred-town is an ideal place, and everyone learns to be tolerant, patient and understanding. When Rosi finds out that all of the children, including her and her younger brother Bobo, are going to be returned to their parents, she is apprehensive but open to the idea and cooperative, the way she has been raised to be. She is alarmed when the airplane sent to retrieve the children is not supplied with the things the younger children need, and she tries her best to make everyone comfortable. Edwy is not helpful. When the plane lands, it is stormed by the parents, who grab their children, frightening them terribly. Rosi is appalled by the squalor in which her family lives, and tries to get answers as to why there is so much poverty and dissent. This gets her into a lot of trouble, and she is eventually jailed and becomes a fugitive. Even though she is given an opportunity to return to Fred-town, she decides to stay with her brother and another little girl, Cana, and try to right the wrongs that have been done in her new community. 
Strengths: I loved how the children of Fred-town were raised to be so tolerant and understanding, not to mention polite and cooperative. There was also a twist so surprising it was visceral. Definitely a compelling read.
Weaknesses: The abuse and dysfunction in the new community was horrific, and the fighting between people with green eyes and those with brown felt preachy. 

What I really think: This was just straight up WEIRD. I kept reading mainly because I wanted some explanation as to why it was FRED-town. Was disappointed. Think I'll wait to see what direction the second book takes before purchasing. 

28954085Littman, Sarah Darer. Charmed, I'm Sure
September 27th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline 

I'm not quite sure what to think about this one. On the one hand, fairy tale retellings occasionally become popular in my library, and this one involves the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming living in New York City. On the other, the main plot was that Rosie wants a date for the school dance and her looks and lifestyle obsessed mother thinks that a makeover accomplish that. This sort of happens in the end, but only after Rosie gets her all-important date. An uncomfortable read for me. I have always been useful, not decorative, and think that tweens need the messages that substance is more important than looks AND that they don't need a boy/man/significant other in order to be happy. 

Any thoughts on this one?

'Rosie White Charming—the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming—discovers that being the fairest in the land isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in this charming continuation of the beloved fairy tale.

Meet Rosie White Charming. You probably know her parents, Snow and Prince. Yup—that Snow and Prince. You would think that being the only daughter of two of the most famous people in fairy tale history would be awesome.

But you would be wrong.

After failing to secure a date for the Fall Festive dance, Rosie is on a mission to prove that the daughter of the fairest in the land can actually hold her own. With the help of a mysterious and magical compact that her mother gives her (and a nice blowout from her mother’s favorite salon) Rosie starts to become the person she thinks she should be. But is being the fairest in all of the land really going to give Rosie her happily-ever-after?'

Plus, I couldn't get this out of my mind:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Frazzled

28259085Vivat, Booki. Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom
September 27th 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by MC Communications

Abbie Wu has an adorable younger sister, an overachieving older brother, and a mother who gets enthusiastic for all the wrong reasons. Abbie is starting middle school ans is very concerned about every aspect of it. She decides that "the middles" are the worst, and looks to her friends to commiserate with her, but they LIKE middle school. The teachers are weird, homework is overwhelming, study hall is scary, and the cafeteria food is horrible. Only the 8th graders get the good food, like extra cheese pizza and double fudge brownies, and Abbie doesn't think this is fair. During study hall, she comes up with a plan for students to arrange trades with foods they don't like, keeping in mind that there are peanut allergies. Abbie gets cheese puffs instead of the flavor of fruit roll ups she doesn't like, and she even manages a trade for rice cakes! Even the 8th graders are impressed with this underground food revolution, and Abbie is rather proud that she has finally found "her thing"... until she gets called to the office. Oddly enough, she doesn't get into a lot of trouble, but the school puts a stop to the trading after an overbearing parent complains. Still, emboldened by her organize and lead, Abbie decides to run for class president and feels that middle school might not be completely horrible after all. 
Strengths: Abby has a supportive family, and her brother is particularly well portrayed. She does share fears that many middle school students have, and does learn how to deal with them. This is an illustrated, notebook style novel, complete with hand drawn font. It's just too bad that this didn't come out BEFORE school started!
Weaknesses: This had several elements that didn't ring true to me. I can't imagine a school where 8th graders would get different food, and certainly few cafeterias have cupcakes anymore. Children trade food all the time, and there is no need for a cafeteria wide system, nor would the administration really care that children were trading. I personally am not a fan of any book that reinforces the thought that middle school is a huge and scary change, but middle graders with anxiety issues seem to be an up and coming trend.
What I really think: I'll buy a copy for the students who are waiting for the new Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid book. It'll be good to use for Guys Read Pink month. 

