Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- The Last Cherry Blossom

25898828Burkinshaw, Kathleen. The Last Cherry Blossom
August 2nd 2016 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline 

For Yuriko (sometimes called Joya by her father), life in Hiroshima is fairly pleasant, even with the advent of WWII. When her aunt Kimiko and her obnoxious son Genji move in with her and the privations of war intensify, things are less pleasant. Still, both Kimiko and her father are planning to remarry, and there are plans to be made for the celebration, and family secrets are revealed. When the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, these secrets are of little consequence in the wake of the devastation to Yuriko's family and home. This is loosely based on the author's mother's experience surviving the bombing, and an extensive glossary is at the back.
Strengths: I am always a fan of books that tell me more about what daily life in a particular place at a particular time was like, and this does a good job, with much of the book covering the time period before the bombing. I can't think of another book that covers this topic. The family secret adds another layer of interest to this. Clearly well researched, this also has a strong emotional impact due to the personal touch of the author's mother's experiences. 
Weaknesses: For some reason, I got distracted by odd details that seemed like they might not have been accurate. We're talking TINY details, like the sewing machine that can do a satin stitch, or some of the food, which seemed heavy on meat that might have been difficult to obtain during the war. Granted, I know absolutely nothing about what went on in Japan, so I was working from a purely US knowledge base. 
What I really think: Much needed book about not only what when on in Japan during the war, but also after the bombing of Hiroshima. Definitely a must purchase for schools whose curriculum covers WWII, and just generally interesting. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


26114232Jones, Carrie. Flying
July 19th 2016 by Tor Teen
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Mana suffers from a little anxiety, but her Mom and her best friend, cross country runner and cheerleader Lyle, take good care of her. She has a bit of a crush on hunky Dakota, so when she sees him being hustled into a locker room by a beefy man wearing sunglasses, she goes after him. A cheerleader with great gymnastic skills, she's still impressed and surprised with herself when she knocks over a row of lockers and kicks holes in the ceiling. When she witnesses Dakota spit acid (first verbally, with racist comments, then literally), she's inclined to believe the sunglasses wearing man that something is wrong. When she finally returns home, her house is trashed and her mother is missing. She ends up spending the night at Lyle's house, which doesn't make his mother happy. Even though Lyle's well-developed musculature is becoming more and more intriguing, Mana knows she must find her mother and stop whatever alien incursion is developing. It's not easy to do when she's not entirely sure what side she should be on, Lyle starts to return her romantic interest, and she finds out secrets about herself.

This was an absolutely delightful read, filled with deft turns of phrase that made me snort though my nose. Mana, who is partially of Asian descent, is a heroine with which to be reckoned; she has no patience for the wendigo type creatures that are trying to exterminate her OR for any racist or sexist remarks. (My favorite retort: "Wildcat? For God's sake, really? How freaking sexist are you? Women are not cats. Or dogs. Or animals of any kind. But thank you for at least not making me domesticated." (pg. 125, ARC))

While the hysterically coded terms for the "funky vertical monkey", etc. make this is more appropriate for young adult readers, those are the readers who will also best appreciate the lack of black and white villains. The man in the sunglasses, China, says to trust no one. Does that include him? No one is what they appear to be, with the possible exception of Lyle. Mana's increasing appreciation of Lyle's hotness will also resonate with the teen crowd. 

Jones' Need series gives me hope that this also will become a series-- there are so many questions at the end of the book that another volume is certainly in order. While the audience for this is all over the map (there are cheerleaders, cross country runners, Men in Black type characters, a cooking baking mother, AND aliens who spit acid), this is a fantastic, fun read for just about any teen who enjoys humorous books with lots of action and adventure... with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

MMGM-- Books, and some Blather

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.

An update on a few personal mattes; feel free to skip:

Back from London. We went to the Warner Brothers studio where Harry Potter was filmed, and she cried while standing in front of the scale model of Hogwarts. We saw just about everything else we wanted to see, and had a great working knowledge of the Tube by the time we left. 

My podiatrist didn't understand that "normal activity" for me is walking 10-15 miles a day. After the first week of walking about London (one day was 17 miles!), my foot started to ache. Couldn't very well NOT walk, so I'm back in my boot for a month. 

I mean, the spy mission went well, and I managed to nab the double agent, but my wall scaling skills need work, and falling from the top of the Shard is not a good idea!

To make matters more interesting, my street is under construction and my car is parked a 1/4 mile away. After my first two "ninja injuries", I was able to walk and stand, but this time, my foot hurts and I really have to be off it. 

So, of course, I'm biking to work to see if there are any boxes of ARCs from Baker and Taylor and THEN staying off my foot for the next three weeks. Seriously. I can't even get to cross country practice, and I'm deputizing all of the work for the garage sale this weekend. 

