Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Blood and Bone (Bravelands #3)

Hunter, Erin. Blood and Bone (Bravelands #3)
October 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Thorn, a baboon, Sky, an elephant, and Fearless, a lion, have been friends since childhood. Due to the evil influence of another baboon, Stinger, who claims to be the Great Parent after the death of the Great Mother, the three have ended up in desperate circumstances and at odds with one another. Sky manages to keep Fearless from being killed, but he heads off to try to coerce a leaderless pride to come under his aegis, while Sky finds that she is the center of an atypical herd of many types of animals who all crave her protection. It doesn't hurt that she is carrying The Great Spirit and has some of the powers, although it is clear that she is not next in line to be the Great Mother. Thorn, along with Nut, is sent to another tribe to spy for Stinger, but they are  not allowed to leave once the tribe accepts them. Told from alternating perspectives, we see how Stinger slowly falls out of favor due to his own vile character and how the three friends manage to keep their own charges safe until the final battle to determine who will rule the Bravelands and restore order and balance to them.

Just like the Warrior Cat books, the Bravelands titles are rich in hierarchies, histories, and allegiances. There are rituals and a well-developed spiritual belief system called The Code, which dictates how the animals are supposed to act. When Stinger violates the code and kills animals when it is not necessary, it's very clear that his time as a pretender will be short.

Thorn, Fearless and Sky are all complex characters with their own back stories and issues. Thorn is devastated to think he may have caused the death of his best friend, and doesn't really want to work for Stinger... but he doesn't want to die, either. Fearless buys Stinger's rhetoric for a while and starts to deal with his new found pride in ways that are not productive or kind, but he soon sees the error of his ways. As the bearer of The Great Spirit, and reeling from pointless deaths in the elephant community, Sky knows her mission without question, but also is unsure of her ability to carry it out.

This is a rather violent series, with animals being killed for food, dying in battle, and attacking each other for various reasons. This, along with the very strict hierarchies, complete with different names for each group of animals and each type of job or level, seems to be a large part of the appeal of these books. Bravelands is much easier to understand than Warriors because of the variety of animals, and will appeal to students who want a more exotic setting.

Do have to say that these are NOT my cup of tea, and reading them makes me a bit lightheaded. I swear I read one description (which of course I can't find) that made Stinger sound like a version of President Trump, and there were two scenes that just made me laugh-- Stinger ala the Evil Queen in Snow White, complete with thunderous rain storm and a cliff, and a "Luke, I am your father" moment concerning Fearless' parentage. Will student see these tropes, or care? Nope. This is why I have every single Erin Hunter book, even though I fear for the social life of children who refuse to read anything else!

Monday, January 21, 2019

MMGM/Nonfiction Monday- The Electric War

29540346 Winchell, Mike. The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World (Gilded Age #1)
January 22nd 2019 by Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt, Macmillan)
ARC provided by the author, E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

While I've been trying to find books about Tesla because he comes up every year as a National History Day subject, I had no idea how contentious and intriguing the "war" between Tesla, Edison and Westinghouse had been!

The Electric War first introduces us to our main players, with all of their talents, foibles, and eccentricities, and frames them against the glittering backdrop of the Gilded Age. Edison was a self-made genius, selling newspapers on a train route at the age of 12 and becoming a telegraph operator not long after. He had a vivid imagination that led to lots of ideas for inventions, but he also had a startling business acumen and an uncanny ability to market ideas to people. He was also tenacious to the point of pugnacity, and a hard task master for his employees. Tesla was a troubled but brilliant soul who had flashes of ideas that were both revelatory but also troublesome. He had an unfortunate business sense, and would rather sacrifice material gain for the name of science. Given his volatile nature, he didn't set up his own company and had difficulty staying on a stable path. Westinghouse was a fantastic example of moderation in all things; he was a solid inventor, a capable and shrewd business man, a fair employer, and a tireless worker. The qualities of these three inventors are crucial in understanding the place that each ended up taking in history.

In a gripping narrative style that had me avidly turning pages, Winchell sets the stage for all three inventors to grapple with their own inventions of businesses after tantalizing us with this innovation: the first electric chair. Once I read that Edison was persuaded to be involved with it's invention if the chair used the alternating current favored by his competitor, and even posited that perhaps the process of death by electrocution be termed "being Westinghoused", I was hooked!