28954143Gutknect, Allision. The Bling Queen
September 27th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss

Tess loves fashion, especially accessories. She even journals about them for language arts class! All of the girls look up to her except for Kayte, who shares Tess's obsession and even keeps a similar journal for language arts class. Tess's family has her grandmother living with them, and Mimi has good days and bad days when it comes to remembering things. After losing a ring and being afraid to tell her mother, who thinks she is not as responsible as she should be, Tess decides to run a fashion consulting business, inspired by a business plan she is supposed to write for school. This is really successful, and she manages to work around the school rules against running a business, but finds that she and Kayte have a lot in common, even though they are competing against each other. 
Strengths: The Aladdin M!X books generally circulate well. Like the rest of these books, The Bling Queen is light and breezy, although Mimi's increasing dementia is not neglected. 
Weaknesses: Tess' love of fashion and her influence on other students and even teachers didn't seem realistic. I didn't believe that anyone would pay to get her advice. 
What I really think: May buy this if I have enough money left over at the end of the year. Just wasn't my favorite, probably since I am very fashion impaired!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Guy Friday- The Best Man

28251377Peck, Richard. The Best Man
20 September 2016, Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Archer lives a fairly ordinary but pleasant suburban life with a fantastic family. His grandfather, an architect, designed the elementary school he attends, and walked him to school every day when he was younger. His father restores classic cars and cooks. His mother is not a wedding planner (as he thought when he was younger), but a marriage counselor. Older sister Holly, who skips a lot of high school in order to "visit colleges" is the only difficult character in the family, and bully Jackson Showalter is the only bad egg at school. Even he is quickly put in his place by Archer's fantastic uncle Paul, who is very metropolitan and has a job with an agency that deals with the Chicago Cubs. We follow Archer's life (through his narration) from a wedding he is forced to be ring bearer in before he starts school. There, he embarrasses himself, but meets his good friend and protector, Lynette. Every year brings different teachers, challenges, and classic cars. Unfortunately, we see Archer's grandfather's health fade over this time, and he eventually passes away. The year that Archer's class has three different teachers, including Lynette's mother, is a pivotal one, as the class has a fabulous student teacher, Andy McCleod. Andy is a military reservist who has a fresh and energetic take on teaching, and the students love him. When he defends a student who has been attacked and had "gay" written on his forehead, he also identifies himself as gay, causing a bit of an uproar but not making any difference at all to the students who love him. 

It's hard to say why this novel is so appealing and easy to read. Not much happens, but it's so pleasant and entertaining that I didn't care. The humor is gentle but pervasive, and Archer has a lot of intriguing interests. His family is a big fan of the Cubs, they build Lego villages together and deal with the death of the grandfather in a realistic and constructive manner. We follow his elementary years up through 6th grade, when his class moves unexpectedly to middle school after a school reconfiguration. 

In addition to great family characters, Archer is surrounded by interesting teachers and classmates. Lynnette is forthright, no nonsense, and able to stand up to anyone who gives Archer a hard time. When her mother becomes their teacher, she is able to compartmentalize herself and not be bothered by this. Mr. McCleod is a great teacher without being overly sentimentalized. 

The big talking point of the book will be that Archer realizes (much after everyone else) that his favorite uncle is gay, but this really wasn't main point of the story. Yes, the uncle gets married to a man, but this was addressed in such a supportive and accepting way that it was never an "issue". It was just life. The fact that the topic is raised in the book will still upset people, which is too bad. If all families were able to weather their difficulties with the grace and fortitude of Archer's family, the world would be a better place. 

The Best Man is a great choice for readers who can handle quiet but interesting books that emphasize the importance of family, such as Connor's All Rise for the Honorable Perry  T. Cook, Graff's Lost in the Sun, or Messner's The Seventh Wish

Mr. Peck says in this interview with Roger Sutton of Horn Book that there are no villains in The Best Man because he wanted the book to be "a hymn of joy". After the events of this summer, and the Year of Sad Reading that 2016 turned out to be, I don't think we need to look any further than that statement to realize why this was such a blissfully relieving book to read. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cybils Judges Announced!

