Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Willseden Lane

Golabek, Mona , Cohen, Lee, and Robbins, Sarah J. (Adapted by)
Lisa of Willesden Lane: A True Story of Music and Survival During World War II
January 12th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

Lisa Jura lived with her parents in Austria, and saw how things were continually worsening for Jewish citizens under the Nazis. She had to stop taking piano lessons, her tailor father lost many customers, and the family lived through Kristallnacht. Her parents, concerned for their daughters, want to send them away, but can only send Lisa. She heads toward London, and hopes that a cousin and his wife can take her in. When they can't, she ends up in a hostel on Willesden Lane where British citizens try to help Jewish children get jobs and schooling. At first, Lisa is sent to be a maid to a family with young children, and eventually works as a lady's maid. When her mistress won't agree to try to bring Lisa's younger sister over, Lisa returns to London, where she hopes to be able to play piano, since she is quite a good musician. She ends up sewing, but eventually is able to try out for a music school and is accepted. As the war rages on, she worries for her sisters and her parents, and her younger sister manages to make it over on the last Kinderstransport. In the aftermath, Lisa continues to pursue her music as her mother had wished her to do, and has some happy reunions, but also some tragic losses. 
Strengths: This is a novelization of the author's mother's life, and has a lot of good personal details about what it was like to live through this challenging time. The music threads through the story in a very powerful way, especially knowing that both Lisa Jura and Mona Golabek both because professional pianists. The illustrations make this more appealing to a younger audience. 
Weaknesses: This just didn't have as much detail as the unadapted version. 
What I really think: I vastly preferred the 2007 version of this, although this adapted version would be good for elementary schools. It had so many more interesting details, like Lisa throwing away cloth diapers when working as a maid instead of washing them, as well as more information in general. I don't know how I missed this novelized memoir in 2007 and wish I had gotten a copy in hard back. 

Golabek, Mona , Cohen, Lee, and Robbins, Sarah J. (Adapted by)
Lisa of Willesden Lane: A True Story of Music and Survival During World War II
Published July 31st 2007 by Grand Central Publishing 
Ohio Digital Library Copy

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday was created by 
The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Books I Want to Read Again

This is a tough one. I rarely, rarely reread. There are just too many new books out there, and I started my blog as an auxiliary memory in case I forgot details. So we'll go with books that I might actually, in the near future, read again. 

10. Edwards, Julie. Mandy (1971)
    Is it as good as I remember? Yes, every time. I have the copy I got for Christmas in about 1975.

9. Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure (1983)
    It's been years since I've read this one, and readership of the series is down, so I need to re energize it. 

8. Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
    Been a while, and I realize something new every time I read it.

7. Cleary, Beverly. The Luckiest Girl (1958)
    A comfort read. Surprised I've lasted this long during the pandemic NOT reading it. 

6. Weber, Lenora Mattingly. Don't Call Me Katie Rose (1964)
    Another comfort read. Might have to reread the entire series. 

5. Shan, Darren. Cirque du Freak (2000)
    Hugely popular series that hasn't gotten as much love lately. 

4. Carter, Ally. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (2006)
    There have not been enough MG spy books lately. Adore this one. 

3. Orwell, George. 1984 (1948)
    I read it in 1981. Imagine it is a whole different experience now. 

2. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
    Does it hold up? My daughter is reading it, so now I'm curious.

1. Horowitz, Anthony. Stormbreaker (2000)
    I watched the first episode of the Alex Rider series, but haven't watched any more because I'm enjoying anticipating watching them! 
Ms. Yingling

The Battle of the Bodkins (Max and the Midknights #2)

Peirce, Lincoln. The Battle of the Bodkins (Max and the Midknights #2)
December 1st 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

If you have not read the first book, Max and the Midknights, this review may have some spoilers for the series. You have been warned.