We all learn about Edison's attempts to develop the light bulb, and all of the combinations of elements he tried before he reached success, but it was never clearly pointed out that even once he perfected the light
bulb, there was really no way to operate it on a large scale. No fixtures in which to use the bulbs and no wide spread electrical grid to provide power! Not only did Edison have to produce bulbs, but he had to create lamps and develop a system of electric substations to send out current. That he was able to do this in an area as already built up and crowded as New York City is amazing in itself.

We take electricity so much for granted that it was fascinating to travel back to a time when it was not only new, but extremely controversial. Electricity could lead to fires and even death! While it was, of course, extremely helpful to society, it took the 1893 Colombian Exhibition, which was Westinghouse's biggest marketing triumph, to show people that electricity could be useful as well as safe.

Complete with period photographs and some invention schematics, as well as an informative timeline and complete bibliography, The Electric War is powerful reading for fans of riveting, literary nonfiction such as Louire's Jack London and the Klondike Goldrush, Jurmain's The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing, Borden's Ski Soldier or Martin's In Harm's Way: In Harm's Way: JFK, World War II, and the Heroic Rescue of PT 109.


Wein, Elizabeth. A Thousand Sisters:The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II
January 22nd 2019 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Even after almost 70 years, World War II remains a topic of fascination for middle grade readers, mainly because there are so many untold stories. One area that is ripe for exploration in the US is the activities of the Russian military during this time. It's sometimes hard to remember, considering all that went on in the latter half of the twentieth century, that Russia was on the Allied side of the war.

It's also hard to remember that in the 1920s and 30s, women were making a lot of progress in many occupations. I loved the statistic that in 1941, nearly one third of all Soviet pilots were female! This mirrors the strides women made in the US workforce before the end of the war returned women all over the world to the kitchen, despite the fact that they had proven that they could do "men's" work.

A Thousand Sisters tells the story of Soviet Airwomen in great detail, drawing on the experiences of many women pilots, some of whom survived the war, and many of whom did not. From the aviation experiences of pilots who ended up being in the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, to the set up of the Soviet military and the experiences of the women after the war, there is a wealth of detail about missions, living conditions, and the trajectory of the war in general, as it affected these brave women.

My favorite chapter was entitled "Life is Life" and discusses the difficulties and deprivations that these women faced. Since so few women were in the military, they had to endure wearing men's boots and underwear, and supplies were so scarce that often had to wash with water from puddles. While my own grandparents often complained about rationing, I know that they never had to eat wall paper paste or boiled shoes! These are excellent details to make the more quotidianal horrors of war come to life.

While this is a rather lengthy book, it would be perfect for National History Day projects on the role of women along with Mary Cronk Farrell's Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp and and is a perfect companion for explaining the details of Kathryn Lasky's The Night Witches (2017).

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Right as Rain

Stoddard, Lindsey. Right as Rain
February 12th 2019 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Rain's family has experienced a tragedy-- her older brother was killed in a car accident. The mother thinks that the answer to their protracted grief is moving from a farm in Vermont to New York City, where she has taken a job in a big hospital. Rain's stay-at-home father seems to be a motivating factor behind the move, because he has been having trouble even getting out of bed in the morning. Moving to the city doesn't seem like the best idea for him, since his primary activity in Vermont was gardening. Rain's not happy having to transition to a new school and also feels that her brother's death is her fault, but she manages to make friends, keep up with her running, and complete the volunteer hours her new school requires. She loves working at Ms. Dacie's, where children and families can stop by to get help with all manner of matters, and work in the garden as well. However, funding has been pulled, and Ms. Dacie may need to close. Rain tries to get her father involved in an effort to get him to be functional once again, and also tries to get her mother to realize that she and her father are in pain and need to process it differently than she does.

The descriptions of both Rain's home in Vermont and and in New York are very vivid. Even though the move is a generally unwanted one, both seem full of opportunities and their own forms of excitement. It would have been nice to have a little more information about Rain's mother's working situation in both settings, but the new home does seem like an excellent place for both Rain and her father to be.

Rain's new school mates are also very interesting. She is realistically portrayed as missing her best friend Izzy in Vermont, but she manages to befriend the prickly Frankie (whose best friend had lived in Rain's apartment) and shy Amelia. Her teacher, Mrs. Baldwin, is very supportive, giving her books to read and encouraging her writing. Ms. Dacie's is a bustling and vibrant environment filled with all manner of understanding, supportive people.

Readers who enjoyed Benjamin's The Thing about Jellyfish, Kelly's You Go First or Haydu's The Someday Suitcase will find this a sad but somewhat hopeful journey through grief.