A bit grumpy, but trying to think of it as a lovely opportunity to do nothing but read. 

Hope everyone else's summer has had fewer complications! On to the reviews!

The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War IISpradlin, Michael. The Enemy Above
June 28th 2016 by Scholastic Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Anton's life in the Ukraine has been difficult. His mother died when he was young, and his father went off to fight in WWII and has not been heard from for a very long time. He has a supportive uncle, however, as well as his grandmother, Bubbe. When his village is overrun by the Nazis, a small group of people manage to escape, but they are found by Major Von Duesen, who is taking his directive to make the area free of Jews very seriously. Bubbe is angry and lets Von Duesen know, which gives Anton time to escape, although Bubbe is taken into custody so she can be questioned later, and two neighbors are shot to death. Anton is bound and determined to get Bubbe back, since she is all he has left. He manages to sabotage the truck she is on and free her, and they make their way to a cave where they set up a community and try to survive by stealing food from local farms. Von Duesen is angry that his career was ruined by Bubbe's group, and vows to find them and bring them to justice, especially since the war is not going well for the Nazis. How will Anton and his friends and family be able to survive until the Americans come and the Nazis retreat? 

There are never enough books about the Jewish experience in the Holocaust, and this is an interesting change from books where people are sent to camps. The details of escaping, living in the cave, and foraging for food are all vivid and helpful in understanding another facet of the Jewish experience. That this book is set in the Ukraine was also interesting, especially since Bubbe knew some German since the Ukraine had been so unsettled for so many years. 

Anton is motivated by survival, and also by helping to keep his family alive, and his efforts to do this are well described. It is Von Duesen, however, who is an interesting character study. While there had to have been many Germans who treated the Jews in horrific ways, there were probably a larger number who did what they were told to do lest they suffer themselves. Von Duesen is between these two types of people-- he's irritated by the Jews enough to commit atrocities, but the core of his motivation seems to be his own success. Therefore, when the Jews escape, he is more concerned that it will look bad for him with his superior officers than with the fact that there are Jews who escaped. I hadn't really thought about people who lingered in that area of self-absorbed cruelty. Kathryn Lasky's portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl in The Extra would be the closest book I can think of that has such a character. 

Fans of Dan Smith's WWII books, Will Osborne's Hitler's Secret, or even Hoose's nonfiction book, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club will find the portrayal of Anton's struggle against the Nazis to be an excellent addition to the body of books about the Holocaust.

24397131Steinmetz, Katy. Awesome America
May 31st 2016 by Time For Kids 
Copy provided by Blue Slip Media

Unfortunately, this came in the mail right before I left for England, and it's the sort of book that I have trouble reviewing. It's not connected narrative; it's sort of like a geographical and historical Guinness Book of World Records. Highly browsable and the sort of book that children love to flip through to look for pictures that amuse them. In that regard, it's sort of like a whole week pasta version of Guinness. 

A variety of topics, ranging from presidents to states to little known historical facts are covered in well-illustrated, beautifully designed pages. I can see this being used by classroom teachers to instruct students about elements of the page such as side bars, bold print, etc. 

This will get a lot of heavy use in middle school and elementary libraries, so it does concern me that the paper over board binding is already showing small tears. With a list price of $24.95, this will probably get its money worth in use, but might not see out an entire year. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Daisy the Kitten (Dr. Kitty Cat #3)

26798314Clarke, Jane. Daisy the Kitten (Dr. Kitty Cat #3)
July 26th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I adore this series, and if I had any 5-8 year olds hanging around, I would definitely be giving lots of copies of this series. Luckily, I am rug rat free for the forseeable future, but I enjoy reading these, too. Unfortunately, I had an E ARC of this, and the pages turned much too slowly for me to finish the entire book. Suffice it to say that Dr. Kitty Cat has a very informational Shiny Smiles clinic and then has to rush off to help an injured Daisy at the Cupcake Bake-Off!

From "All the little animals in Thistletown are competing in a Bake-Off. Daisy the Kitten is determined to make the purr-fect cupcakes! When an injured paw slows her down, Daisy knows just who to call -- Dr. KittyCat!

Daisy has two-color art inside! Supercute photographs of real puppies and kittens combine with hand-drawn orange line art for a completely unique look."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The King of Kazoo

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 22, 2016

Guy Friday- Still a Work in Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mischief at Midnight

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Darkest Hour

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Ministry of Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

MMGM-Click Here to Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Thing About Leftovers

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

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Rise of the Robot Army

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

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Guy Friday- Supergirl at Super Hero High

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Outrun the Moon

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

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

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

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

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