Friday, May 06, 2016

Guy Friday- The Parent Agency

24683998Baddiel, David. The Parent Agency
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins 
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Barry is tired of his parents. They are weird and boring and won't throw him the kind of James Bond birthday party he wants. His twin sisters are annoying as well. When he is approached by The Parent Agency to pick new parents after trying five different sets of them, he jumps on the opportunity. Using his list of things wrong with his parents, he asks for parents that are wealthy, famous, like him best, and basically are NOTHING like his boring parents. He has several birthday parties thrown for him, with various stages of success. His wealthy parents are also criminals, the famous parents are even more annoying, and in general, life is not an improvement even with amazing opportunities and material advantages. 

This has a very British, classic feel to it, and is definitely a goofy book. All of the parents, even Barry's own, are over the top in whatever their defining quality is. While Barry is demanding and judgmental of his own parents at first, he does learn a lot from being with different families, and it comes as no surprise when he starts to appreciate his own. The journey, however, is the amusing part of this. Parents who would allow a child to stick his head under a chocolate fountain, let him eat all of the candy that he wanted, or write and sing a song about the child on national television seem like a good idea... at the time! 

While this is not a notebook novel, there are enough funny illustrations to intrigue readers of Big Nate and Wimpy Kid, and elementary aged readers who have ever been annoyed with their own parents (and this has to be almost all of them) will appreciate Barry's struggles with trying to get his own way.

A little too British for my students, but if Roald Dahl is popular in your library.

26598173Freeman, Martha. Strudel's Forever Home
April 1st 2016 by Holiday House

From Strudel's point of view, we see how his adjustment goes when he is adopted by Jake. Jake has read the book Chief, Fog of the Old West to Strudel, and Strudel decides he must protect Jake, especially since Jake's mother's boyfriend, Arnie, is not nice. 

Holiday House is to be commended on the cover, which is WAY better than their usual attempts, but this book would probably work better at an elementary library. Something about either hearing the story for the dog's point of view, or having the dog be influenced by the book, made this unsuccessful for me. 

26516185Clifton, Lutricia. Seeking Cassandra.
April 18th 2016 by Holiday House 

This had some nice multicultural connections (being set in the Southwest), and had some STEM tie ins with the wildlife in the area, but was a bit slow, and Cassie whined a bit more than I like. Also, the usual Holiday House cover treatment does the book no favors. If your readers liked Freaky Fast Frankie Joe or Immortal Max, definitely purchase, but I think I'll pass for now. 

When work takes Cassie's mom abroad, Cassie is stuck living with her dad in his Winnebago in Palo Duro Canyon State Park for the summer. She loves her dad, but hes different since the divorce, and, for that matter, so is she. Shes gotten used to a different lifestyle thats not exactly compatible with the rougher living in the Canyon, where her dad is a handyman. She misses the conveniences of city living, and shes not too sure about the kids here. They seem awkward. Uncool. And, in the case of mysterious X, possibly dangerous. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Girl I Used to Be

Yes, yes, I know. I always complain about books where the parents die, and yet in this one BOTH the parents are murdered, but it was a great book. 

Exceptions make the rule? I don't know. Read this one on our snow day and loved it. 

23018249Henry, April. The Girl I Used to Be
May 3rd 2016 by Christy Ottaviano Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ariel has had a tough life. Her mother was murdered when she was three, and her father accused of the murder. She was dropped off at a Walmart unharmed, and lived with her grandmother until she died. At that point, she ended up in a series of unsuccessful foster homes and at 17 is an emancipated minor with her GED by the name of Olivia, working at a grocery store to make ends meet. When her father's remains are found and a funeral is scheduled, she finds herself back in the small town where her parents were raised. She meets her grandmother's neighbor, Nora, and goes to the funeral to help her. There, she meets Duncan, who was her friend when she was small. She decides to stay in the town, rent her grandmother's house, and try to solve the mystery. Her parents had many friends, and many of them seem very suspicious. Once she goes poking around, what will she uncover, and how will it put her right back into danger?

I can't really say what was so appealing about this book. Olivia's past as a different person was intriguing, and her attempts to go back to that world as someone else is at once thrilling and dangerous. The depiction of small town life and the characters in the town is spot on, although I really would have thought more people would have recognized her. Another intriguing part of the story is the fact that Olivia is on her own. I think that this will appeal to my students, especially those who have read Henry's The Night I Disappeared.