This was a little more upbeat than a lot of books, but Stoddards' Just Like Jackie has not check out at all, so I am debating purchase. This cover is more appealing, and the inclusion of running adds to its appeal.

Again, this is not my truth. Why was the father not in some serious counseling? Why was the family not? Clearly, the parents were not getting along well, and this is as much of a stressor for Rain as her imagined guilt over the death. If middle grade authors really want to be helpful in their depiction of grief, they would have more characters sent to counseling. Rain especially could use some-- since she covered up for her brother, her parents might well feel she is somewhat responsible, and her feeling of guilt is something that needs to be assessed on a professional level.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Emily Out of Focus

Franklin, Miriam Spitzer. Emily Out of Focus
February 5th 2019 by Sky Pony
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Emily and her parents go to China to bring home the little girl they are adopting. Emily isn't crazy about the idea, since she fears losing her parents and having a lot of her time taken up by her sister. She is interested in photojournalism, since her late grandmother was a rather prominent photographer, and she has brought her grandmother's camera with her. While staying at the hotel, she meets Katherine, who was herself adopted from China and who is hoping to find her mother while her family is back in her homeland adopting another baby. The two girls are bored and a bit angry, so armed with Katharine's quest, they take off together, despite the warnings of their parents to stay close to the hotel.
Strengths: Since Spitzer has been through this process, the details of traveling to China to finalize an adoption are first rate, I especially liked the detail in scenes like the one where Emily's family goes to a big box store to get baby supplies! Emily and Katharine's relationship is so typical of girls thrust together by circumstance or parental meddling, and middle school readers will definitely see the truth in it! The adventure is solid. This has a similar vibe to Peacock's Red Thread Sisters (2012) and will appeal to readers who have impending changes in their families about which they are not thrilled.
Weaknesses: Neither Emily nor Katherine seemed particularly likable to me, although this improved a tiny bit as the story progressed.
What I really think: This is a more adventurous yet tween-angsty version of Kadohata's Half a World Away. Sadly, I can't get this one to circulate, so will probably pass on this one, especially since I've spent all of my book budget for this year. If I come across a copy through my review sources, I might pick it up. The cover is good.

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 18, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Schmidt, Gary D. Pay Attention, Carter Jones
February 5th 2019 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Carter lives with his three younger sisters and harried mother while his father is in the military in Germany. When Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, a trained butler, shows up on a raining morning when the family is out of milk and the dog is throwing up on people's socks and announces that the family's deceased grandfather left funding for him to continue employment helping out while the father is away, the mother takes advantage of his service. He's especially useful, since he comes with a car and the family Jeep is on its last legs. Carter is dealing with the death of his brother, and trying to establish a place for himself in school. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick is helpful in setting up a cricket team, so Carter is invited even though he is only in 6th grade. The butler also teaches Carter to drive, and lets him pilot the car on errands, even when his sisters are in the car. Carter's father doesn't appear to be coming home from Germany, and Carter contemplates a "bonding" trip the two took to Australia. In the end, we find out that Carter's father is not coming home, and that Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick has the chance to be with either Carter and his sisters or the father, and he choses to stay with Carter in the US.
Strengths: This had a lot of funny moments, like the opening before-school scene and Carter learning to drive. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick is technically a "gentleman's gentleman" in the style of televisions Mr. Belvedere or Sebastian Cabot's Mr. French, and tries to get the children to behave properly. I did like the way he sent them off every day: "Make good decisions and remember who you are." It's nice to see Mr. Schmidt doing another contemporary fiction book; his most popular book in my library is First Boy (2005).
Weaknesses: A butler? Cricket? A family named after the Brontes with no explanation? Because of the situation with the father (pretty sure he had another entire family in Germany), I felt more information about the mother was needed, although I am not usually a fan of too much parental intrusion in novels. The situation with the brother was not necessary and changed this from a humorous novel into a more slow paced, depressing one. We have plenty of those, but not enough humorous ones.
What I really think: I loved Lorenzi's A Long Pitch Home about a boy moving from Pakistan and changing from cricket to baseball, but it doesn't circulate well. I'm debating.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Dolphin Named Star