I'm so pleased to be working with the following bloggers on this year's Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award! Last year, I was not directly involved with picking a winner, since I read for YA Nonfiction, so I'm thrilled to be back with my first love. 
Start thinking about your nominations! Those open on 1 October 2016!
Round 1
Karen Yingling
Ms. Yingling Reads
Sarah Sammis
Puss Reboots
Jenna Grose
Falling Letters
Ryan Hanna 
Reading Rocks!
Mindy Righer
Proper Noun Blog
Round 2
Alex Baugh
Randomly Reading
Greg Pattridge
Always in the Middle
Valerie Bogert
Skipping Through the Stacks
Katie McEnaney
The Logonauts
Yamile Mendez
Project Middle Grade Mayhem

Gears of Revolution (Mysteries of COVE #2)

Gears of Revolution (Mysteries of Cove, #2)Savage, J. Scott. Gears of Revolution (Mysteries of COVE #2)
September 20th 2016 by Shadow Mountain
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Trenton and Kallista are back after their adventures in Fires of Invention, and are traveling with Ladon the mechanical dragon in search of Kallista's father. They are shot down over Seattle, where they find a civilization that has managed to survive by worshipping the dragons, especially the emerald one that they have killed. This causes some problems on many fronts, but Leo Babbage has been to this community and worked with the dimber damber, Cochrane, who is in charge of the whipjacks. The Order of the Beasts is comprised of the more educated members of society-- they wear odd clothing and keep everyone in line. Kallista and Trenton need to repair Ladon and keep looking for Leo, but they manage to find a lot of things going on in Seattle. Eventually, they travel back to Cove and talk to the people there about helping Seattle, although they meet many objections. There are a lot more dragon attacks, some surprises about the loyalties of characters, and an ending that makes a third book likely. 

Disclaimer: I read this on vacation AND this is the sort of fantasy book that I always struggle to keep straight!

Strengths: This is definitely a fresh fantasy series. Yes, dragons are involved, but there is also a lot of fun mechanics, some research, and traveling in less-than-ideal circumstances. The first book would have been popular with my growing crowd of fantasy readers if it hadn't been lost for most of the year. (Luckily, it showed up in locker clean out.)

Weaknesses: I wasn't a fan of the dialect that Plucky spoke, or Cochrane's title (although it's not a made up thing just for this book-- dimber damber). 
What I really think: A lot of action and adventure as well as intrigue. Not my thing, but I have students who will love this. 

23922381Stroud, Jonathan. Creeping Shadow (Lockwood and Co. #4)
September 13th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Public Library Copy

I don't know why I love these so much, because I hate scary things, but it's such a good series. I just want to be the office manager and send Holly (who is actually portrayed very sympathetically) packing. This would be lovely, since I would be able to have my six cups of tea a day and no one would blink, since this is England, and tea might be the only thing to give us strength to endure the ghost infestations. 

I am very impressed by how Stroud is able to write from a female viewpoint. While Lucy seems a bit messier than I would imagine a young woman to be, he really hits all of her feelings about Holly, about having to come back to Lockwood & Co., and about dealing with Lockwood himself right on the nose. 

There's got to be a romance at some sort, and I do wonder what the group will do when they lose their powers to see ghosts. That might be why I enjoyed the inclusion of the over-the-hill ghostwise Kipps in the group. 

This is one of those rare books where there is enough ghost violence and gore for the younger set, but enough agency politics and interpersonal strife for the reset of us!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#WNDWednesday-- The Distance Between Us

28954073Grande, Reyna. The Distance Between Us
September 6th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this memoir, the author shares her experiences growing up in a small Mexican town where her parents wished to build a house. Since the economy was bad, her father went to the US to work, and her mother soon joined him. She and her siblings were left in the care of their father's mother, who didn't much care for them. Eventually, her mother had another daughter, whom she brought back to be cared for, and her father married another woman. Eventually, he brought the family to the states, where the stepmother was somewhat kinder than the real mother, but her father became abusive. Life in the US included a nicer place to live than anywhere she had seen in Mexico, an opportunity to become educated, and other conveniences that made life easier, but the author still longed for her family to be together and functional. 
Strengths: This offers interesting insights on both living in poverty in Mexico and the struggle of coming to a new country. There are many students who need to read books like these to gain some empathy, and others, like the author herself, who need to see themselves in literature. This young readers' edition does a good job of showing these difficulties but also emphasizing the importance of working hard and taking advantages of opportunities.
Weaknesses: Some of my students of Hispanic descent are starting to complain that they want books that cover the immigrant experience but aren't quite as depressing. This one in particular showed that a lot of the problems the author faced were because of her dysfunctional family. I think my students would be very interested in a book about the experience of the author's children, since that would be more like their own. 
What I really think: This would be an excellent companion to Lupita Manana, since the experiences are roughly contemporary. Debating purchase. If it were 200 pages long, I'd snap it up, but it comes in at over 300. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Dark Army