The mystery felt like a news show, and in fact, Olivia talks about how her family appeared on John Walsh's show. There were lots of clues, and Olivia goes about investigating them very well-- too well, in fact, since the murderer tries to do her in as well!

Readers who enjoy murder mysteries like Sorrell's First Shot and Fake ID series, or Ferguson's The Christopher Killer series will find that The Girl I Used to Be is a pulse-pounding account of exploring a past fraught with danger that will keep them turning the pages well into the night!

27852502Barry, Dave. The Worst Night Ever (The Worst #2)
April 26th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
If you didn't buy The Worst Class Trip Ever for your school library, put it on your order RIGHT NOW. Buy two copies. Then add one of this one. I actually preordered a copy for my very own, since Mr. Barry was super nice when I met him at the Smithsonian last year

Wyatt and his friends are pitted against rich bullies who are up to no good, and he uncovers a plot of theirs involving dangerous animals. It wasn't quite as funny as the first, but I loved that Wyatt was in 9th grade, was clearly a high school student, but was still goofy and awkward and wasn't doing inappropriate things. I need so many more of this type of book that I am still completely willing to put together a list of librarians and teachers who are willing to deliver meals to Mr. Barry's house so he can write full time and not have to worry about mundane domestic tasks.

"Last year, Wyatt Palmer was the hero of middle school, having foiled a plot against the president of the United States. But now he and his friends are in Coral Cove High School-home of the Fighting Conchs-and Wyatt is no longer a hero: He's just another undersized freshman, hoping to fit in, or at least not be unpopular. Things start to go wrong when Matt Diaz, who is Wyatt's best friend but also unfortunately an idiot, decides to bring his pet ferret, Frank, to school. Through an unfortunate series of events Frank ends up in the hands of the Bevin brothers, who are the most popular boys at Coral Cove High, but are also, as Matt soon discovers, the nastiest. When Wyatt and Matt try to get Frank back, they concoct a plan to attend a party for the cool clique at the Bevin's waterfront mansion and stumble onto the Bevin family's dark and deadly secret. That's when Wyatt learns that some things are worse than being unpopular in high school. MUCH worse."

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

25897857Dumas, Firoozeh. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
May 3rd 2016 by Clarion Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Zomorod's family has been in the US for a while, since her father's job as a petroleum engineer has taken them out of their native Iran in the late 1970s. When they move from Compton to the more well-to-do Newport Beach, she decides to reinvent herself as "Cindy" and try to be more "American". This is hard, especially since her mother doesn't speak much English and insists on giving their new neighbors Iranian food that isn't quite what the US palate expects. She has a good summer hanging out with a neighbor, Original Cindy, but when school starts, Original Cindy says that she can't be seen with her in public. Luckily, Cindy meets Carolyn, who is super nice and shares many of the same interests. Carolyn's family is everything that Cindy wishes hers was, and spends a lot of time hanging out at her house. When the political situation in Iran becomes tense, Cindy is often asked to tell about her country, but when hostages are taken, some people at school give her a hard time, and a few nasty things happen at her home, too, although she and her father hide this from her mother. Her father loses his job with the American company and can't find another one because of the political tensions, so even though they don't want to return to the political unrest in Iran, they start the process of moving back. Luckily, they get help from some unexpected sources and are able to stay in the US. 

This is loosely based on Dumas' own life, and we must be exactly the same age, since I was in middle school when the Iranian hostage situation was going on. I, too, remember watching the nightly news and hearing about how many days the people had been in captivity, and remember how it affected the election that year. Cindy is often asked by Cindy's family to explain what is going on in Iran, and while the sections describing the history verge on the didactic, they were also very interesting, and a great overview of the events of the time. Other details about the 1970s, like the clothing and trends, make this a great choice for an entertaining historical read. 

This will be interesting also to students who are curious about the immigrant experience as well. Cindy loves her parents, but is embarrassed by their accents and their behavior. She is also tired of translating for her mother, and wishes that her mother didn't cry all the time. The neighbors, teachers, and students are all understanding and supportive of Cindy, and there is even a mention of a teacher who brought Cindy a Halloween costume in elementary school because her family didn't understand the tradition, something which happened in the author's own life. This is a great example of those of us whose ancestors were not recent immigrants.