Berne, Emma Carlson. A Dolphin Named Star (Seaside Sanctuary)
February 1st 2019 by Stone Arch Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elsa's parents are marine biologists who have moved from Chicago, where they worked for the Shedd Aquarium, to a seaside town where they run a sanctuary for marine animals. They have just gotten a grant to have an outside pen, and three dolphins have just taken up residence in the protected cove. Elsa and her friend, Olivia, help out during the summer with feeding, and when the dolphins become ill, they investigate. Having smelled an odd odor of gasoline on one of the new neoprene wet suits, the girls think there is a chemical leaking into the cove, but the scientists, including Olivia's sister, Abby, have done lots of tests and are not finding anything dangerous. When one of the dolphins dies, Elsa's parents' reputation is on the line, and the facility is audited. The girls ramp up their investigation and do some spy work, which uncovers an unsavory plot that involves one of the sponsors of the sanctuary.
Strengths: For some odd reason, a lot of my students are interested in marine biology. This had a lot of good details about the dolphins', their troubles in the wild, and the problems they face when dealing with pollution. It's a simple story, so elementary students won't be confused, and the friendship between the girls is a nice touch. I would definitely buy this for an elementary library.
Weaknesses: More sophisticated readers will see the clues to the mystery right away. While I could see that sympathy was being set up for the woman running the chemical company, I found it hard to believe that someone who cared about animals would turn a blind eye to illegally dumping chemicals, even if she were worried about her job. Again, elementary students won't worry about the subtleties; they will just enjoy the dolphin related mystery.
What I really think: I may buy this if Follett has a prebind of the paperback available. Nearly $20 is pricey for the library binding.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Wind Called My Name

40644601Sanchez, Mary Louise. The Wind Called My Name.
September 18th 2018 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Margarita's family has a pleasant life working on their farm in New Mexico, but the drought conditions of the Great Depression have led to decreased crops and a huge tax bill. Her brother and father have spent most of the year in Wyoming, working for the railroad and sending money home. When conditions do not improve, the rest of Margarita's family moves to join them. While Margarita is glad to be with her father again, she misses her one abuela who stayed behind, and has trouble finding friends. She does meet Evangeline Hesse, the granddaughter of the local store owner, who is the only other student in her grade in the one-room school house. Evangeline means well, but frequently hurts Margarita's feelings by wanting to call her Maggie, not understanding that the family is from NEW Mexico, and not liking the family's food. Other members of the community are even less fond of having Hispanic workers in the town, even if their families have been living in New Mexico for over three hundred years. Mr. Hesse is very kind, allowing Margarita to work off the cost of a lantern that she broke by selling him eggs and vegetables. He even arranges for her to get paid to deliver the newspaper to people in town. When one of the railroad workers starts to harass the Hispanic workers in town, Margarita and her family almost decide to go back to New Mexico, but instead stand firm and fight against the accusations.
Strengths: My copy of Doris Gates' Blue Willow completely fell apart and can't be replaced, so another treatment of the Great Depression is welcome. Unlike that 1940 book (which has irreplaceable details about daily life, since it was written at the time), this new book deals realistically with the challenges that Hispanic families faced. Evangeline is well-meaning, but an unfortunate master of the micro-aggression. This is, however, a very realistic portrayal, and it is good to see that Margarita is able to stand up for herself and try to explain why Evangeline's actions are wrong while still remaining friends. There are lots of good descriptions of food, holidays, and even some Spanish phrases.
Weaknesses: I would have enjoyed more details about the clothing and housing, and perhaps a few mentions (tied in with the newspaper the family reads) about events in the world. There is one mention of the abuela in New Mexico meeting an artist named Georgia, but there was no more elaboration. What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since it is not only a good historical document but a good portrayal of middle grade characters learning to accept others' differences in a very productive way.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Eventown

Haydu, Corey Ann. Eventown
February 12th 2019 by HC/Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Elodee's family is struggling for reasons that aren't clear, and she and her twin sister Naomi are not getting along. When their mother gets a job in Eventown, no one really wants to move, but they do, digging up a rose bush from their old home and bringing it with them. Eventown has a lot of good opportunities and a lot of fun activities for the girls. Elodee loves to cook, and Naomi does gymnastics. When the girls go to the welcoming center for their orientation, they find out that Eventown was founded by Jasper Plimmswood for people whose homes were destroyed in a hurricane, and they needed to start over. The girls are invited into a room where they tell six stories of their lives, including the most embarrassing moment and the most heartbreaking one, and after they do, the stories are gone from their minds. Unfortunately, Elodee's session is interrupted, so she is halfway through the process and can remember just enough about her previous life to make her sad. Elodee starts to notive that the family's new perfect life is not so perfect, and that her new friends have gaping holes in their memories, even of important things like their grandparents. When Eventown starts to not be so perfect anymore, it's up to Elodee to come to terms with the reasons her family came to Eventown and to decide if horrible memories are worth having if it means she gets to hold onto the good ones as well.

