Wednesday, April 30, 2014

World Wednesday

18222731Engle, Margarita. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal
March 25th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers 

This novel in verse is in alternating viewpoints that include the howler monkeys and trees. The main narrators are Mateo, a Cuban boy who has pretended to be Spanish to get a job working on the Panama Canal so that he could escape his abusive father; Henry, a Jamaican who at first hates Mateo; Anita, a native girl who sells herbs; and Augusto, who has studied in New York and does drawings. We also hear from Theodore Roosevelt (the first US president to leave US soil while in office), and various members working on the canal. The story of prejudice against and mistreatment of the workers with darker skin is the main concern of this story; not only did they make less money, but it was thought that even giving them an extra blanket or clean shirt was a waste of resources. There is also a bit of romance, and the difficulty of the working conditions is contrasted well with the grandiose plans for the canal.
Strengths: I can't think of any other books set at this place and time, but now I want to know more! There is, of course, the wonderful The Secret of the Yellow Death  by Suzanne Jurmain, but that only addressed the medical side of this project. This is definitely an underexplored topic.
Weaknesses: While the verse is okay, there is a lot lost that would be great to read in prose. I would have loved more descriptions of the work, the living conditions, etc. so that I knew more about how they looked and worked and less about what they felt like, if that makes sense. Especially with Henry and Mateo fighting at the beginning, and Mateo's relationship with Anita-- there was so much more that could have been told to make this an exciting adventure book while still addressing the mistreatment.

106281Ryan, Pam Munoz. Becoming Naomi Leon
September 1st 2004 by Scholastic Press 

I can't imagine why I didn't have this in my library! I have one student who wants to read everything about any Hispanic character she can, so I ordered this one for her. I'm very glad I did.

Naomi and Owen have been left by their alcoholic mother, Skyla, with their great grandmother, who is trying very hard to raise them in a trailer park near an avocado orchard. Owen has many special needs, but is very bright. Their close knit community includes the grandmother's friend, Flora. When Skyla shows up with a boyfriend who has decided that they can provide a companion to his daughter and get money for raising the children, the three are afraid that she will carry through on this, especially since she does not feel capable of raising Owen and intends to split the children up. When this looks likely, the grandmother gets her friends to help take the trailer to Mexico to find the children's father and visit Flora's family. They look for the father at a Christmas radish carving festival in which Naomi participates, since she has long carved things out of soap. The grandmother gets a letter from the father stating his wishes that she raise the children, and when the group arrives back in the US, there is a hearing to determine custody.
Strengths: This has a lot of good cultural information, and has the best librarian ever! The real appeal of this, though, is the strong family and the grandmother's devotion to her grandchildren. This will be popular with girls who like problem novels. Very good sense of different places as well.
Weaknesses: Sign that it was written ten years ago-- Naomi is trying to find her father by calling his residence and runs up a large bill by making phone calls "out of the area". What does this mean?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw/ Pernicious Fantasy Amnesia!

At the best of times, I have trouble remembering the plots of fantasy books. During the last month, when I had a tendency to have trouble concentrating, to lose notes, and to touch my computer so infrequently that I had to dust it, the condition got even worse. I did enjoy all of these books and will be buying them. Hopefully, now that my Dental Iliad and Odyssey is over, I will be better at reporting details of fantasy from now on!

18334269Healey, Christopher. The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw.
April 29th 2014 by Walden Pond Press

Hooray! I wish that books wouldn't come out in late April, when I am not able to get a copy or check it out because all books are due so soon, but I guess it's better than coming out August 29, when I can order them but they don't come by the time school opens. I have to get another copy of the first book, too.

That said, I was struck with horrible Fantasy Amnesia. Triggered by a large cast of characters, ever changing setting, and over 500 pages, I can't give a good synopsis. I read it; I loved it; I can't tell you what it's about. You need a copy right now because it's hysterically funny and full of swashbuckling adventure, but we'll go with the publisher's description today and look forward to the fourth book!

"The League of Princes returns in the hilariously epic conclusion to the hit series that began with Christopher Healy's The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which the Los Angeles Times called "one of the more clever, hilariously successful incarnations of the current literary rage to rip apart and rewrite fairy tales."

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don't you? Well, think again. Posters plastered across the thirteen kingdoms are saying that Briar Rose has been murdered—and the four Princes Charming are the prime suspects. Now they're on the run in a desperate attempt to clear their names. Along the way, however, they discover that Briar's murder is just one part of a nefarious plot to take control of all thirteen kingdoms—a plot that will lead to the doorstep of an eerily familiar fortress for a final showdown with an eerily familiar enemy."