It's hard enough to fit in with the crowd during middle school when your parents are from the US, and middle school readers love stories about how difficult this process is. Adding an immigrant perspective is a great way to broaden their outlook and make them more compassionate to their classmates. Hand this fun book to readers who enjoyed Budhos' Tell Us We're Home, Ross' Kiki and Jacques, Senzai's Saving Kabul Corner or even Traci Jones' Finding My Place and tell them to see if their parents have the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to play while they are reading it!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Where the Red Fern Grows
Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows

April 26th 1961 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers 
May 3rd 2016 by Penguin Random House

There is a new cover of this classic title being published today, and since it is a book that frequently gets worn out and needs to be replaced, I was glad that Penguin Random House asked me to mention it. 

When my daughter was in fifth grade (the year before our dog Sylvie joined our household), she was bound and determined to read this book in one night and take the Accelerated Reader test the next day. This is a 300 page book, and although she is a strong reader, I had enough doubts that I bet her a copy of the book that she couldn't finish it. 

The 1961 cover.
Guess what I had to buy the next day?

I'm not normally a fan of sad books, or books set in the Ozarks, and I have to admit that I deaccessioned my library copy of Summer of the Monkeys a few years ago, since it was a prebind and smelled really bad, but this is still a title that middle grade libraries definitely need to have!

There's a nice article on the celebration of 50 years in print of this title here. (Although I'm a little confused as to why they waited until 55 years to reissue!)

Wishing Day/ Once Upon a Frog

26074135Myracle, Lauren. Wishing Day
May 3rd 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Natasha and her younger sisters, Ava and Darya, are being raised by their strong willed aunt, Elena and Vera, as well as their depressed and distant father after the disappearance of Natasha's mother. There is a long tradition in the family of girl's making three wishes on third night of the third month after a girl’s thirteenth birthday, and Natasha dutifully does this, even though she doesn't quite believe in it. Her wishes so seem to come true-- she wants to feel special, and she starts to receive a series of notes from an unknown admirer. She also captures the attention of the local "Bird Woman" who claims to have known Natasha's mother, and knows some secrets about her. Willow Hill has some odd, slightly magical happenings, and 

Strengths: I loved Aunt Vera, and especially her quote about Natasha's mother running off "Depression is a luxury." Yep.

Weaknesses: I could have sworn that I was reading another book vaguely related to Wendy Mass' Willow Falls series. Small town with big traditions, odd people, the whole Willow thing. Very easy to confuse the two. 

What I really think: Since the Mass series falls absolutely flat in my library, I think I'll pass. If you have lots of readers for magical realism that makes you wonder if there really is magic, go for it. This appears to be book one in a series. I do sort of want to read the next book on the off chance that the mother will come back and Vera will slap her around. 

25726634Mlynowski, Sarah.  Once Upon a Frog (Whatever After #8)
December 22nd 2015 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After Abby is plagued by horrible bully Brandon at school, she and Jonah decide to travel through the mirror again. Jonah has the fairy Maryrose's memories stuck in his head, and they make him itchy. They travel through the mirror with their dog, Prince, and Abby finds herself at the bottom of a well... with Prince Frederic, who has been turned into a frog! Despite getting no help from the bratty princess Cassandra, Abby and the prince manage to get out of the well, but don't have any luck turning Frederic back. Eventually, the group makes its way to Cassandra's palace, where a guard lets them spend the night in Cassandra's room, think they are her friend. She eventually manages to turn him back into a prince, and a lot of truths about both Cassandra and Frederic are revealed. These truths help Abby deal better with Brandon when she returns to her world, and also are helpful in clearing up Jonah's itchiness from Maryrose's memories. 

Abby and Jonah have a delightful but realistic relationship; Jonah is a headstrong and impulsive seven-year-old, and Abby is a somewhat more prudent 10-year-old who feels that being able to travel into fairy tales is a tremendous responsibility. The fact that they feel guilty for disobeying their parents by going to the basement in the middle of the night is refreshing change from children who take great joy in being naughty!

These books all address various different forms of the fairy tales, which is unusual. Abby mentions that there is a Disney version of The Frog Prince, and gives a brief description of that tale. This is helpful when readers may only be familiar with the Disney version. Abby uses her knowledge of the tales to try different treatments on Frederic-- she kisses him and throws him against a wall (as they did in the Grimms' version), but stops short of beheading him, which everyone agrees is a good idea!

While the treatment of bullying is a little heavy handed, it is nice to see Abby learn that sometimes people are mean because of things going on in their own lives. Brandon is mean to Abby because his family is moving. Frederic's motivation is a little less clear!