Eventown is an interesting setting, and Elodee's mother's new job is a convincing reason for the family to move. The physical layout, the beauty of the houses, and the perfect weather all make for an idyllic new home for a fractured family. The reason why the family is in pain is not revealed until the very ending of the book, and I don't want to spoil it other than to say that there should perhaps be trigger warnings.

While most of the characters are fairly flat, because they have given up their memories, Elodee is inquisitive and engaged, trying to settle into her new surroundings and make things better for her family in their new home while trying to navigate the waters with different equipment than the other residents have. Readers who want to embrace sad stories rather than forget them will sympathize with Elodee's quest for truth, even if it is painful for her.

Personally, I disagree with the entire premise of this novel. There is nothing wrong with forgetting sad things, if one were even able to do so in the real world, and I don't think it is fair to portray the vast majority of families dealing with grief in middle grade novels as fractured and unable to go on. That's just insulting. People go on because there is no other option. As I explained in my post on Jason Reynold's The Boy in the Black Suit, my truth is that unpleasant things are best forgotten. It's not everyone's truth, but it is mine, and this book was at odds with my truth. Everyone else seems to think it is fantastic, so read some other reviews as well before making up your mind about it.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 14, 2019

MMGM- Medal of Honor

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

Spradlin, Michael. Jack Montgomery: World War II: Gallantry at Anzio
Published 15 Jaunary 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Based on the real-life events of Jack Montgomery, this book is an excellent mix of factual information about the war and fictionalized accounts of Montgomery's involvement in it. Montgomery was born in 1917 in Oklahoma. Because he was Cherokee, he was sent to an Indian school, but received a good education and graduated from college with a physical education degree. Unable to find a job, he joined the army and soon found himself embroiled in the war. Soon after his division, the 45th Infantry Thunderbirds came ashore at Anizio, Montgomery was involve in action near Padiglione, Italy, where he single-handedly took out several enemy positions and saved his men. He was wounded and sent home, but awarded the Medal of Honor. Not only do we follow Jack's activities during the war, but we learn additional information about all manner of topics-- trench foot, the Italian involvement in the war, and the treatment of Native Americans. Plentiful pictures and maps help highlight that this is biographical nonfiction, told in an intriguing way.
Strengths: Italy! I have read very few books about this are of WWII, and since Dondi was so interesting, I was always curious about it. The mix of story, facts, and supporting documents is wonderful and will make this super popular with my readers. Like Tod Olsen's narrative nonfiction, THIS is what middle grade books should be like!
Weaknesses: Occasionally I was irritated that Montgomery's narrative was interrupted, but I read this in one sitting, and my students will not.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this entire series and may need some more room for Spradlin's books, since he has been on fire lately!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ruby in the Sky

Ferruolo, Jeanne Zulick. Ruby in the Sky
February 5th 2019 by Farrar Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ruby and her mother Dahlia have moved a lot since her dad is gone, but their last move takes them from Florida to a small town in Vermont where Dahlia was raised. Her aunt Cecy helps out, especially after Dahlia is arrested for a workplace incident of harassment for which she is wrongly accused of assault. Ruby isn't wild about her new school, since there are some mean girls who make fun of her clothes and her silence, but she knows that flying under the radar is the way to go. She does slowly warm to Ahmad, a recent refugee from Syria, especially after his uncle hires her mother to work at his store. Ruby finds it difficult to become invested in the Wax Museum project her class is assigned, even though she is interested in her subject, astronaut Michael Collins. Near her run-down rental house, Ruby has met the local Bird Lady, Abigail, who lives in a shed near her former house, having suffered a family tragedy in the 1970s. As she works on her project, Ruby also investigates Abigail's past, and finds out that she worked with the computers that helped with the moon launch. Her mother's trial is the same day as the Wax Museum, and the local government has put a law in place to remove Abigail from her property, so things become a bit fraught in Ruby's world. Luckily, with the help of her supportive friends and family, she and her mother manage to make it through and find a new path forward for themselves.
Strengths: This hits the hard-to-define sweet spot for sad stories for my students. It has the novelty of a parent arrested for a somewhat minor offense but who is nonetheless in danger of going to jail. Ruby's method of coping with her new school-- withdrawing, trying not to speak-- is one that I see all too often. It's good to see that even though the place the two are renting may be cold, Ruby's aunt brings food and warm thrift store clothing to them. I especially liked that even though there were a LOT of sad things, Ruby was fairly positive, even if some of those thoughts were set on going back to Washington, D.C., which never seemed like a likely ending for the family. Ahmad and his uncle are great characters, and I especially enjoyed the interchange where Ruby tells Ahmad he was lucky for only having to go to school two hours a day... until he tells her that school had to be over by 8:00 a.m. because that's when the bombing started! Ruby may have it tough, but Ahmad and his uncle have had it far tougher. I did cry at one point, even though the part at which I cried was a tiny bit cheesy.
Weaknesses: It's hard to believe that Abigail would have spent forty years living in a shed; again, there's that portrayal of grieving parents as being unable to cope that I find insulting. There are a lot of things that come together in a rather unrealistic way, but this is a generally interesting and upbeat book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Vrabel's Bringing Me Back, Arnold's Far From Fair, Sand-Eveland's Tinfoil Sky and Pla's The Someday Birds.