Max is struggling in her knight training program because the teacher seems to think that she shouldn't be a knight. It doesn't help that Sedgewick, another knight in training, seems to ally himself with Sir Brickbat. The other Midknights have all found their own passions; Millie is involved with her magic, Kevyn has started a library, and Simon is working with horses. When the group duplicates the one book in Kevyn's library, they unwittingly unlease the threat of Bodkins on Byjovia. Bodkins are the doubles that everyone has (body kins), but are essentially evil. There is always one tiny feature that seems wrong compared to the original person, but this can be hard to detect. When Sedgewick gets sucked into the Bodkins dimension while on a training mission with Max, Max consults Mumblin the magician as well as the king, and tries to put things right. This isn't easy, and of course children are the only ones who can easily travel into the other realm. Will the Midknights be able to once again save the kingdom?
Strengths: Peirce, along with Tom Watson, is really a master of the notebook novel. The ratio of pictures to text is perfect, and he manages to deliver a well-crafted middle grade novel complete with plot, character development, humor, and action. The world building is very solid, and the adults work well with the children. Now that I think of it, Big Nate has a lot of intriguing adult characters as well. 
Weaknesses: I already have a lot of Medievalish Anglo-Saxon stories, albeit none in notebook novel format. Also, I kept reading "Byjovia" as "Bonjovia", and that really puts a WHOLE new twist on the book. 
What I really think: Because he writes an absolutely textbook middle grade novel, I'd love to see Peirce try some stand alone titles combining his humor with the more serious "heart print" topics that teachers and librarians seem to love. Then I could recommend one of his books for a class novel. Mr. Peirce has such a good grasp of the middle school experience that he would pick a topic that students want to read about (losing a friendship, establishing personal identity) rather than ones that are being done to death and are never requested by my students (the death of everyone, anxiety). Definitely purchasing!Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 30, 2020

MMGM- Dragon Ops and The Reign: Africa

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Mancusi, Mari. Dragon Ops 
May 12th 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
School library copy

Ian and his older sister Lilli loved the video game Fields of Fantasy, so they are super excited when their uncle, who is working on the new virtual reality theme park Dragon Ops, invites them to beta test the game on the remote island where the theme park will open. Unfortunately, they have to put up with their annoying cousin Derek as well. Even before they arrive at the island, Ian has some weird experiences, such as seeing the dragon Atreus, who is not supposed to be part of the game. He also meets a girl named Ikumi, who offers some information but is somewhat standoffish. Lilli hasn't been as thrilled with the game recently, and has, in fact, sworn off all technology, but the opportunity to participate in a game that has virtual reality superimposed upon a real landscape is undeniably appealing. When the guide who is supposed to take them into the game becomes ill, they end up being escorted by one of the coders. After meeting up with Atreus (and giving him some ear scratch 'ems!), the coder goes back to make the dragon more fierce, leaving the children unchaperoned. They don't think it will be a problem until Atreus returns with his "improved" coding and captures and imprisons Derek. Soon, Ian and Lilli, with some help from the elusive Ikumi, are engaged in an epic quest for dragon stones that should save their video game world... and which might help save their lives as well.
Strengths: My video game experience is limited to rapidly extinguishing my worlds in Sim City and Dino Park Tycoon about 15 years ago, and watching my children try to play Runescape on dial up internet, so there were a lot of video game details I didn't quite get. This makes it PERFECT for readers who actually know what is going on. This also had a lot of action and adventure that didn't require video game knowledge. I loved Lilli's reasons for quitting video games, and Ian and Ikumi's relationship was interesting and also had a BIG twist at the end. Like this author's Gamer Girl and Camelot Code, Dragon Ops will appeal to "techies" (as my father calls them) and fantasy lovers alike. I also have a very soft spot in my heart for this author's Princesses, Inc.  
Weaknesses: While any novel involving technology is fascinating when it is published, they all run the risk of becoming dated very quickly. Computer dating books, anyone?
What I really think: Purchased this one without having read it and was NOT disappointed!

Nichole, C. The Reign: Africa
December 2nd 2020 by Pan African Publishing House
Copy provided by the publisher

This book is an interesting overview of different tribes in Africa. Each two page spread includes one illustration of a member of the tribe mentioned in traditional costume, and the accompanying text covers topics such as where the tribe lives in modern times, the traditional languages, the activities of both men and women, rituals and customs, and additional information such as community activities, homes, animals that figure largely in the culture, traditional dishes, and an assortment of fun facts. 

I can't think of any other books that cover such a large range of tribes. I would have loved to see a map that showed where the tribes were located, and photographs of the villages, buildings, etc. would have been great as well. 

My school has a number of students from various parts of Africa, so this is a helpful book to have for all of my readers to gain more understanding of different cultures from this area of the world. 

The only drawback of this book was that the text was a bit hard for me to read; it was sort of a compacted Comic Sans style that had very little space between letters. This book is not available from Follett, although Amazon does carry the paperback.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