These attractive, short books are a quick, fun read. Tweens who enjoy E.D. Baker's fairy tale retellings or Buckley's Fairy Tale detectives will want to journey with Abby through the mirror again and again. They will get another opportunity to do so when book #9, Genie in a Bottle, is published on April 26th, 2016.

Even though these are short, nine books is way too long for a series like this. I am hoping it all wraps up with number ten!

Monday, May 02, 2016

MMGM- Slacker and Shameless Fangirling

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've made no secret of the fact that one of my very favorite middle grade authors is Gordon Korman. The man is brilliant. Brilliant. His works get a whole unit of shelving in my library, and his books regularly fall apart and need to be replaced. He makes me laugh, which given the continued sad state of middle grade literature, would be enough to make him fantastic. Aspiring middle grade authors: go read this article at Booklist Reader RIGHT now. This is how it should be done. 

But please, don't tell Anthony Horowitz. He's my favorite. Really. We can do lunch when I'm in London in July. Stormbreaker is THE most popular book in my library over the last ten years.

But I love you, too, Gordon.

26892065Korman, Gordon. Slacker.
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

Cameron lives to play video games, but when he is so concentrated on one that he doesn't take a casserole out of the oven and the local firemen respond and ax through the front door, his parents are NOT pleased. His parents are concerned because he does nothing else, and while they don't take his video console out into the backyard and set fire to it (like I would!), they demand that he participate in other activities at school to get him out of the basement. With friends Chuck and Pavel, he creates a Positive Action Group, and posts a blurb about it on the school web site. Thinking he can show that to his parents and be done, he contentedly goes back to trying to best Evil McKillPeople on his game... until the ultra-motivated Daphne shows up at his front door, demanding to join. Her purpose is to get help in saving a local beaver, Elvis, whose home has been destroyed by a new highway off ramp project. It gets worse when she brings the group to the attention of Mr. Fanshaw, who hopes to use the group to sell raffle tickets for a fundraiser. Soon, a class president wannabe, a football players on academic probation, and a huge number of other students want to join the group. Cameron is forced to do something. After trying to sneak off to play video games while raking leaves for senior citizens, Cameron accidentally saves an elderly lady who has fallen and makes the news. This encourages more students to join, but also brings the group to the attention of the high school groups, the Friends of Fuzzy. Their leader, Jen, wants all of the attention for herself, so gets her group to sabotage the P.A.G. Things culminate when both groups decide to work against the old highway off ramp being taken down. Will Cameron be able to go back to his old ways once he is no longer in danger of losing his video gaming privileges?

Cameron starts off as a fairly nondescript character, but that is a perfect foil for the outspoken Daphne, self-involved String, and deliciously and deceptively evil younger sister Melody. The parents are supportive and helpful but rather clueless, which is a brilliant way to depict parents in a middle grade book. Mr. Fanshaw (whose name Cameron can't remember, leading to a host of amusing attempts like "Mr. Fanny-pack") and the other teachers are humorous, but also sympathetic and realistic. 

Video gaming is one of the topics that shows up with alarming regularity on my student interest surveys, but there have been relatively few books that portray tweens with this interest. Of course, this has a subtle message that there are more things kids could be doing in the world, but it is delivered with a large dose of humor. 

As with any Korman book, the biggest draw for me is the writing. It is fast-paced (all middle grade books should start with an explosion, or with immolating ziti!) and packed with laugh out loud phrases. My favorite passage (from the ARC):  "How many members does the Positive Action Group have?" Members? Exactly the same number as the Stick-Your-Head-in-the-Furnace Club and the Leap-the -Grand-Canyon Society."

The only downside to this book is having to decide how MANY copies of it to buy! Slacker is the perfect middle grade novel about pursuing one's passions, however misguided!

25897678Freedman, Russell. We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler 
May 3rd 2016 by Clarion Books 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline 

Whenever our 8th graders do a Holocaust project, one of the topics assigned is the White Rose Movement, so I am glad to finally have a great book on the topic! In this well-illustrated and cleanly formatted book, Freedman tells the story of Sophie and Hans Scholl's family, and the teens involvement in resisting the Nazis. Not only are there lots of family photos, but there are pictures of buildings and other people who are tangential to the story. Unfortunately, the Scholls story is one that was repeated many times during the Holocaust-- people who were doing the right thing got caught and were killed by the Nazis. I'm glad that we are finally starting to see some of these stories, such as Hoose's The Boys  The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.  