Brown, Don. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
September 18th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Junior Library Guild Subscription

Like this author's The Great American Dust Bowl, The Unwanted is a good introduction to the topic of the war in Syria and the enormous number of refugees who are seeking a home after leaving their war torn country. In well researched anecdotes, Brown puts a very human face on an exodus that has raised tempers of people in many of the countries to which the Syrians are fleeing. Brown concentrates on what has happened to individuals, and tries not to address the issues of religion too much.

It's an interesting and effective way to make difficult information easily digestible, and I learned a lot. I'm just not a fan of Brown's art style. For me, so much hinges on the noses on the drawings of people, and I'm not a fan of his. So, great for information, but I'm not a fan of the art. My students are not going to care, and our ESL teacher practically grabbed this book out of my hands. Similar to Colfer's Illegal. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Comic Book History of Comics

Van Lente, Fred and Dunlavey, Ryan. The Comic Book History of Comics 2012 by Idea & Design Works Llc
Actually can't remember where this came from!

This lengthy (over 200 pages) comic book style history gives a very complete overview of the comic strip going back even before The Yellow Kid. Not only are strips and creators named and explained, but information about publishers, trends, and controversies are covered. The format does limit the amount of information that can be presented, but this is certainly an excellent starting place for fans who might like to later find out more about certain aspects of this art form. While there were lots of controversies and problems covered, this never felt one-sided, even when the later chapters address the thorny issue of comics distribution.

This is a great read for anyone who wants to have a brief understanding of the entire comics universe. There was a ton of information, and I came away feeling that my background knowledge was definitely increased. I have to admit to skimming a bit-- who knew that Wonder Woman was so fraught with complications? The most interesting part of this for me was the discussion about how educators in the 1950s decided that comics were morally corrupting children. I don't remember there really being any discussion involving comics in my childhood-- my brother and I had a few Harvey World comics, probably picked up at gas stations on car trips, and there was even a Wonder Woman comic. We treated these more or less like books, rereading on occasion, and no one ever told us they were bad for us!

This is a great book for high school libraries who have a large fan base who enjoy illustrated works. There are a few references to sex in comics, but it's not bad. I just think it is a LOT of information for middle school students.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Soccer School

Bellos, Alex. Soccer School Season 1: Where Soccer Explains (Rules) the World
October 26th 2018 by Walker Books
US Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

"Coaches" Alex and Ben introduce the reader to their school that is all about soccer. Every class, from biology to business studies, deals with fun facts and information about how each topic pertains to soccer. My favorite part of the book was probably the two page spread detailing the schedule, which look NOTHING like a US middle school schedule! It is more like a college schedule, with two days of math and fun things like Design Technology, Zoology, Music, Photography, Fashion, and Business Studies! That makes the idea of Soccer School an amazing opportunity right there.

While the story line takes us through our school week, this is more a compendium of random information detailing just about every aspect of soccer. It is noteworthy that the entire first chapter, Biology, discusses all of the minute details of how professional soccer players (as well as race dogs) manage their BMs. The subsequent math chapter gives statistics on death on the soccer field! (Luckily, the chances are pretty low-- about a 1 in 200,000 chance.) This is followed by the zoology chapter that discusses different team mascots and gives a lot of information about eagles. While all of this is very informative, it doesn't seem to be all that pertinent to soccer!

While there are a lot of pictures illustrating different concepts, there is also a LOT of small text. There are side bars, quizzes, charts with statistics, and a lot of other facts as well as frequent cartoon panels illustrating concepts.

There are plenty of details about playing fields, crowd control, player salaries, and famous players. Readers who have moved beyond the short nonfiction soccer books about various teams and have read all of the how-to books on soccer will enjoy this fast-paced, random compilation of humorous anecdotes that even include space soccer.