This is Not a Ghost Story

Portes, Andrea. This is Not a Ghost Story
November 17th 2020 by HarperTeen
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Daffodil is glad to be escaping her humdrum life with her grandmother in Nebraska. On her way Bryn Mawr during the summer before college, she happens to disembark in a town that seems to be calling her, and before long has a better than expected job, working for a college professor watching his house and overseeing a renovation there. It's a mansion out in the country with a troubled past, and she runs into any manner of quirkiness while there. There is an older, very exuberant neighbor, the foreman of the renovation who occasionally is very odd, and a large animal scratching outside of the house. We also hear about her life in Nebraska, especially about a boy who liked her, and we learn more and more about how this situation didn't end well. As the odd instances increase, Daffodil starts to wonder if she is imagining them, or if there is really something odd going on in the house. Can she figure it out before more tragedy occurs?
Strengths: Creepy houses out in the country where things seem odd, well meaning neighbors who seem to be possessed by demons, protagonist doubting her sanity-- all good things. The cover is just creepy enough, and the book was a good length and moved quickly. 
Weaknesses: This was more of a Young Adult title, with a little language. The style was what made this seem less middle grade to me-- it almost read like Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hallway, with a dense, descriptive, somewhat rambling quality that took a bit of readjustment to follow. This is fine for older readers, but I think most of mine would struggle with this. The idea of an unreliable narrator often doesn't do well with younger readers. 
What I really think: I'm always looking for scary stories for my students, but they want something more like Brown's The Forgotten Girl, Currie's Scritch Scratch, Lawrence's The Stitchers, or Harmon's Hide and Seekers
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fantastic Tales of Nothing

Green, Alejandra and Rodriguez, Fanny. Fantastic Tales of Nothing 
November 17th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nathan is a thief who suddenly finds himself in the woods. He ends up being saved by an individual he calls Haven, who speaks a language he does not. He thinks she might be one of the Volken; his world is divided into Humans and Volken. They manage to defeat robbers and end up joining Sina and Bardou, and head to the Capital. They talk about Lerina, who had brought peace to their world until she died. Nathan has some magical powers, which are forbidden in the Empire. When the group falls in with Ren, the spymaster for the Imperial family and Noaki, the son of the Chancellor of the Volken, they find out that Nathan is the Chosen One, and the group has quest-like adventures in order to save the kingdom. 

Wow. Clearly, my fantasy amnesia COMBINED with my trouble reading graphic novels did not end well. Let's go with the official description:

In the first book of this full-color fantasy graphic novel series filled with humor and hijinks, the fate of the land of Nothing hinges on Nathan and an unlikely team of magical beings to save the day—perfect for fans of Amulet and Estranged.

Welcome to Nothing! Despite its name, this is a fantastic land where humans and magical volken coexist peacefully—at least they try . . .

This is the tale of Nathan, an ordinary human (or so he thinks) living an ordinary life (or so he wishes). Everything changes when he meets Haven, a mysterious creature who is neither human nor volken. Oh, and the two of them are being chased by volken mercenaries—a grumpy wolf named Bardou and a delightful crow named Sina.

Nathan soon learns he has mysterious powers, even though humans aren’t supposed to have magic. But there’s no time to dwell on that because this discovery sets the group on a perilous quest across windswept terrain, through haunted forests, and in ancient tombs. Nathan and his unlikely friends must prevent an impending war and defeat a dark evil to save their land.

No pressure, of course. If they fail, everything will turn into, well . . . nothing.

Strengths: The illustrations are great, the story fast paced, and the characters innovative and engaging. There is a lot going on in the story, and so many interesting sub plots. I imagine that this could easily be a series. 
Weaknesses: This had a standard, Anglo-Germanic/Tolkienesque medieval feel to it, and I have a lot of those books. I've been so spoiled by the Rick Riordan Presents fantasies with other cultural connections that I was a little disappointed. 
What I really think: This has a Nimona or Estranged vibe to it, and my students are not big fans of either of those. I will pass, but libraries who have graphic novel fans who also like fantasy will definitely want to invest in this one. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Great White Shark (Dragged from Under #2)

Monninger, Joseph. The Great White Shark (Dragged from Under #2)
January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After the events in The Bull Shark, Barn and his mother travel to Maine to spend some time with a friend of hers. As luck would have it, there was just a shark attack on a beach very near where Barn is staying. A boy was killed while surfing, and while Barn knows how sad this is (his father was killed in Afghanistan), he also wants to find out why a shark was in the area. After observing, he realizes that the seal population is very healthy, so sharks are making their way to the area to feed. Surf boards can look like animals, and once a human is accidentally bitten, the blood sets off the shark and tragedies can occur. Sharks don't find humans to be that desirable as food. When Barn sees some other teens surfing even though there are signs up, he calls the police, who caution the boys and don't get them into trouble at all. The leader, Vince, has had run ins with the law before and vows to make Barn "pay" for calling them. Barn's mentor from Florida, Jessup, is in the area for a conference, and Barn's mother wants to know if it is okay for them to date. Barn's friends, Finn and Margaret, are also in the area doing college visits with a cousin. Scientists tag the sharks in order to study them, and the beach is carefully watched during the summer, but Barn almost comes to grief when a run in with Vince and his gang causes him to disregard his own good advice. 
Strengths: Sharks are always an interesting topic, and aside from Spradlin's Into the Killing Seas, Northrop's Surrounded by Sharks and Tarshis' I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916, there really aren't any middle grade novels that revolve around them! I love Barn's scientific interest in the animals, and the balanced approach to different types of grief that he feels. Jessup is a great character, and I don't mind at all if he dates Barn's mother! The storyline with Vince was an interesting way to get Barn to do things he wouldn't have done otherwise.
Weaknesses: I understand why Barn had to travel away from home, but it makes having Jessup and his friends around see a bit forced. 
What I really think: Considering how much interest there is in sharks and how few fictional books incorporate them, I'm really glad to see this series and just with it were available in hardcover. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Land of the Cranes