18090026Delaney, Joseph. Fury of the Seventh Son
April 15th 2014 by Greenwillow Books

This was utterly fantastic, and the only disappointing thing about it isn't that disappointing-- it didn't really END. I can see more books in a second series, with Tom as the Spook. I still think that come December, this will be the really hot book we all need ten copies of, since the movie is out in February. 

"The thirteenth—and final—book in the internationally best-selling fantasy adventure series that inspired the forthcoming major motion picture Seventh Son. Finally, Tom Ward, the spook's last apprentice, will confront the Fiend for the last time. Tom Ward has battled boggarts, ghasts, witches, dark gods, and the most terrifying creatures to roam the earth. He's allied with the witch assassin Grimalkin, with a powerful boggart, and with Alice . . . the young witch who is also his true love. And he has kept one step ahead of the Fiend, the most evil being in the world. Now, he will vanquish the Fiend once and for all. But it will require a terrible sacrifice: not everyone Tom cares about will survive the final battle.

17987501Wexler, Django. The Forbidden Library.
April 15th 2014 by Kathy Dawson Books  
E ARC from

This book kept me turning the (digital) pages more than I expected that it would. Alice was intriguing, the library enthralling, and the twists and turns unexpected. My only complaint is that unlike Shulmann's The Grimm Legacy, this book didn't make me want to work in or visit the library. It seemed a bit dark and unpleasant, but my readers like darker and more unpleasant things than I like, so I can see this being a popular middle grade choice.

"Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That--along with everything else--changed the day she met her first fairy

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon--an uncle she's never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it's hard to resist. Especially if you're a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice."

21839074Downey, Jen Swann. The Ninja Librarians and the Accidental Keyhand.
April 15th 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky  

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library called this "a zesty romp of a read that I thoroughly enjoyed; really truly thoroughly enjoyed." Believe her, and read her very thorough review. The library was certainly MUCH more pleasant than The Forbidden Library, but I just got bogged down by all of the descriptions that made this such a fascinating read for Charlotte. I strongly suspect that the pain medication caused me to vastly preferred the Sparkle Spa books by Jill Santopolo.

Just not myself quite yet.

18651982Jones, Diana Wynne and Ursula. The Islands of Chaldea
April 22nd 2014 by Greenwillow Books 

I feel the worst about not comprehending this one. I've loved so many of Jones' books, and this is the last one we have from her. How lovely that her sister was able to finish it up. Maybe it was the cat; I'm not a cat person. Anyway, I'm sure that Charlotte, my go-to person for middle grade fantasy, will have a review posted of this very soon.

"Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself, even though she is old enough and it should have, by now. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that-and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident, until her magic blooms. This stand-alone novel, by the beloved and acclaimed author of such classic fantasy novels as Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci books, will be welcomed by fans old and new."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Kiwanis Club of Westerville Ohio If Facebook voting doesn't freak you out, please consider helping the Westerville ShareBacAPac program. They are trying to get votes in order to win a large grant. The organization provides school children with food to get through the weekend, and is helped by volunteers from the Westerville Kiwanis and Westerville Area Resource Ministry.

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Voting is free through State Farm's facebook app, and runs from 4/28 through 5/16/2014.  

Vote at the State Farm app at

17910079Lubar, David. Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales
April 22nd 2014 by Starscape
E ARC from

This seventh collection of tales from Lubar will delight elementary school students, so it is a must purchase for elementary libraries. These don't do quite as well in the middle school, which is a shame. In this collection, I thought that M.U.B. a story all in dialog about a monster under the bed, would be good to study in class. Lubar also includes a story in second person, set up sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, which is clever. There's always one point in the year when students come in asking for something for class written in second person, and since Bright Lights, Big City isn't really appropriate, I should buy this! I liked how Lubar adds notes at the end of the book addressing what inspired him to write the stories. This was especially helpful in the case of Being Green, which at first glance looks to be a polemic against reusable water bottles but wasn't meant that way.

I'm not a big fan of short stories, but I am a huge fan of Lubar's. I just wish he would write more upper middle grade books like Sleeping Freshman Never Lie. Maybe he and Jordan Sonnenblick should hang out together more, as long as it didn't end with Sonnenblick writing more Dodger and Me books!