This book is an essential purchase for any middle school or high school library. While it has enough information for research, it is also short and interesting enough to be read through. I was glad to see that my only objection-- shoes and pants that looked like modern jeans and sneakers on the cover-- was changed for this final version. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The BFF Bucket List

27206488Romito, Dee. The BFF Bucket List
May 3rd 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Skylar and Ella have a great summer planned, and lots of things to do, but Skylar is starting to hang out with different people and finds Ella and her list of things to do increasingly juvenile. The girls try to taste all of the ice cream flavors at a local parlor, host a fancy dinner party, and do some fun and crazy things-- but Skylar thinks that they are juvenile, and soon the friends come to an impasse. Like so many middle school friendships, individuals change, and then the friendship changes. Can Skylar and Ella salvage anything from their friendship? 
Strengths: Pitch perfect description of a changing middle school friendship, and has the added bonus of a "bucket list", which is often an assignment for our 7th graders. The Aladdin books are always popular, and this one was particularly good. 
Weaknesses: A little light and fluffy, not that I think that's a bad thing. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The cover alone will make readers pick it up. 

This has a nice web site to go along with it: 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cartoon Saturday--Stick Cat

25817512Watson, Tom. Stick Cat: A Tale of Two Kitties
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Stick Cat and his friend Edith live at the top of a very tall apartment house. They have managed to scratch a hole through the wall inside bathroom cabinets so that they can visit each other. They have several games they like to play, but they also like to listen to Mr. Music in the next building tune pianos. When a nearby car crash causes Mr. Music to get stuck inside a piano, Stick Cat springs to action, with the somewhat less cautious and intelligent Edith to help him. Edith is also very daring, and is willing to jump into a neighbor's apron that is hanging on a movable clothesline. The two manage to get into Mr. Music's building, and Edith manages to save the day, although her obsession with grooming her fur almost ends with Stick Cat falling from the clothes line. In the end, everything is okay, and the cats rest up for their next (I hope!) adventure!

Strengths: This is the sort of notebook novel that the children enjoy but that I find clever as well. Stick Cat's love of adventure and willingness to help Mr. Music was charming, and the fact that this was very different from Stick Dog was appreciated. 

Weaknesses: Edith's complaints about her weight, as well as her air headedness and insistence on grooming were cat like, but also vaguely sexist. I appreciate that she saved the day, but was still a little uncomfortable with her portrayal. 

What I really think: Interested to see what the next book will bring, and very sad that there will be no Stick Chicken. 

25742215Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts (Stick Dog #5)
January 5th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

With autumn approaching, food is scarce for Stick Dog and his friends. Since they can't climb trees and get apples from the orchard, they must forage the best they can, but all they can find is rubber gloves and balls, which Poo-Poo thinks are food and the rest do not. When they see a man working on utility poles take a box out of his truck, the dogs investigate whether the deflated ball looking objects are edible. Karen also discovers the man's coffee and drinks the entire cup. After deciding that donuts are in fact food, the group tries a variety of tactics, including deflating the man's tires, to abscond with the box of donuts. Stick Dog and Poo-Poo also use the crane on the truck to climb into the apple trees to dislodge some of the fruit, and Poo-Poo gets his chance to finally come face-to-face with his archenemy, the squirrel!

Tom Watson worked as a speech writer for Ohio governor Richard Celeste, which makes me very sad that I didn't pay more attention to the speeches! He has an excellent ear for what makes things funny to both young readers and the adults who have to read the books as well. I read vast passages of this aloud to a friend because I found Karen's reaction to the coffee so funny, and Poo-Poo's rant about the evilness of squirrels is exactly how I imagine my own dog would sound if she could vocalize her own feelings about this "archenemy".

Aside from being hysterically funny, this series is great at showing a group of friends with disparate talents working together toward a mutual goal. The dogs all have their own quirks, and it's amazing how much emotion and humor Watson can pack into a simple line drawing. As far as plot goes, it's not much of a spoiler to say that the dogs do eventually get the donuts, even though they are vastly concerned about the one bleeding strawberry scented blood!

Any young reader who enjoys notebook novels like Big Nate or Wimpy Kid, or has any interest in dogs or humor, will adore Stick Dog. I highly recommend giving the entire series to a young person in your life to whom you read aloud. That way, you can laugh at the antics of Stick Dog and his friends together, and have a great time imitating Karen in all of her caffeinated glory!