28595006Delaney, Joseph. The Dark Army (Starblade Chronicles #2)
September 20th 2016 by Greenwillow Books 
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

**Spoiler Alert**
Because of the nature of A New Darkness, which includes a plot twist that has made me and most of my students want to fling the book across the room in anger, this review contains spoilers. Do not continue if you haven't read the first book in this trilogy!

For many magical reasons, Tom is returned to the realm of the living, and Prince Stanislaw is determined to immediately press him back into action. He decides to attack the kulad (tower) at Valkarky, but Tom would much rather go home. To assure he doesn't, Grimalkin kidnaps Jenny and sends her off with Prince Kaylar. Things go badly in a battle, but Jenny manages to escape and get back to warn Tom, but he and Grimalkin are attacked. They are saved by a welcome but unexpected person from Tom's past, and find that Lukastra is dead but Lenklewth is still a major force to be reckoned with. While the battle is raging around them, Tom and Lenklewth get transported into another dimension where just the two of them can battle it out, and even though a vartek comes with him, Lenklewth is defeated and Tom makes his way back to Chippenden. He and Jenny hope that they can return to their regular life of dispatching boggarts and witches, but when a local farmer is killed by a Golgoth, they know that the battle is coming their way. Luckily, Tom has his returned ally to help him, even though he loses another one.

This series is much more gruesome that The Last Apprentice, and the monsters that Tom and Jenny encounter are vicious and deadly. Even the ghosts that Jenny tries to neutralize at Prince Stanislaw's castle are more demon than ghost! There are constant battles which frequently end in substantial wounds being delivered to main characters, and also several violent ends that fairly main characters meet. Still, the violence is predominantly performed by supernatural creatures whose sole purpose is to destroy, which makes it seem less horrible than if other humans were purposefully inflicting harm on each other!

I was glad to see that even though most of the effort expended had to go toward defeating the Kabalos and the god Talkus as they made their way closer and closer to Chippenden, there were still some nice turns where Jenny got to learn about ghosts and send them on their way. 

The best part of these books for me is always the relationships. Tom's long lost ally just about broke my heart, even if Jenny wasn't the biggest fan. There were also some nice touches with the former spook's love, Meg, returning to Chippenden to spend time with John Gregory. There's a lot of discussion about what makes individuals good or evil, and how no one is all of one with none of the other. 

While devotees of the first series certainly must pick this up, and there is a lot of crossover interest from fans of John Flanagan's The Ranger's Apprentice series, the inclusion of so much fighting will appeal to readers of Nielsen's The False Prince or Spradlin's The Youngest Templar series. 

27161189Lore, Pittacus. United As One (Lorien Legacies #7)
June 28th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

John, still reeling from the death of a loved one in The Fate of Ten, is holed up with his crew at Patience Creek, an outdated military bunker with decor from the 1970s. His main mission is to find the other teenagers around the world who have manifested special abilities, and train them to fight the Mogadorians. Also very important is killing Setrakus Ra, who apparently did not die in the last epic battle. The teenagers are not all that pleased with Lawson, the military commander who works with them, but life on Earth has become so impossible that they know that everyone needs to work together to finally conquer the Mogs. 

Since this is the final book in the series, it's not too much of a spoiler to say that the group finally accomplishes this, after much fighting, blowing things up, and the unfortunate deaths of some major characters. I was gratified to see that I was right about John missing an opportunity to kill Phiri in previous books-- she comes back with a vengeance and almost manages to get the better of John. 

Exactly how the Mogs are defeated is something you will need to read the book to find out, but United As One is a satisfying read for fans of this series, packed with teenagers wielding powers, awesome spaceships, and a shape shifting Chimaera who most often manifests itself as a beagle, Bernice Kosar. 