18209329Hurwitz, Michele Weber. The Summer I Saved the World... in 65 Days.
April 8th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Nina is not feeling particularly good about the summer. Her grandmother has been gone for a year, her parents are hardly ever home and working when they are, her brother is getting into trouble, and her best friend Jorie is changing. When Nina sees her neighbor Mrs. Chung upset because she can't plant flowers for the summer because of her cast, Nina gets up out of her hammock and decides to do a good deed every day for someone on her cul de sac. She cleans up the yard of the Cantaloni family, leaves backed goods for the lonely Mr. Dumbrowski, tries to be nice to the nosey and paranoid Mrs. Millman, and takes care of Eli's brother Thomas. Jorie also lives on the cul de sac and is bound and determined that Eli will ask her to Homecoming once they start high school in the fall, but Eli is an old friend of Nina's, and the two reconnect. Doing all of the nice things for people makes Nina feel closer to her grandmother, and makes her neighborhood a better place to be. It might even be the thing that brings her fractured family back together again.
Strengths: This author's Calli Be Gold got a lot of love in 2011, and this is another good, realistic novel about every day life. There's the touch of romance, some teen angsty problems, and is pitch perfect for girls on the cusp between middle school and high school. It also made me want to go do random acts of kindness. Definitely ordering.
Weaknesses:  The family dysfunction was a bit much. The brother didn't need to have gotten into trouble in high school; the parents failing to parent on top of the grandmother's death was more than enough. The grief felt slightly over done as well, but I suppose some people do take deaths harder than others.

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Blonde Ops

18404316 Bennardo, Charlotte and  Zaman Natalie. Blonde Ops.
May 6th 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin Blonde Ops
E ARC from

Bec is a hacker, and has been kicked out of yet another private boarding school for changing her grades, among other things. Her busy parents don't have time to deal with her, so she is shipped off to Rome to stay with Parker, a college friend of her mother's who is the editor of Edge magazine. To Bec's surprise, she is supposed to be an intern at the magazine, but things get complicated when Parker is badly injured in a car accident that may have something to do with the First Lady's visit to the magazine. Bec is put in the care of Charlotte, a reality show/model/highly driven business woman, and expected to keep working. Concerned for Parker's welfare and suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her accident, Bec starts to investigate. She is also a bit distracted by Taj, a fashion blogger who is working with Edge, and Dante, a local boy who makes deliveries to the magazine. Her investigations are interrupted by romantic dalliances around Rome, but when the first lady is kidnapped from a photo shoot, Bec's skills manage to save the day.
Strengths: Hard to go wrong with spies in Italy. The romance is light and fun, and appropriate for middle school. Good details about the fashion industry.
Weaknesses: Bec wasn't the most likeable character, and I didn't quite believe her skills. The whole set up strained credulity in a way that Carter's Gallagher Girls books don't, but I may still buy this for fans of that series.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

Catch a Falling StarCulbertson, Kim. Catch a Falling Star
April 29th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from

Carter Moon is having a pretty good life in Little, California. Her father runs a local diner, her mother travels sometimes to protest different causes, and her brother is usually in trouble because of a gambling addiction, but she has good friends Alien Drake (her best friend who shares her interest in astronomy) and Chloe (her other best friend who is dating Drake). When a movie comes in to town to film, she doesn't particularly care, although Chloe is star struck by the appearance of Adam Jakes. When Adam's people ask Carter to pretend to date him to polish his image, she agrees only because her family needs the money to clear up her brother's recent gambling debt. Adam is a child star trying to transition to older roles, and isn't very sociable. Carter thinks he's cute, but doesn't appreciate his attitude. As the two move through the "scripts" that are provided concerning their relationship, however, she comes to like him more than she wishes she would, and his presence in her life complicates any number of matters, including whether she should pick up dancing (which she had quit a year before) again, and her parents insistence that she leave Litte after high school graduation and broaden her horizons, something she doesn't care to do.
Strengths: This was a good, middle school appropriate romance for fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Sarah Dessen. It skews more to the Dessen-esque, with the problems about the brother, but is definitely wish fulfillment for young girls who think that if Hollywood would just make a film version of Anne of Green Gables in their hometown and have Lief Garrett play Gilbert... and if they would be somehow magically cast as Anne... I'm sorry. Bad flashbacks to my own youth. Good stuff. Definitely buying a copy.
Weaknesses: A little problem heavy for my taste, and not quite as swoony a romance as Smith's books are. Still, it's hard to find romance books that are appropriate.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Guy Friday- Cheesie Mack