28594353October 4, 2016! Can't wait!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans

25937853Northfield, Gary. Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Julius is slightly annoyed with his zebra family while living on the plains of Africa, especially his annoying brother and his mother, who makes him drink from the nasty river where all of the other animals so their business. He isn't annoyed enough to want to be caught by the Romans and taken all the way to Rome, but that's what happens! Along with Cornelius the warthog, Milus the lion, Pliny the mouse, and Lucia the Crocodile, Julius ends up in a gladiatorial school after doing well in the arena and being rewarded by Hadrian. The group have to learn to fight, wear "diapers", and generally get up to a lot of highjinks and have a lot of misunderstandings. 

This is a British import, and The Book zone has a nice review of it. I'm surprised there aren't more books out-- it seemed like it might be a series. 

Strengths: This is a bit like Stickman Odyssey, in that there are copious pictures and an attempt at presenting a bit of ancient history. It will be enormously popular and wear out quickly. 
Weaknesses: Not a fan of the googly eyes animals or the potty humor, but can't deny the kid appeal. 
What I really think: I'll buy it, but it wasn't as funny as Stick Dog

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Somewhere Among

25310972. Somewhere Among
April 26th 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this novel in verse. Ema's mother is from the US, and her father is Japanese. They live in the city until Ema's mother, who has had a number of miscarriages, can no longer take care of herself or Ema because she is so sick with another pregnancy. They move in with her father's parents. Her grandmother is difficult and hard to please, and nothing Ema does is right. Her grandfather is older and a bit sickly, but adores his granddaughter. The mother is too ill to do much but throw up and try not to fight with her in-laws. Ema's father comes to visit at first, but the journey from the city is very long, and his mother soon wins out in dissuading the father from coming. Ema has to start school and is bullied by Masa, whose mother hits him. All of this is set against the backdrop of late 2001, and mentions 9/11, which is difficult for the family because the grandfather lived through Nagasaki, and they worry about the mother's parents in the US. Eventually, the mother has the baby two months early, the grandfather ends up in the hospital, and Ema has to deal with her grandmother on her own. 
Strengths: We need more books covering 9/11 as a historical event, and this was a nice perspective from another country. The details of life in Japan were very interesting, and things like how the school day runs and what houses are like will be new to young readers. Ema's worries about her mother and her struggles with her grandmother are realistic.
Weaknesses: This is very sad and moves slowly. Since novels in verse do very poorly in my library, I don't think I'll buy this one. 
What I really think: Reading this felt like being hit repeatedly about the head with a tear-soaked teddy bear. It just got sadder and sadder and sadder. I appreciate that the author was trying to share life in Japan with an American audience, and if this had been ANY happier I probably would have bought it. 9/11 is sad enough without the premature infant and constantly sick mother and grandfather. 

25937859Hartnett, Sonya. Golden Boys
April 12th 2016 by Candlewick Press

When the Jensons, with their well-to-do dentist father, move into a working class neighborhood in 1970s Australia, they incite jealousy in Freya, who is tired of living in cramped quarters with her five siblings and abusive, drunken father. Freya is at first mesmerized by the kindness of Rex, the father, but later realizes that there is something a little creepy about the attention that he pays to the children, and that the family has left their previous home under a cloud. 

I had great hopes for this book-- for one thing, I love the cover. Interestingly, the Australian blurb bills this as "the author's third book for adults". That's what it read like-- there was something about the very slow, descriptive prose and Freya's longings and philosophical musings that made it seem like it was NOT a tween book. There wasn't anything horribly inappropriate, but a decent amount of coarseness. There were also a lot of Australian terms that US readers might not understand. Will pass on buying. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Save Me A Seat

Looking for a fantastic book for a read aloud for next year? Definitely take a look at this! 

Ms. Weeks and Ms. Varadarajan were gracious enough to let me interview them for School Library Journal's BeTween feature, and I'll make sure I post a link to it when it appears in May or June. In the mean time, ask your students what fictional characters THEY would have at their lunch table, and find yourself a copy of Save Me a Seat to read this summer! 

25311520Weeks, Sarah and Varadarajan, Gita. Save Me a Seat
April 26th 2016 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ravi (pronounced rah-VEE, please!) has just moved to the US from India with his father's job. It's very different, especially since his grandmother and grandfather are now living in the same house with his family, instead of just down the street. Since he was popular in his old school and did well academically and in athletics, he has every confidence that things will go well at that the popular Dillon Samreen (who is American born but still Indian) will be his friend. Unfortunately, his teacher has a hard time understanding his accent, and the children make fun of his buttoned up shirt and formal ways. He is sent to a resource room with Joey, whom he thinks is an oaf. Joey is very large, but also suffers from an auditory processing problem. He is easily distracted by noises, so needs assistance with organization and tuning things out. His real problem this year is that his mother has gotten a job as a cafeteria lady! He is frequently the target of Dillon's jokes and petty thievery, so tries to help out Ravi even though the other boy is rather rude to him. When the class has a big assignment, can the two band together to outwit the rude Dillon?