This is definitely a young adult series, but given the popularity of the franchise it should be noted for more sensitive readers that there is a lot of killing, and a surprising amount of vulgar language. 

Readers who are sad that the series is finished would do well to check out some of the supplementary, interstitial novellas in the Lost Files collection. Many of these are collected into sets of three in volumes such as Secret Histories, Hidden Enemy, Rebel Allies, and Zero Hour.

Monday, September 19, 2016

We've been in school a month!

Where does the time go? Of course, looking at the pictures of me in 7th and 8th grade that are almost half of an official antique, I should know the answer! (These pictures also explain a whole lot about my current wardrobe!)

What did we do in twenty days? 
  • 150 Language Arts class visits
  • 25 research class visits
  • 250 books checked out per day
  • 450 new books processed and ready to roll
  • Lots of Chrome Book use, which involves help
There are always statistics to tabulate, but they don't really measure what I DO. They don't take into account:

  • Spending lunch helping a student write a poem for class, and having her say at the end "I think I GET poetry now!"
  • Putting a payment plan together for a student who has lost an elementary book, with the result that the student now visits me every day to "check in".
  • Discussing first impressions with one of my helpers and assuring him that with all the boys in the 8th grade, it's unlikely his teacher doesn't like HIM.
  • Helping teachers who are younger than I am with their computer problems. Ha!
This also doesn't include all the time I spend outside of school hours reading, writing reviews, and connecting with authors, publicists, and other librarians and teachers. Teachers have to spend a lot of time grading, and I don't HAVE to do all of the work I do, but it does make it much easier to do my job. 

Hope everyone's school year is going well!

MMGM- Insert Coin to Continue

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 really cannot state strongly enough how much I adored this book! Great, great stuff!

28954110Anderson, John David. Insert Coin to Continue
September 20th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Bryan and his friend Oz have a boringly normal life are a little obsessed with the Sovereign of Darkness video game. When Bryan apparently uncovers a secret level of the game, however, his life seems to BECOME a video game. Flashing blue lights in the air ask him to "insert coin to continue" and award or take away points based on his actions. He's followed to school by a pack of ninja bicyclists who try to get him, the white board in his math class becomes a game he must defeat, and dodge ball in gym becomes the most hysterically painful game in the history of poor phys ed curriculum choices! Even his teachers seem in on it, especially when Mr. Tennebaum assigns a detention and sends Bryan to retrieve the cake of gold from the glass case in the "sanctuary where the elders gather in repose" and dieting teachers attack Bryan for a Twinkie! Even though Bryan feels compelled to keep playing, he has to contend with his real life as well. School muscle head Tank things that Bryan has made disparaging remarks about his mother and challenges him to meet after school, and his long-time crush Jess seems oddly interested in him. Oz, as well as friend Myra, are there to help him out, but how Bryan needs to figure out how to get to "Game Over" by himself. 

Master of Middle Grade Anderson returns to his action and adventure roots with a superlative fantasy novel that includes everything my students love best-- laugh-out-loud scenes with evil teachers and improbably circumstances, fascinating characters you wish would sit at your lunch table, a little light romance, and VIDEO GAMES. The current trend toward incorporating games into novels definitely has my approval, since it's a surefire way to get even the most reluctant reader to give a book a try. 

I loved the fact that most of the book took place during one school day. While some of Bryan's classes were more interesting than others (the jam session in band being more exciting than reading Romeo and Juliet in language arts), the spin put on every day activities showed a deep understanding of how a middle school day works as well as how students feel about what goes on around them. 

The characters were also well-developed and multi-faceted. I was particularly fond of Myra, who was snarky but very astute. Oz was an excellent foil, and embodied the well-meaning squirreliness of middle school boys. Jess was a bit of a mystery to us and to Bryan, and the back story of the two's relationship made the ending of the book completely satisfying. 

Middle grade readers will enjoy Anderson's other titles, and there are so many other video game books out this fall that readers who enjoy playing games will be glad to add this title to the growing list, which includes Korman's Slacker, Brown's Josh Baxter Levels Up, Markell's Click Here to Start, and Schreiber's Game Over, Pete Watson. Anyone else who wonders what really goes on in the custodian's lair or the principal's office will find Insert Coin to Continue a brilliantly amusing tale of how to survive the game of middle school. 

Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild WestFleming, Candace. Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West
September 20th 2016 by Roaring Brook Press 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

The best thing about this book is that Ms. Fleming acknowledges right from the beginning that Buffalo Bill's treatment of Native Americans, as well the language used for and treatment of Native Americans during his life, is problematic. She also mentions that while the entire concept of the Wild West is also problematic, it was very important to many US citizens and persists in our culture. 

As all of Fleming's books are, this is very well researched and written. Since Cody published autobiographical information about himself, Fleming is able to look at primary source documents and compare them with others to try to figure out what is truth and what is lies. From the perspective of someone who loves history, this was fascinating. She doesn't gloss over the bad things that Cody did, either, and there is a lot of very good information about Native Americans who were involved in the show.

However, this is a LONG nonfiction book. At 288 pages or so, it will be a stretch to get students to read this, especially since there is zero interest in the Wild West these days. I'll probably buy it, since it will be good for History Day projects, and may be I can get readers who enjoy Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage to read this. 

This was very interesting to me, since over the summer I decided that my official fandom as a tween was Little House on the Prairie, but I'm no longer really allowed to claim it (even though I thought about traveling to Rocky Ridge Farm in the future) because of the political incorrectness of the books. 

Baby Boomers and older generations had movies, television programs, books and all manner of entertainment,  that involved cowboys and Indians. There were also a lot of games that young children played in the yard (back when children were allowed to play in the yard) that involved this theme. Yes, this is problematic, but we can't just ignore it. 

I hope that we are able to see more books that cover Western Expansion but in a way that we can share with impressionable youth. This book is a good start. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Truth or Dare

25337544Dee, Barbara. Truth or Dare.
September 20th 2016 by Aladdin 
E ARC from Netgalley

Lia is so uncomfortable with the idea of spending several weeks at camp with her more mature friends that she bails at the last minute and asks to spend the time at her Aunt Shelby's. Ever since the death of her mother in a car accident, her father has handed over many child rearing tasks to the aunt, who is a bit quirky. She decides that it's time for Lia to get a bra, and since this is part of her problem with her friends (who make a big deal about getting their periods), she reluctantly agrees. Once she gets back home, she has all manner of problems with her friends, who have started a Truth or Dare game over the summer that never ends well. Her friend Marley is disenchanted with the other girls as well, and is irritated that Lia is hanging out with them. Eventually, Lia comes to an understanding with her aunt, and comes clean with her friends. 
Strengths: The girl drama is very valid, and I liked how the mother's death and the resultant moving on were portrayed. Shelby was a very nuanced character, and I loved her back story with Val and how that was resolved. Dee is a great writer, and has a knack for writing about the experience of middle grade girls. She does an especially good job at including relationships with various adults. 
Weaknesses: I'm not entirely sure that girls are really that interested in bras and periods. Neither of my girls have any memory of trauma involved with bras, or any kind of competition with their friends about changes in levels of maturity. These are not topics that are covered often in middle grade literature, but I wonder if that's because while girls want and need the information about puberty, they don't necessarily want it to be included in fiction. 
What I really think: While I think that girls would be fine with reading this, I don't know that it would be helpful for boys, because they might come away thinking that all girls care these matters more than they do. Since I encourage all of my students to read any of the books in our library, I am debating purchase. In reality, I think few boys would pick this up, so I may buy a copy. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Animals, animals, animals

28446277Lombardo, Constance. Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America (#2)
September 27th 2016 by HarperCollins 
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Mr. Puffball is tired of endangering life and fur by being a stunt cat, so decides that he and El Gato will do a movie together. Producers are vaguely interested in them to do Mac and Cheesy's Excellent Adventure, but would really rather have the suave, British Benedict Cumbercat and Jude Claw. To prove that they are the better actors to cast, Mr. Puffball and El Gato agree to do a test reel of their adventures across the U.S. They manage to travel from California to Coney Island, eating junk food and having narrow escapes from all manner of humorous situations. 

This is an extremely clever book which reframes the history of Hollywood in cat terms. From Purramount Studios to Director DeMew, there are countless references and jokes to film culture, both old and knew. Does Benedict Cumberbatch know how he has been immortalized?