17978483Cotler, Steve. Cheesie Mack Is Not Exactly Famous
February 25th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers 
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Cheesie and Georgie are up to no good, as usual, and are hanging around the construction site at school, playing on the equipment.While doing things they ought not to be doing, they unearth an odd, old looking artifact that they end up taking to the historical society with Cheesie's grandfather. This gives them some exposure on the news, and is a welcome distraction from the wedding of Georgie's father and Ms. D. With Cheesie around, nothing goes smoothly, especially Georgie's handling of the ring for the wedding ceremony.
Strengths: We certainly need more funny books for boys, and it's even better when they are in a series. Add some pictures, and it's gold. The first book didn't circulate very well, but when there were three on the shelf, my reluctant readers started recommending them to each other, so they will be thrilled to get this fourth book. Others in the series are Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything, Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel(#2), and Cheesie Mack is Running Like Crazy (#3). There's not a huge amount that happens in this book, but it's a great description of middle school boys and their general lack of impulse control.
Weaknesses: Yep. I am officially irritated by Cheesie's repeated urgings for me to check his web site. I have; it's a very nice web site. I guess the archivist in my soul wants to scream "But what if the web site isn't there in 20 years?!" every time I come across one of them! The book would read more smoothly without these mentions.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dragon on Trial (The Menagerie #2)

18052942Sutherland, Tui and Kari. Dragon on Trial (The Menagerie #2)
March 11th 2014 by Harper  Collins

At the end of the first book, Pelly, the golden goose that keeps the Menagerie funded, has apparently been killed (judging from the feathers and blood strewn about), and  Scratch the dragon is blamed. Investigators from SNAPA plan a trial, and not only could Scratch be exterminated, but the menagerie could be shut down. Zoe decides that she has to investigate, and with the help partially human Keiko and Blue as well as new kid Logan, she makes some progress. The group also discovers that Marco, a boy from their class, is a wererooster, and there are several children in his family who are werecreatures, but all of them are undocumented. Marco is the one who figures out that the feathers are too old to belong to Pelly, and the group assembles clues to find out who has kidnapped Pelly and why that person is trying to shut down the menagerie. There is another mystery at the very end of this book, and I already have students asking when book three will be published.
Strengths: Like Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series, this is a fun romp with magic, a librarian that may or may not be evil, children taking matters into their own hands to solve a mystery, and (of course) some fun magical creatures. Fans of the Warriors series and the Wings of Fire series will demand these immediately.
Weaknesses: Not my favorite style of books. Too many characters, not to mention Dragon dialect. Map at the beginning of the book! Still, I can see why these are popular with my students.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Wednesday-- The Art of Secrets

18267068Klise, James. The Art of Secrets
April 22nd 2014 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 
E Arc from

When Saba Khan's Pakistani family's house burns down, there is some suspicion that they might be somehow responsible, but Saba's private school, Highsmith, rallies around the family. They are given a place to live, and new students Kendra and Kevin Spoon decide to put together an auction to benefit the family. In the process, Kevin and Kendra uncover paintings by outsider artist Henry Darger in the trash, and even though the art might be worth millions of dollars, they still intend to give the money to the Khans. The story of the art's acquisition, subsequent disappearance, and relocation is told from a variety of view points, including members of Saba's family, the Spoons, a foreign exchange student, and the teachers and principal. Everyone has a different agenda, and many of the characters hope that the finding of the art will benefit them in some way. In the end, though, not everything is as it appears.
Strengths: I normally don't care for books told from a variety of perspectives, but this was somehow intriguing. The premise of the lost, valuable artwork is realistic, and the Spoon's altruism is nice to see. Saba's struggle to be a part of the school even though most of the students are wealthy and she is not is a nice touch. Fans of Blue Balliet's mysteries will enjoy this one.
Weaknesses: The ending was very abrupt and not very satisfying or clear, which was odd. There was so much ground work laid for a good ending, but it seemed rushed to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Expiration Day

17910147Powell, William Campbell. Expiration Day
April 22nd 2014 by Tor Teen

Tania has always known how lucky she is. She is a human child in a world where this is a rarity. The population of Earth has plummeted after 2010, and almost everyone is infertile. In steps Oxted Corporation, who will supply parents with a lease on a "teknoid", but only for 18 years. Tania's father, a vicar, has seen many families fall apart after they need to return their child, so Tania is dismayed when an accident causes her to find out that she, too, is a cyborg. She tries to keep this hidden at first from John, whom she has met in London, and with whom she has put together a rock band. Along with her friend Sian, she tries to pack as much life into her short span as she can, but when the end draws near and family circumstances change, Tania's father tries one last desperate act-- suing Oxted Corporation for breach of contract in hopes that Tania can continue to live. What does the future hold for someone whose life has a very definite expiration day.
Strengths: This had some good twists in it, and the premise was logical and unique.
Weaknesses:  The diary format seemed a bit forced, even though it made sense. While this won't see huge circulation, I think a small group of deep thinking readers with an interest in science fiction will like this one.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Slice of Life-- Complete Disarray!