41945957. sx318 Salazar, Aida. Land of the Cranes
September 15th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nine-year-old Betita loves to hear her father tell Aztec legends about cranes, and agrees with him that her family are like the cranes that have come home and should be allowed to fly. Her parents have come to the US from Mexico, following an aunt and uncle. They work very hard, the father in construction and washing dishes, and the mother as a nanny, although her father was an agronomist and her mother a teacher in Mexico. They had to flee because Betita's grandparents had problems with a local drug cartel, and it was too dangerous to stay. When her father is seized in an ICE raid, Betita's carefully constructed life unravels. Her father is deported and ends up living on the streets in a larger city because he is afraid to go back to his home town. When the family decides to go and visit him at Friendship Park in San Diego where they can talk across a fence, Betita and her pregnant mother are grabbed and roughly taken into custody. They are kept in a cold building with very few basic necessities, and it is some time before the lawyer who is working on their immigration case can even find them. Betita experiences lice, verbal and physical abuse by the guards, and sees others who are beaten, and hears stories of sexual abuse. When a young activist is brought in, they try to use social media platforms to bring attention to their situation, but things get worse. Betita's mother is gravely ill, and when the baby comes, she is taken to a hospital far away, leaving Betita by herself. She copes with her despair and grief by continuing to write her picture poems about cranes and her experiences. These are useful to the activist and lawyer in bringing attention to the mistreatment of immigrants in detention, but will Betita and her family ever be able to fly free?
Strengths: It is great to finally see a few more books on topics of social justice for young readers, as well as books with Latinx characters. You would have thought that since #WeNeedDiverseBooks started six years ago, that we would be seeing even more. Betita's story is heartbreaking and is a good one for young readers who might not be aware of what is going on in the world.
Weaknesses: With both this book and this author's The Moon Within, there are a lot of situations that might be really unfamiliar to young readers. Adults reading these books will have read more about these issues and understand them better. While the constant use of crane imagery is very effective poetically in this novel in verse, it would be helpful to have more background information for my more concrete middle school readers.
What I really think: This is an excellent and timely novel about the horrific plight of detained immigrants that might be best introduced to younger readers with some support and back story about the treatment of immigrants in the US. We need more stories like this and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero

Tripp, Valerie and Bowers, Geneva (illus.) Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero
September 8th 2020 by Under the Stars (National Geographic)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Izzy is nervous about starting a new school year at Atom Middle School, even though she has her good friends Charlie Darwin and Allie Einstein. Her other friend, Marie Curie, was away for the past two years, and has come back as a hyper busy, popular girl who scares Izzy a little bit. There are lockers, crowds of students, and new classes and activity like forensics (which they are sad to hear is public speaking rather than CSI-style investigation). They also soon find that the building is absolutely freezing. Since Izzy and her friends like science, they start an investigation into why the air conditioning in the school is on overdrive. They make a number of hypotheses, starting with the thermostat in the principal's office being hit by the sun and registering the building temperature inaccurately, and eventually take their investigation to the roof where the units are. Will the girls be able to survive middle school, solve the mystery, and repair their friendship with Marie?
Strengths: Friend drama is always in demand, and elementary students who are curious about what middle school is like will enjoy reading about Izzy and her friends' new classes and experiences. I loved that the girls were passionate about the scientific method and wanted to solve a problem at their new school. It's good to see them working together on a project for the common good. The occasional page decorations and illustrations are well done and convey a lot of personality. There is a decent amount of diversity in the ethnicity of the students, and Charlie has two moms. 
Weaknesses: I can't imagine any school building where students would get accidental access to the roof. There were other things that don't reflect MY school - the school library is open after school, students can get into the principal's office to check on the thermostat, and 6th graders have extracurricular activities. Are there middle schools with marching bands? This made the book seem unrealistic to me, but might reflect schools in other states. 
What I really think: This is similar to the Girls Who Code, Daring Dreamers, or StartUp Squad books or Alyssa Milano's Hope series, with the purposefully diverse group of friends, the science, business, or social activism interest. While it's great that the main character is a person of color in these books, the authors are not. I think the illustrator of Izzy is, possibly. Ten years ago, this would be fine, but publishers who want books to feature POC main characters REALLY need to be reaching out to actual POC writers at this point in time, especially since most of these books are formulaic and probably written to spec. There are no details about family culture or race relations at all; if Renee' Watson or Hena Khan had written any of these series, they would have had more interesting and diverse details. After this summer especially, publishing has to keep up with the desires of the US reading community.  
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Mouse Watch