Bellos, Alex. Soccer School Season 2: Where Soccer Explains (Saves) the World
October 26th 2018 by Walker Books US
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central


In this second Soccer School book, the first chapter is about pee rather than poop (as the first book was)! This is actually a very important topic for young athletes, who often are not well hydrated. The U.S. Navy actually has a very helpful online chart concerning this:(https://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcsd/Pages/Care/HealthWellnessLearnArticlesPeeTellingYou.aspx). Soccer school talks about the benefits of water, effects of dehydration on the body's performance, and gives several anecdotes relating to urination. This might seem silly, but as a cross country coach, I spend much more time than I would like discussing this topic with my runners!

The book is again set up to mirror a school schedule with a lot of different topics. Soccer vocabulary in a variety of languages and countries, as well as multilingual soccer players, are discussed in Foreign Languages, and some funny phrases from around the world are described, complete with amusing drawings. Physics class discusses how the soccer ball is constructed and reacts to use, and Botany gives a primer on the different types of grasses used on fields. The authors really dig deep to come up with topics such as engineering, writing and reporting, and even religion. Who knew that there was a "Church of Maradona" that worships Argentine player Diego Maradona!

My favorite chapter was the History one, which discussed how women's involvement in the sport has changed since the founding of the British Ladies' Football Club in 1894. I would love to find an entire book on this topic, especially discussing the 1921 ban on women's teams using most stadiums! The quizzes at the end of each chapter even have a key available at the end of the book, so readers who really, really want to memorize their soccer facts can quiz themselves.

While the Notebook Novel style of this series will appeal to reluctant readers, Soccer School has an enormous wealth of facts about many facets relating to the sport. This is a great book to send with a die-hard fan to dip into again and again.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
January 8th 2019 by Henry Holt
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Coyote and her father, Rodeo, travel around the US in a converted school bus they call Yager. Their life seems pretty comfortable, and they go wherever they want (especially if it involves some really good destination food), but they are on the road because of a sad reason. Coyote's mother and two sisters were killed in a car accident, and their father coped so poorly that he had to sell their house, leave their town, and doesn't even want to call Coyote by her real name or be referred to as her father, because it makes him remember too much. After Coyote talks to her grandmother, who tells her the park near their old home is going to be torn down, Coyote wants to get back in time to retrieve a time capsule that her mother and sisters left there just five days before their death. Since she can't tell her father, she makes an excuse to travel somewhat nearby to get a special sandwich. Her father can't drive enough to get from Florida to the Pacific Northwest, so when Coyote finds a young musician who wants to travel there to see his girlfriend, she invites him along. Rodeo has done this and the past, and has series of questions for people to answer. The answers are correct, and they are on their way. They also pick up Salvador and his mother, who are fleeing his father, after Coyote is accidentally left at a gas station. They also pick up an 18-year-old runaway, Valerie, who has been kicked out of her home because she is gay. Any cross country trip will have incidents, and there are incorrect connections, break downs, and general mayhem. Will Coyote be able to make it back, and will her father eventually realize that she needs to talk about her past in order to go on with her future?
Strengths: A good road trip story is always good, from Cooney's On the Road to Pla's The Someday Birds. The bus is a fun vehicle, the aimlessness appeals to the middle grade soul, and there is a lot of good relationships and adventure. While this is a little different from Gemeinhart's previous books, it shows me that he has studied up on the current climate in middle grade literature. Several topics that are currently in favor are in play here-- a dead parent, LGBTQ+ character, and domestic problems. The cover is good as well.
Weaknesses: I would think that people who had lost a loved one would be really insulted by all of the literary characters who become completely dysfunctional when they are grieving. I liked that the funding for the constant traveling was explained (insurance settlement), but the father's aimlessness, combined with his unwillingness to parent Coyote in an effective way, is inexcusable. While not talking about the departed is an excellent way to deal with grief, the needs of a child come first, and Coyote should have been near her grandmother and in a whole lot of grief counseling.
What I really think: While I very much personally disliked the portrayal of a grieving parent, this is a good story, and I will be purchasing it for my library.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