It wouldn't have taken much to throw me off this year, but three weeks of unrelenting dental pain certainly did not do anything to make me more organized. Combine this with the rapidly approaching end of the year, and I'm just throwing in ALL the towels as far as blogging goes.

I've got posts done for at least the next month, but the playing in the sandbox is not going well. This is because I need to inventory the 11,000 textbooks in my school as well as the 12,000 library books, so my mornings consist of quality time spent with my trusty bar code scanner instead of reading other peoples' reviews, which I love to do.

State testing is next week; I don't really mind testing, since I think it has always been with us. The levels of anxiety and paranoia are ridiculous, and this is still just the Ohio Achievement Assessments. Next year, I think we're going to PARCC Assessments, and I think they are all supposed to be online. Not to be negative, but I see a few problems. Not enough computers, computers crashing-- I think there's a lot to be said for a nice paper and pencil test at this point in time. Basically, I think that Common Core is just another way to express what we've already been teaching; I've seen so many education initiatives come and go that it's hard to get too worked up about the NEXT new thing. There's always a new thing. It never lasts.

Another new thing I've been working on is MackinVia. My nice rep, Lewis, gave us 67 e book and audio book titles, so I spent some time today signing up my student helpers as guinea pigs. It's way more complicated that it seemed at first, but we're working on it. I think that if my district ends up with e books, they will be purchased for the district and not individual buildings. I can't talk students into checking out digital books from the truly awesome Ohio E Book Project, so I don't think there's a huge need right now. Eventually, sure. Mackin's set up is worth investigating, and they've got some decent titles.

Of course, students can't have any digital devices on them next week, lest they go off during testing, causing alarms, attack dogs, and Homeland security personnel to all be released. We then have to put the student in a plastic bag to mail in to the Ohio Department of Education, detonate the digital device in the parking lot, and forward the resignations of every certified teacher in the building to the state senate.

Or something like that. I'll have to check the Power Point again. I do know that everything has to be done in number two pencil. No mechanical pencils allowed!


18527219Rasmussen, E. Kent. World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities
April 1st 2014 by Chicago Review Press 
Copy received from the publisher

Like previous books in this series (Frederick Douglas for Kids; Rightfully Ours) more books listed at Chicago Review Press), this is an extremely well researched volume with outstanding illustrations. A wide variety of topics are covered, including some I have not really seen in other books, such as an in-depth description of trenches and trench warfare, complete with a photograph of higher ups with furniture in their trench! I can see this being an extremely useful book when reading any novel set during World War I, because just about any topic that would come up in a fiction book is addressed here. I particularly liked the extensive coverage of a variety of animals that were used during the war, as well as an explanation of why and these animals were used. In addition to the more commonly found topics, such as the causes of war and the key players, this contained information about the home front, getting supplies to the troops, the role of women both in factories and in the service, and various writers who fought and contributed to the cannon of war literature. In fact, the only two subjects that I expected to find and did not were an in-depth description of uniforms and gear, understandable since this is not a book about a single country and the topic is touched upon lightly, and a mention of Rudyard Kipling, for which I was looking only so that I could pair this book with Kipling's Choice (and certainly not an essential inclusion).
Strengths: This is an exceptional resource for researching World War I, and a good book for readers who are very interested in the minutiae of the war. The inclusion of accompanying activities would make this a particularly useful volume for teachers looking to incorporate such activities into their lessons. This would be an essential purchase for most public libraries.
Weaknesses: The horizontal format (8.5 x 10.9 x 0.4 inches) makes this somewhat awkward to read and to shelve, and only the most interested students will read this in its entirety for pleasure, since it has so much information.

18166972Hartnett, Sonya. The Silver Donkey.
11 February 2014, Candlewick (originally 2004)
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there

Marcelle and Coco find a blind soldier in the forest near their home in France. He has run off from the fighting and is clearly shell shocked. The girls take him food and supplies, glad that they have a secret from their annoying older brother, Pascal. Lieutenant Shepard just wants to get back across the channel to his home in England to be with his younger brother, who is dying and asking for him. Marcelle tries to come up with a plan to get Shepard home, but cannot, even though she and Coco are good about bringing him food, and listening to the stories he tells that revolve around a small silver goodluck charm of a donkey. Eventually, Pascal is brought in on the secret, and he enlists a lame man from the town, Fabrice, to help get Shepard a boat across the channel. The girls are glad that Shepard will get home, but sad that they no longer can care for him.
Strengths: When I read this originally in 2007, I commented that adults would love it, and since this has been reprinted numerous times while so many titles go out of print, this must be true. This would be a good war book for younger readers, since there are some good details about the fighting in France, but not too many gruesome details. I like the formatting of the new edition-- the pages of stories have a border on them, and the font is a good sized and nicely spaced on the page. Did love the previous green cloth binding with just the silver donkey on the cover, though!
Weaknesses: I can understand why two of Shepard's stories are included-- one is about a donkey helping out on the battlefield, moving wounded soldiers, and one is about his brother. I don't understand why he tells the girls the story of Jesus' birth or Noah's Ark. I love this comment about Pascal and wonder why the author didn't take it to heart while writing the book: "Pascal tried to be polite, but he was quite disappointed with that story. He had hoped the soldier would tell them riveting adventures from the war, not stories about donkeys who had conversations with the sky." (page 127)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