Gilbert, J.J. Mouse Watch
November 3rd 2020 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bernie is a young mouse who has always wanted to join the Mouse Watch, an organization of mice that does good in society, much like the Rescue Rangers founded by Disney's Chip and Dale. She has sent countless applications, and when her latest attempt to catch the eye of Gadget Hackwrench, the head of Mouse Watch, ends in a broken leg, she despairs of ever joining the group. Of course, this is when she gets an invitation to come to the training center. Even though her parents are worried, especially since her older brother was cruelly killed by an evil rat, they let her go. Once there, she meets fellow student Jarvis, who has tremendous computer hacking skills but whom she doesn't quite trust because he is a rat. When a training simulation they are in stops suddenly and they realize that everyone in the training facility has disappeared, they know they need to do something. Through the news, they find that a cheese smelling gas is being spread everywhere and wreaking havoc; the evil Dr. Thornpaw has taken a sleeping gas produced by Hackwrench and altered it for his evil purposes. Using all manner of cleverly mouse technology and gadgets, will Bernie and Jarvis be able to save the day?
Strengths: This was a very well written, engaging book. The descriptions were well worded and moved the story along instead of bogging it down, and the descriptions of mouse houses, clothing, daily life and spy practices would be enthralling to readers who loved Norton's The Borrowers. There' some social awareness, albeit  in mouse/rat form, that is a nice, light lesson for younger readers. Bernie has a well entrenched dream and is allowed to follow it with the support of her parents, even though it seems unobtainable. The action scenes are well done, and Dr. Thornpaw is an evil supervillain who could easily be in league with Gargamel, Shredder, or the Purple Pieman. 
Weaknesses: Since Rescue Rangers was on television 30 years ago, this must be trying to cash in on the nostalgia factor with parents buying the book in order to introduce their children to the series, but I would have liked it more if it hadn't had the Disney link. I don't know that my readers will get the references to Chip and Dale.
What I really think: My students are much less enthralled with mice books than I am, so I may not purchase. I would definitely buy this one for an elementary school library, since it was very well done and enjoyable, and has the possibility of being a series. 
Ms. Yingling

Monday, November 23, 2020

MMGM- Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

My district returned to remote learning for two weeks since our county Covid cases put us into the "purple" zone. As much as I hate being away from school, being in school was very stressful. Most students were good about wearing masks, but as much effort as was put into distancing students in the class room and cafeteria, the students were not particularly good about social distancing. I tried to be so vigilant about wiping down surfaces, but because of HIPAA, we can't be told which students are being quarantined or are sick. Since I have to take groceries to my 86 year old father, I try to be super careful and only go out to the grocery. 

There are different stresses with remote teaching, but at least they don't center around "Will I somehow infect one of my students or family today."

Bunce, Elizabeth C. Premeditated Myrtle
May 5th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
Possibly moved to October 2020
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1893, Myrtle is being raised by her father, a lawyer, and her governess, Miss Judson, after the death of her mother. Myrtle is very interested in the law, crime, and the art of detection, so she is especially interested when her older neighbor, Miss Wodehouse, is found dead in her bathtub. Miss Wodehouse raised and propagated Gilded Slipper lilies and was wealthy, and Myrtle feels that something is not right. Between the missing cat, the state of the garden, and details she uncovers (like the state of Miss Wodehouse's nightgown), Myrtle has plenty to keep her investigating. Add a niece and nephew who could inherit, and the plot thickens. Her father objects more for show than in order for real change to be made, and Miss Judson is ready to encourage her charge. The Victorian era was not a great time for a young lady to be interested in science, much less crime, but Myrtle manages to stay out of trouble most of the time, and even manages to make friends with Caroline, the daughter of Dr. Munjal. Will she be able not only to prove that Miss Wodehouse was murdered, but to solve the case?
Strengths: There were a lot of twists and turns that I didn't see coming, which I always appreciate in a mystery. Myrtle and Miss Judson rode bicycles, believed that girls were as good as boys, and dealt with the strictures of society in a realistic, if enthusiastic, manner. The way Myrtle was treated by her peers ran true to the time period. The lilies added an interesting touch, as did the gardener.
Weaknesses: Myrtle wasn't that nice; she was privileged and spoiled and did not take other's feelings into account. Comparisons to Bradley's Flavia de Luce are apt. While it's nice to see some cultural diversity, I'm not sure how accurate it is to the time period; I just don't have that information.
What I really think: This was a well done mystery which I bought it for the students who like Robin Stevens' Wells and Wong mysteries, which have been a steady circulator. I need to hand sell this a bit, but once I assure readers it has a "good murder" in it, they are much keener!