Strengths: This was a tremendously interesting book. I loved the descriptions of FOOD-- between Joey's mother's comfort food and Ravi's lunch tiffin, I was hungry while reading this! The cover is fantastic. This would be a great book to read with a class to help build empathy. There's a lot of "putting oneself in another's shoes" in this book, but the two authors do a great job of keeping the story moving quickly. I especially liked that Ravi was surprised that he is not popular, and at the end, realizes that he was mean to other boys at his old school in the way that Dillon is mean to him. 

Weaknesses: I find it hard to believe that Dillon got away with so much bad behavior. There are two new students at my school who are struggling with English language acquisition, and reading this made me worry for them! I hope they are being treated much better by our students!

What I really think: I love Weeks' Regular Guy and wish that this had more of the goofy humor of that book, but I still really enjoyed this. Definitely purchasing and recommending!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix/ Crisis Zero

What better way to travel through time than to use time traveling CHOCOLATE? Time-slip Tuesday is an regular feature over at Charlotte's Library, and I don't know that I've ever seen any description of time travel by that means, even with all of the wonderful books Charlotte has read! This is a sequel to The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

Saunders, Kate. The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix
December 1st 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers 

Oz and Lily, along with their friend Caydon, have recuperated from their adventures and are having fun playing with the rat Spike and the sybaritic cat, Demerara, when agents from the Secret Ministry of the Unexplained come to arrest the cat! It turns out that Demarara found some magical chocolate and went back in time, talked to the first Queen Elizabeth, and altered history. That's always the trouble with time travel, and it turns out that there is a statue of a phoenix that the evil Isadore Spoffard made that has fallen into the wrong hands. The wrong hands turn out to belong to D33, and the children, especially baby Daisy, carry the D33 genes. The two most prominent people in the organization, Nona and Undecima, are out to get them. The SMU assigns Silver, a vampire who has been around for a couple of hundred years but who looks 11, to be their guard, and a romp across time and London begins. There's plenty of action, things set on fire, and some fun romps into various times in history. In the end, everything turns out okay, and the twins clueless parents don't even know what has happened. 

Strengths: Very fun! The tie in with British history was interesting, and the plot behind the phoenix and wanting to control Oz, Lily and Daisy was convoluted enough that fantasy fans will love it. Silver was the best vampire character I've met!
Weaknesses: I did enjoy this, truly. It was British (with plenty of tea and digestives) without being too quirky or disturbing. I just have such bad fantasy amnesia, and I got so caught up with the delightful details (talking flowers on the wallpaper!) that I forget the fine points of the plot. My weakness, not the book's!

What I really think: Definitely purchasing to go along with the first title. 

25741018Rylander, Chris.  Crisis Zero (The Codename Conspiracy #3)
February 2nd 2016 by Walden Pond Press

ADORE this series. However, I checked out a digital copy from the Ohio E Book project, read it while recovering from foot surgery, and didn't get around to writing the review for a week. No concrete memory other than I enjoyed it, although the second one was slightly better because they went to Mount Rushmore. Definitely purchasing to complete a fantastic series. 

"From Chris Rylander, author of The Fourth Stall, comes the third and final book in the Codename Conspiracy series—a hilarious and clever mash-up of middle grade school story and thrilling spy adventure.

There is a computer program so unspeakably powerful that its mere existence is unknown to all but the most senior government agents. This computer program is capable of controlling every aspect of communication, transportation, and defense on the planet. This computer program must never fall into the wrong hands or civilization as we know it will be utterly destroyed.

This computer program is in North Dakota.