MG and YA Books for Girls

18079892Altebrando, Tara. The Battle of Darcy Lane
April 22nd 2014 by Running Press Kids 
Copy provided by the publisher. 

Julia and Taylor are enjoying summer but also waiting... waiting for the cicadas to come, and also for someone to move in across the street. Alyssa shows up, and while she is pushy and rude, Taylor is enthralled with her. One of Alyssa's obsessions is a complicated ball game called "Russia" which she and Taylor play incessantly on their driveways. Julia struggles with this problematic friendship, but other things as well: wanting to move in to another room in her house; finding out that her parents thought they were expecting, sort of wanted a baby, but in the end weren't having one; wanting a cell phone and to be allowed to watch scary movies; buying her first bra; and figuring out what her relationship with neighbor and friend Peter is. In the end, Julia realizes that she can have other friends, and that relying solely on Taylor will not serve her well.
Strengths: All the parents live and thrive, and are supportive without being too intrusive. Hooray! This will resonate with a lot of fifth and sixth grade girls, who are apt to undergo a lot of friend drama.
Weaknesses: The cover on this is very weak, mainly because the illustration makes it seem too young. Stock photo would have been a better choice, since the target demographic for this is VERY picky.

18049000Tracy, Kristen. Hung Up. 
March 4th 2014 by Simon Pulse 

Lucy meant to be calling a plaque company that took her money and went out of business, but instead she gets James, who luckily is not a creeper, but just a high school student at a nearby school. The two take to each other and conduct a relationship all through phone calls and messages, because Lucy refuses to text. They find comfort in talking to each other, and have a lot in common. They try to meet, but things come up. They fight a bit. In the end, they find out that each of them has a deep, dark secret that they would rather others not know, but by this time, they like each other so much that they are looking forward to meeting.
Strengths: Tracy's middle grade novels are popular in my library, and this would be a nice light romance for middle grade. Some drinking, but not portrayed as a good thing to do.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the deep, dark secrets, and I had a hard time really believing that teens today would talk on the phone. Still, pretty cover, light romance... hard to find stuff that's appropriate for middle grade.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Pastis, Stephan. Timmy Failure: Now Look What You've Done (#2)
25 Feburary 2014, Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

With his mother still out of work, Timmy and Total (the polar bear) have moved in with Timmy's Aunt Colander, whose wealthy husband left her a big house. This doesn't stop Timmy from wanting to enter a big detective contest at school. He, of course, is the perfect person to prove who stole a globe from the principal's office, but he misses the deadline! Knowing that he should win, he manages to get himself kicked out of his school and enrolls in another school, Glouberman Academy, which has a later entry date. There, he runs with Nunzio Benidici's cousin Minnie, but still keeps in touch with his best friend Rollo. He's supposed to be solving the mystery of what happened to Nunzio's spoon, but defeating Wedgie (aka Corinna Corinna) and avoiding the romantic intentions of Molly Moskins take priority. Timmy also finds out more information about the long suffering Colander, and more adventures seem to be in the offing.
Strengths: This book manages to span a wide range of ages-- it has the middle school romance and intrigue of Wimpy Kid without going in to too much detail, and has the constant barrage of sight gags and goofy jokes that will go over well with younger crowds, much like Captain Underpants. The fact that this story is accompanied by a lot of pictures will make this an easy sell for reluctant readers. Timmy's headstrong personality gets him into lots of scrapes, but he means well and has a strong support network. I particularly enjoyed Aunt Colander's eager involvement in Timmy's plans.

For the record, I think that only Timmy can see Total, the polar bear. This came up during our Cybils discussion, and there are several times when Total is talking to Timmy, but when someone else comes in the room, they can see the bear. This points to Total being imaginary, even though he is quite active and transports Timmy around town by pulling him along with a rope after Timmy has smeared himself with butter.
Weaknesses: Timmy is a brat. Students may find him amusing, but I got very weary of him saying that he was the best detective or the smartest person when clearly he is not. Part of the joke, I imagine, but he had few redeemable qualities to me.