49150992Bunce, Elizabeth C. Premeditated Myrtle
October 6th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After her murder investigation, Myrtle's father has to go to Paris for a conference, but wants his daughter out of the limelight. He sends her and Miss Judson on a seaside excursion with her overbearing great aunt Helena. There is a train trip organized by Sir Quentin Ballingall and his daughter Temperance, and the group will then stay at the fancy Ballingal Arms near the seaside. Myrtle is enthralled when she meets Mrs. Bloom, who is an insurance investigator who is not pleased at how Sir Quention is transporting the very expensive Northern Lights tiara her company has insured. When Temperance wears the tiara to perform a song for the passengers, the lights cut out and the tiara is stolen! Myrtle is all set to investigate with Mrs. Bloom, and the two have a breakfast meeting arranged to discuss this. When the investigator doesn't show, we know that no good can come of this turn of events. Not only that, but there are deep scars in the community where the hotel is located, stemming from a tragic pleasure boat fire in the past. Soon, Myrtle is thrust into a murder investigation on top of the theft, and must deal with helpful people, like photographer Clive Roberts and her old friend Mr. Blakeney, but must also contend with the inept investigator Arkwright and vaguely annoying people like her aunt's companion. Her aunt comes under suspicion for both the thefts and the murder and is arrested. Myrtle would like to contact her father to make things right, but Miss Judson thinks that they can solve the case themselves.
Strengths:The events and characters in this book will certainly seem familiar to readers who have delved deep into Christie, Sayers, and other British authors from the 1920s era of crime fiction. My students often ask for murder mysteries, and this definitely qualifies. The train travel and seaside resort are an interesting setting, and Miss Judson is about as engaging a governess as ever graced the pages of literature. Myrtle is a plucky young woman with definite career interests, and is not afraid of getting her own way.
Weaknesses: Myrtle isn't the most likable character, and she comes across as a bit bratty in the first chapter, where she is complaining about her vacation. She gets better, but she was hard to take in the first chapter.
What I really think: Historical mysteries are harder to sell than other kinds in my library; the kids will pick them up for the murder, but would prefer that they be modern. Robin Stevens' Wells and Wong does well, mainly because of the boarding school aspect and the fact that teachers die, but I buy these in the hopes that they will be a gateway to classic British mysteries. 
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Some Bunny to Love

Shusterman, Michelle. Some Bunny to Love
January 5th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Laura's family owns a small bodega in a closeknit neighborhood near Harlem. She has a lot of social anxiety, so doesn't necessarily like to interact with customers a lot, and while she loves reading, doesn't want to join a book club at a nearby store. She takes a lot of comfort in her pet bunny, Evie, who is also very skittish about humans, even though she hangs out in the store in the same way that cats sometimes are present in various businesses. When Laura's family has to travel to a family wedding, a friend and volunteer at the local animal shelter volunteers to watch Evie. When Evie is given the tour of the apartment by the woman's cat, she is told that Laura will never come back. Evie escapes into Manhattan, but nearly comes to grief in traffic. She is rescued by Bart, a former show dog who has run away from his controlling owner, Bitsy, and is enjoying life on the street. He assumes that Evie has run away because she also wants to be free, and starts to show her all the highlights of life in the wild. When he realizes that Evie really wants to go home, he offers to take her in exchange for a service-- she will steal a collar from a pet store so that the local animal control agents will stop trying to capture him. The two are photographed, and people post their antics on social media under #BunnyandCanine. Laura sees these and starts to worry. When checking with the friend, the family finds out that Evie has in fact run away. As the two animals make their way to the Bodega, they have all manner of challenges. Laura checks on their progress and even offers tips to followers on how to catch Evie. When Bart sees Bitsy in the park, and Evie takes a diamond necklace she has dropped, the two start to worry that things will not end well. Will Evie be able to get home to be with her beloved Laura, and will Bart be able to continue his carefree life on his own?
Strengths: Much is made of Laura and Evie's anxiety, so it was nice to see that Laura was able to manage hers while with cousins, and Evie actual became much more daring during her adventures. There was a certain Disney movie quality to this-- I could just imagine the CGI images of the animals talking to one another, especially in a charming scene where Bart and Evie sneak onto the subway, then hide in a bag at someone's feet, but are soon discovered. The tie in with social media will resonate with middle grade readers who spend much more time on Instagram than they should, and the animal's adventure is quite fun. The adult villains, like Bitsy and the animal control agent, are used to good effect. This would be a great title to recommend during Scholastic Book Fairs, and the cover is adorable. 
Weaknesses:Older readers will have to suspend a lot of disbelief, while younger ones will be perfectly willing to believe that Evie and Bart get along, that Bart can get Evie back home, and that Laura suddenly has thousands of followers on Instagram and can identify Evie. My enjoyment of the adventure was overshadowed by disbelief, but that is because I am old. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a younger dog who was lost. 
What I really think: I would buy this if it were in hard back, since it would be popular with readers of animal adventure books like Pyron's A Pup Called Trouble, but am not sure about buying a prebind copy. 
Ms. Yingling