The places that Mr. Puffball and his crew visit across the U.S. will give readers who have not had a chance to travel a good introduction to some of the scenic and historical sites of interest in our country. Of course, Mr. Puffball's antics in those places are the real fun. 

Notebook novels continue to be popular, and there are even a number of them that involve cats: Watson's Stick Cat, Myracle's Fashion Kitty, and Surovec's My Pet Human (not to mention the graphic novel versions of Hunter's Warriors books). Mr. Puffball is a great addition to this list of books to keep cartoon loving cat fans happy. 

The first book in this series was WAY more popular than I thought it would be. The students just don't get the jokes, which is a shame. 

28256452Stilton, Geronimo. The Famouse Fjord Race (Geronimo Stilton Micekings #2)
July 26th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Geronimo dreams of getting his very own mouseking helmet, the highest reward a mouseking can receive, but since he is a lowly village scholar, his chances of winning one are slim. There is a big drakar sailing competition, and Geronimo gets dragged onto the boat against his will. He gets terribly seasick! There is his family honor to uphold, the lovely Thora to impress, and a finnbrew theft mystery to solve. On top of all of that, there is salted cod fish ice cream to be consumed! Whether he wants it or not, the mild-mannered Geronimo is off for an adventure on the high seas!

With full-color illustrations and bold, fun font, Geronimo is a popular choice with readers who like goofy, unlikely stories. Frequent mention of gross food and a wide array of creative interjections ("Fjords and fiddlesticks!" "Great groaning glaciers!") will keep youngsters laughing until the very last page. 

Hand this to fans of Dav Pilkey, Jarret J. Krosockza, and Matt and Jenny Holms, but keep a list handy-- there are so many Geronimo Stilton books and your readers might want to catch them all!

I just file these under "things I don't understand"-- I find them difficult to read, and weirdly politically incorrect at times. The Italians must have a different sensibility about things. I have two struggling readers who adore these so much that I try to keep them supplied. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Guy Friday- The Courage Test, Pyramid Hunters

25761746Preller, James. The Courage Test
September 13th 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

William Merriweather Miller's parents are divorced, and he's not taking it well, especially since his dad is dating. When his father "forces" him to accompany him on a trip following Lewis and Clark's trail so he can finish a book, Will has to spend more time with his father than he would like. On their way, they pick up a pregnant 15-year-old girl who is trying to get to her cousin's house. They also meet up with a friend of the dad's, Ollie, a lawyer with Nez Perce heritage who is also interested in the trail. Will meets a bear and survives, does some white water rafting, discovers some secrets about his mom, and learns some things about his father as well. 

Strengths: I agree with Preller that the father-son dynamic is underexplored in middle grade fiction. This is usually because all the parents are dead. It was nice to see a road trip with a father, and the Lewis and Clark connection is fun. 
Weaknesses: This was a bit uneven, with journal entries with historical information, although the length is good. Linear formats are very important in middle grade fiction. I also wasn't wild about the sub story with the girl that they picked up-- not bad, just a distraction from the other things going on. 
What I really think: I'm debating purchase.  I do like the cover, and road trip books generally do well, so probably will. I think this will circulate well. 

25903388Vegas, Peter. The Iron Tomb (Pyramid Hunters #1)
August 2nd 2016 by Aladdin
Public library copy

Sam is on his way to Egypt to spend his summer with his uncle, who is an Egyptologist. His parents on dead. On the plane, he meets Mary, whose father is very wealthy. Sam's uncle doesn't meet him at the airport, and when he gets to his uncle's apartment, there is a cryptic note, but no uncle. With the help of Hadi, a teen cab driver, Sam and Mary try to unravel the mystery of what happened, they get entangled in an older mystery involving Mary's grandfather. 
Strengths: Lots of good information about Egypt past and present, lots of action and adventures, tweens traveling around on their own and saving the world. Everything you could want in a middle grade book. Will purchase.
Weaknesses: Felt oddly lukewarm about this, given its many fine components. This felt like something I've read before. Northrop's Tombquest was better, Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas (October 11th 2016 by Philomel Books) was similar, if in a different setting. I guess the whole concept of children whose parents are dead so they go spend time with an aunt or uncle and get dragged into conspiracies against which only they can fight successfully really needs something super fresh to interest me. 
What I really think: This will find readers because of the action and the ties with ancient Egypt, but it made me want to reread Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax!
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