16059320 Keller, Laurie. Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut #1)
June 4th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

As established in the picture book, Arnie the Doughnut, Arnie is the "doughnut dog" or Mr. Bing. When Mr. Bing is on a bowling team, buys a new ball, but when a big play off rolls around, he can't find his new ball, and Arnie investigates what has happened to it.  There's also some talking pizza, and of course, the bowling balls converse. Heavily illustrated, this reminded me a bit of Dragonbreath, in that children and adults will find it funny. There is a second book also out, The Invasion of the Ufonuts, a "spastry" adventure.
Strengths: There are not enough notebook novels in the world for some of my students, and this one was more clever than, say Stan and the Toilet Monster. This is also the only other book beside Crystal Allen's How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy  that involves bowling. Bowling was pretty important in my family when I was growing up, and I still have my own ball!
Weaknesses: Doesn't matter. I'm buying not only a copy of the first two chapter books, but a copy of the picture book for good measure, so I can know the background.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guy Friday- Middle Grade Celebrities

18085461Baron, Jeff. Sean Rosen is Not For Sale
March 18th 2014 by Greenwillow Books 
E ARC from

Sean still desperately wants to have his movie idea produced by Hollywood, and while he made great strides in the first book, I Represent Sean Rosen, he still  can't get any of the studios to promise that he can be the screen writer, because he's only 13. But his podcasts are drawing lots of attention, and his fictional agent, Dan Welch, keeps getting e mails from other agents interested in representing them. Sean has set off a bidding war, but he still has problems at home. He encourages his parents to go on a second honeymoon, and spends a couple of days with his grandmother in Florida. Middle school has its ups and downs, with Brianna, a fledgling band called Taxudermee, and a 7th grade wilderness field trip, where Sean gets an unexpected visitor. The ending is a cliff hanger (the kind that left me repeatedly pushing the "next page" button on my Nook, because there HAD to be more), so we'll see what high jinks Sean gets up to next.
Strengths: Middle school students enjoy funny, realistic fiction that stretches the bounds of credulity, and this is certainly that sort of book. The intricacies of Hollywood transactions in presented well, and Sean's friends are all interesting characters. The covers are appealing; just the right touch of cartoon for middle school.
Weaknesses: This seemed really slow paced to me, and could have been funnier. A few high speed chases involving the dog and doughnuts would have improved this for me.

17720974 Federle, Tim. Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
January 21st 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In this sequel to Better Nate Than Ever, Nate finds himself living with his aunt in New York City, where he has a job as an understudy/chorus member in a Broadway production of E.T. He misses his friend Libby from home, if not his parents, and is anxious about how well he will do.  He is bothered by Jordan Rylance, who is from his hometown of Pittsburgh and has the starring role of Elliot, but he quickly learns that things are not always as they appear in Jordan's world. Nate makes friends with an older actress who is cast as E.T., and she helps him with understudying the role of Elliot while the two bond over mani-pedis. There are a few mishaps that make Nate think he may get fired, and a mysterious secret admirer, but when Jordan is unable to go on, the entire production may be in jeopardy. Will Nate be able to save the day?
Strengths: Mr. Federle's experiences on Broadway bring a real immediacy to all of the details about being in a professional production in New York City. This is also one of the few novels I have seen that show age appropriate emotions and actions for a  middle school student coming to the realization that he is gay. There is a kiss, and some discussion about the emotions, but this is not accompanied by details that are generally present in coming out stories for older students and is thus refreshing and welcome.
Weaknesses: Books set on Broadway are resounding flops in my library-- anything to do with theater productions gathers dust on the shelves. I didn't buy the first book because of this, but felt that I should be aware of what these were about. Our public library has a copy, and most of my students have cards there, so I can recommend this if a student ever show interest in any of the topics contained within this book.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


17777989Gibbs, Stuart. Poached.
April 8th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In this sequel to Belly Up,  Teddy is back and in more trouble than ever. School Bully Vance has dared him to put mannequin arms in the shark tank to incite panic (even though Teddy points out that sharks really don't like to eat humans), and the ensuing melee ends with Teddy realizing that Kazoo, the visiting koala, is missing... and he is now the prime suspect. Large Marge is ready to slap the cuffs on him right away, based on the strength of his previous peccadilloes, but Teddy knows that he may be Kazoo's only chance to be found before he starves to death due to lack of eucalyptus leaves. Teddy is suspicious of everyone, and it's not easy to surreptitiously observe everyone, so at one point he finds himself donning a giant Kazoo costume! He gathers a lot of evidence, solving two other mysteries before locating the actual culprit and exonerating himself.
Strengths: Once again, Gibbs has given us an intriguing mystery with lots of good clues and twists. I don't know why I thought that cover to Belly Up wasn't good-- I was so glad to see that this sequel had the same style, which I rather like now! The details of running an animal park are great-- everything from food for the animals, to staffing, to possible competitors. I really liked Summer McCracken, and was a bit sad that she didn't appear more.
Weaknesses: This started off on the wrong foot for me, with a description of Vance, the most stereotypical bully ever. This is a common sore spot for me: NO MORE STEREOTYPICAL BULLIES, people! This makes for an extremely uninteresting and one dimensional character. When Vance then attempts to put Teddy's head in the school toilet... sigh. Gibbs could have made Vance so much more interesting.