Carson Fender—a.k.a. the retired Prank Master, a.k.a. Agent Zero, a.k.a. the all-in-one World’s Greatest Hero and World’s Greatest Screwup—must protect this program, codenamed Exodus. He is paired once again with his best friend, Danielle, aka Agent Atlas. Together, they must expose an enemy agent working from inside their school—an enemy agent with the mandate to stop at nothing to help secure Exodus. Can Zero and Atlas foil this enemy before it is too late? Carson’s final mission will test his loyalty, smarts, and courage as never before."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Unidentified Suburban Object

24921999Jung, Mike. Unidentified Suburban Object
April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Chloe Cho isn't wild about being the only Asian student at her school, but she HATES that people can't tell that she's Korean and assume that she is Chinese. She's love to know more about her Korean family background, and tries cooking "authentic" food with her best friend, Shelley. When she asks her parents about anything to do with her heritage, however, they refuse to talk about it, saying that it's something they would rather not think about, and besides, wouldn't Chloe rather have pizza? When Chloe gets a new teacher, Ms. Lee, she is glad to be able to talk to someone who knows about Korean culture, especially when she and best friend Shelley fall out. What Chloe doesn't expect is that her parents' reluctance to talk about their background is much more complicated than she could ever have imagined!

One of the frequent topics of discussion about #WeNeedDiverseBooks is how little speculative fiction has diverse characters. Yes, this book takes quite a turn in the middle and is definitely science fiction, in the way that Sylvia Waugh's Ormingat Trilogy  is! I don't want to spoil it any more than that, but it turns out to be a great twist. 

Aside from that, Chloe's determination to do well at the violin, to remain friends with Shelley, and to find out about her background is the real center of this story. The best middle grade fiction has identity at its core, and Unidentified Suburban object does this beautifully. 

Read my interview with Mike Jung at School Library Journal's BeTween feature. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Let's get depressed... in FRANCE!

I adore books where people travel, but so many of them involve whiny girls who don't want to spend their time abroad. This is not what I want in a travel book! I also don't want Serious Issues, unless they resolve themselves in a more lighthearted manner. Still haven't completely forgiven Lisa Schroeder for killing off the grandmother in My Secret Guide to Paris, although I did purchase that one and my students enjoy it. And yes, even Maureen Johnson's fantastic 13 Little Blue Envelopes has a sad premise. These two, though... don't know. Want to see what others think about them. 

Stone, Phoebe. Paris for Two
April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Petunia and her family move to Paris so her father can write a book about Flaubert. She's not thrilled, but glad because she embarrassed herself back in Boston with her crush, the piano playing Windel. Unfortunately, Windel's family is ALSO in Boston, as is Alex's family. Alex has a crush on Petunia's sister Ava. Ava is only Pet's half sister, and her father is not in the picture. Their mother, however, dotes on Ava to a completely creepy way, and lets her do things like "accidentally" spill milk on Pet's new, handmade, watered silk dress. Pet likes to make her own clothes, but everyone thinks they are weird. After finding an exquisite doll dress in an armoire, Pet meets the apartment building concierge, Collette, and finds out a fascinating family story involving dress making, the German invasion of Paris during WWII, and some of Collette's family secrets. Collette helps Pet enter a dressmaking competition, and she is one of the finalists until the judges receive an identical entry... from Ava! How can the sisters get over betrayal on both sides?
Strength: Lots of good details about Paris, and the dressmaking part is rather fun. Collette is a fantastic character. 
Weaknesses: I've had one student in 15 years who sews. Yes, I love Taylor's Sew Zoe series, but even that is a hard sell. Petunia wasn't a likable character, Ava was reprehensible, and their mother's favoring of Ava over Petunia was beyond creepy and wrong. Really made me uncomfortable, how she would hug Ava and stroke her hair and then just be mean to Petunia for no reason, even though she ostensibly hated Ava's father but loved Petunia's. Weird. 
What I really think: If I had more girls ask for travel books, I would buy this, but most of the time I'm the one suggesting them, so may pass. The cover is great, but at odds with the tone of the book. 

16068916Friedman, Aimee. Two Summers
April 26th 2016 by Point
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Summer is supposed to spend the summer in the French countryside with her estranged father, but at the last minute, he calls and cancels. That's when our story splits-- in one version, she gets on the plane, and in the other, she stays at home. In both versions of her life, things go pretty well-- in France, she meets a hot waiter, back home, she takes her aunt's photography class and finally talks to a boy she's been crushing on. She is at odds with her best friend in both versions, and finds out secrets about her family's past. 

I should have liked this one. I love the idea of a split reality, love the idea of travel, enjoy this author... and just felt "meh" about this book. Maybe too Young Adult? YA books tend to be a little on the whiny, slow paced side. Or maybe Summer was just having too much romantic luck in both realities, and the high schooler inside me was jealous. 
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