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Cartoon Saturday- Oh My Gods!

Cooke, Stephanie, Fitzpatrick, Insha, and Moon, Juliana. Oh My Gods!
January 5th 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Karen's mother gets an exciting work opportunity, Karen has to go live with her father, Zed, whom she only really sees on holidays. Still, she's excited for her mother, so packs her bags and gets ready to start middle school on Mt. Olympus. Her father has an enormous house and is not only the mayor of the community but also her school principal. The students are friendly enough, but everyone seems heavily into mythological LARPing, which strikes Karen as odd. The curriculum is also different from what she's used to, and she gets help from a classmate in the school library. One day, they hear a scream, and find that a student has been turned to stone. Karen learns that she is, in fact, in the world of Greek mythology, but instead of being something ancient and gone, her classmates have reinvented themselves as teens. When her friend, Pol (Apollo) is turned to stone, Karen and her classmates work to find out who did this to him so that they can reverse the damage. 
Strengths: This had several very good things-- the illustration style is colorful and appealing but also different and somehow older than Jamieson or Telgemeier. This gave the book more of a high school feel, which my students will adore, even though it's stated that the students are in middle school. This is the best version of Zeus that I've seen; sort of like the Santa in Funke's When Santa Fell to Earth. Moving and living with a normally noncustodial parent needs more coverage in the literature. Of course, there is the nice myth based mystery, the band of friends working together, and an exotic setting. 
Weaknesses: Shall we call a moratorium on mythology based books called Oh My Gods!? There are so many other word play that could be used. This was a bit light on mythology, but at least it didn't use any in an annoying way.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. A main character named Karen AND mythology? I would be remiss not to. Remember, I was a Latin teacher in a previous life. 

Friday, November 20, 2020


Kadohata, Cynthia. Saucy
September 29th 2020 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC provided

Becca is a quadruplet, and she and her brothers Bailey, Jammer, and J.C. live with their parents and grandmother in a small Ohio town. Becca knows that funds are tight for the family, with Jammer's hockey and Bailey's cerebal palsy that has him in a wheelchair. The family is close, and takes nightly walks. On one of these, Becca finds a very small, very sick piglet in the bushes. Becca and her father rush the animal to the vet, who says the piglet is very sick but may survive. This isn't a pocket pig-- it is a breed that normally grows to 600 pounds. The mother reluctantly agrees to let Becca raise the pig until it gets to be 100 pounds, which she amends to 50 or 60 when Saucy, who is being kept in the kitchen, wreaks such havoc that even the kitchen cabinet doors are ripped off. Becca, who struggles to find friends at school, doesn't feel too bad about the expense to which Saucy is putting the family, because she figures she is the least expensive child, and she will work to pay her parents back. As Saucy grows, it becomes apparent that he will need to go to a pig sanctuary. Becca isn't happy with this, even after the family visits the sanctuary and can see how happy Saucy is there. After Saucy leaves the house, Becca becomes interested in the factory farm from which Saucy escaped, which is very near her home. She and her brothers go into the farm at night and steal nine piglets. They raise them at home, much to her mother's chagrin, and work to fight the factory farm. Becca manages to make a few friends from this endeavor, and is glad that they all want to help raise awareness of the pigs' plight. 
Strengths: It's always good to see close knit families, and also good to see books involving some aspects of farming. Pets, grandparents, and social activism are also popular topics. The addition of plentiful page illustrations are charming, since Saucy is a personable pig with lots of personality. We've had a couple of sets of quadruplets in our school system, so it was interesting to see how they interacted with their family. The Ohio setting made sense and didn't get any details wrong!
Weaknesses: This book seems more like an elementary level one, so I don't know that I will buy it.
What I really think: Kadohata's Checked was the perfect blend of sports, family problems, and pets, so I had high hopes for Saucy