#WNDB Wednesday- Genesis Begins Again

Williams, Alicia D. Genesis Begins Again
January 15th 2019 by Simon and Schuster/Atheneum
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Genesis' family often falls on hard times. Her father has an industrial job, her mother cares for the elderly, and they have  been evicted from four different homes in the Detroit area. During the last eviction, Genesis had brought home girls from school whom she hoped to impress, but this of course backfires. Her father, who is an extremely problematic alcoholic who is not very kind to Genesis, surprises her and her mother with a fancy house he has rented in the wealthy suburb of Farmington Hills. While she likes the new place, Genesis worries that they can't possibly make the rent, and she also worries about going to the new school with predominately white students. Genesis is very dark complected, and is self-conscious in the extreme about this, especially when other students call her names such as "Charcoal" and "Eggplant". She also doesn't like her hair. Her mother is very light, and her grandmother seems to blame all of the father's problems on his dark complexion, and makes it very clear to Genesis that her mother would have done better for herself had she married a man with a skin tone closer to her own light one. As a result, Genesis tries a lot of dangerous ways to lighten her skin-- scrubbing it raw, using lemon juice, and even pouring bleach in her bath. Luckily, at her new school she is able to make friends with Sophia, who has trouble with other students because of the way her OCD manifests itself. She is also glad to find a friend in Troy, a self-proclaimed "black nerd" who is as dark as she is and is tutoring her in math. Genesis thinks she has a friend in Yvette, who invites her to sing with her group in the talent show and who relaxes Genesis' hair, but in the end, Yvette is not as supportive as she seems. The family is in danger of losing their house yet again, and there are destructive secrets being kept, but in the end, the family is able to work together to get back on the right track.
Strengths: There are very few books dealing with perceptions of black complexion (I can only think of Flake's The Skin I'm In (2007) and Magoon's Camo Girl (2011)), and it's good to see a new one. The feeling of Detroit and its environs is very strong and well done. Genesis' attempts to solve her family's difficult problems are heartbreaking, but also very realistic. It's nice that she has a supportive teacher at school. While the conversation about complexion with her grandmother is cringeworthy, it's also historically accurate and very interesting. It's good that Genesis' mother has a more modern approach to the question.
Weaknesses: Skin color prejudice within ethnic populations is something I know nothing about. It did seem a bit odd, however, to have Genesis' father, who was a very, very poor example of a father, be the one with the very dark skin. It would have been much more interesting to have him have the lighter complexion, and the opinionated grandmother to be the one who was darker!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, although I wish it were a little shorter. It's definitely a middle school book, but 400 pages is about twice the length that the average middle school reader is apt to pick up willingly!

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Dragon Pearl

Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl
January 15th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC from Netgalley

Min lives on Jinju, a rather run down planet. Her family are shapeshifting fox spirits, so they keep to themselves, since humans are not overly friendly to them. Other supernatural creatures seem to be afforded more patience for their magic, but Min has not taken her fox form for many years because her mother is so afraid of their magic going wrong. Her fears are realized when an inspector comes to their house with the news that Min's brother, Jun, who is in an elite space academy, has deserted his post, possibly in an attempt to locate the coveted Dragon Pearl, which could immediately terraform planets and help civilization. Min upsets both the inspector and her mother when she shapeshifts, and fearing both for her brother and for herself, she runs off to try to find him. In the biggest city on her planet, she runs into a relative who runs a gambling parlor, and is able to make some crafty bargains to get her onto a space ship. She gets on the Red Azalea ship, but it is involved in an accident that kills a young crew member, Jang. Min uses a charm to make the crew of the ship that picks them up, the Pale Lightning, think that she has died, but that Jang has not, and assumes his shape in exchange for promising to find out more about who caused his death. The Pale Lightning was the ship on which her brother served, so Min starts her investigation into where he might be. The captain of the ship is a lion shape shifter who seems a bit suspicious, and Min finds out some important information about her brother. With some of the other crew members. she devises a plot to get to the Ghost Planet where the Dragon Pearl reportedly has been hidden, and while in the process, finds out the answers to many of her questions.
Strengths: This had a definite Star Trek vibe, with its space adventure and exploring new worlds, which is fantastic! Yes, Min had a sad impetus to set her on her journey, but I loved her take charge attitude and her fearlessness in the face of all of her obstacles. There are enough details about the space travel and being on a ship to delight the readers who want such details, and this is woven in nicely with the fox shape shifters and other elements of Korean mythology. Wasn't sure these two would mesh, but they do! Great for readers who liked Fry's Hunt for the Hydra (2014) or McDougall's Mars Evacuees (2015).
Weaknesses: There could have been a bit more explanation about the Korean mythology, especially the way that ghosts interact with living creatures.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but it would be nice if this were a stand alone and not a series. More of my students would read speculative fiction occasionally if they didn't have to commit to a five book series of 400 page books!