This is where the review gets tricky. I was so irritated by Becca and her insistence on keeping Saucy even though it put her whole family in a precarious position that I hated the book. I was angry that the parents didn't put their feet down and say "enough". The portrayal of the pig sanctuary was very positive, and it bothered me that Becca didn't seem to have Saucy's best interest at heart. I could have recommended the book even with those reservations, but when Becca and her brothers steal pigs from the farm, that put this one over the edge for me. Even if the farm is not treating animals correctly, stealing pigs is not the way to change this. There were not enough consequences for Becca's actions, AND the animal shelter ended up being burdened with nine more animals! I eat very little meat, and know that some animal farms are not run with the best interest of the animals at heart, but I also realize that farming is very, very hard to make profitable. I would give this book one star based on how I felt about it, but will give it three (out of five on Goodreads) on its other merits. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, November 19, 2020

13 and 3/4 (Friendship List #4)

Greenwald, Lisa. 13 and 3/4 (Friendship List #4) 
August 4th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
Library copy 

 Ari and Kaylan get together with their friends before the summer begins. Since they will be in 8th grade, they want to make sure that the summer is one of the best, and they want to continue their tradition of making their list of things to accomplish. It's even more important this summer, because Ari is heading off for seven weeks at her rustic sleepaway camp in the woods, where she will connect with old friends, and Kaylan is headed to a comedy camp held on a college campus. With the help of their friends, they come up with a list that includes things like helping two counselors fall in love, getting a younger person to make a list, tie dye something, and make a difference. Ari settles right into camp, reconnects with her friends, and starts on her list. It's a little harder for Kaylan, who has to learn to get along with her roommate, Indigo, and needs to make friends in the program. Both make progress on their lists, but there are some family dynamics at work behind the scenes, and the girls have a misunderstanding about who knew what information when. Will they be able to finish their lists, work out their differences, and get ready to be the "seniors of middle school"? 
Strengths: I'm always fond of a good camp story, having fond memories of Campfire Girl camps (Kiwatani and Yakewi), and since most of my students don't seem to go to camp, they are enthralled by the idea of being away from home alone. Kaylan's comedy camp, located on a college campus, was especially interesting. Dorm rooms are super exciting in middle school! There's plenty of friend drama, a little light romance, and a good description of the growing pains that middle school friendships can have. While other reviews seem to indicate that this will be the last book in the series, it seemed like 8th grade deserved a book, and one final list, of its own. 
 Weaknesses: There was so much description of the drama and list progress that there weren't as many details about being at camp. There's always a lot of humor in communal rest rooms and dining halls, and my readers often don't know what the camps are like. 
 What I really think: This series has been a popular one, so I bought this one without reading it. Greenwald is an author I can trust to deliver a strong middle grade story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Before the Ever After

Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After
September 1st 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zachariah Johnson, Jr. has always been proud of his pro football playing father, even though he is more interested in music and poetry. He loves the adulation his father gets from their town and his friends Daniel, Darry, and Oliver, and just has a great time hanging out with his caring and supportive family. However, right around the turn of the last century, ZJ's father starts to have a lot of health concerns. He has horrific headaches that cause him to moan and lash out, and he sometimes forgets things he should definitely know. ZJ's mother knows that something serious is wrong, and takes him to doctors, especially since other men who played football with him are suffering from similar problems. It soon is discovered that ZJ's beloved father has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and won't be getting better. He has to mourn his father while he is still right there, and he and his mother have to find a way forward.
Strengths: Woodson's writing is always lyrical and atmospheric, and this novel in verse is no different. ZJ clearly loves his father and is proud of his football skills, so is devastated when he sees his father going downhill. Losing a parent as a child is the most devastating loss there is, and ZJ's struggles with this, set against his regular life of having to go to school, hang out with his friends, and be approached to play tackle football games, is well done. The cover is fantastic.
Weaknesses: I wish this were set in current times and included more information about CTE, much like Korman's Pop.
What I really think: There is very little football involved in the story, but will be a great choice for teachers and librarians who want to read something that touches on sports, and also for readers who enjoyed the novels in verse by Kwame Alexander, including Rebound, which also deals with grief.

I will take any chance I can get to plug Steve Almond's fantastic Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto (2014). It is a perfect accompaniment to this book and discusses how serious the problem with CTE in football players is.
Ms. Yingling