I also felt that Large Marge was not a good character to have in the book. Some of the humor comes from the fact that she is fat, and one scene involves her running and slipping in vomit. I think that finding fat people humorous has gone out of style-- even Weird Al's Fat costume in his tours seems dated to me. If Marge is made fun of because she is mean, or vindictive, or makes hasty, incorrect judgements, okay. After a LOT of thought, I just don't think it's okay to make fun of people because of how they look or because of facets of their physical make up that the can't change. It's touchy territory.

17571237That said, I don't think I can wait until September 16th for this one! Again, I have come to love this cover style!

Oh, and someone lost my copy of Spy Camp, so I have to remember to replace that. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Screaming at the Ump

18222858Vernick, Audrey. Screaming at the Ump.
March 4th 2014 by Clarion Books 

Casey Snowden helps his father and grandfather run an umpire school in New Jersey, Behind the Plate. Because they are not in Florida, the classes start in September, about the time that Casey is starting middle school. He is also dealing with the fact that his mother left his father for Bob the Baker, and Casey wants nothing to do with her. The school is struggling financially, so some key workers have not come back, especially Steamboat, who coordinates the annual "You Suck, Ump" day, where the local people put the umpires to the test of dealing with difficult crowds, so it is up to Casey to set it up. Casey also is chafing at the unfairness of the school newspaper, which won't publish articles by sixth graders, even though he has information about a major league ball player who is hiding out at the camp after being kicked out because of steroid use.
Strengths: Umpire school? Fun! Did not know that such a thing existed, and the descriptions of this were very interesting. It's a facet of baseball that I haven't ever seen a book about, and Casey's involvement in the school will intrigue students.
Weaknesses: There's a bit too much going on; poor Casey's life is a mess. Baseball books tend to be issue heavy, but I could have done with a lot less information about Casey's mother.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game of Clones

18007629 Castle, M.E. Game of Clones (The Clone Chronicles #3)

 February 11th 2014 by EgmontUSA

After Popular Clone and  Cloneward Bound, Fisher and Two are trying to work out a system with which they both agree. Fisher is supposed to be allowed to go as himself to the dance so that he can dance with Veronica, so Two goes in costume. Things get bad when Three shows up and causes complete chaos. Fisher realizes he can't hide Two anymore, so he tells his parents about him. The parents are remarkably cool about this, rename Two "Alex" and register him as a cousin at Fisher's school. Three, however, is still up to no good and releases airborn chemicals that make the whole world crazy. The teachers don't show up, and Fisher takes over as principal for a few days before realizing that Three also has a bot army. Dr. X is involved, but wants to destroy Three and enlists Fisher and Alex's help. There's a lot of action, the destruction of most of the middle school, some good anti-bullying scenes with the "Vikings", and some awesome gadgets.
Strengths: Admittedly, I didn't really want to read this, but once I started I was sucked right in with the clever lines, clever gadgets, and odd, random things like sneaking a pig into a movie theater by making it a costume so that he appeared to be a loaf of bread. A fun ride, this series goes over well with readers of books like Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Anderson's Sidekicked.
Weaknesses: Could have used more about the romance with Veronica, and I had trouble telling whether Dr. X was evil or not. While this could be the last book in the series, I wonder if there might be another one.

18209322Raabe, Emily. Lost Children of the Far Islands.
April 8th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Gus and Leo enjoy their life in Maine even though their younger sister Ila is extremely sensitive and selectively mute. When their mother gets sick, however, they end up being sent to a far off island to stay with an older woman, the Morai, who is sort of their grandmother but also the guardian who protects the world from the evil Dobhar-chu. It turns out that all of the children are Folk, who can shape shift, and that's what is wrong with Ila. The children need to help fight the monster in order to save the world, themselves, and their mother. Along with the Bedell, the children try to fight Dobhar-chu and put him permanently to rest.
Strengths: Bonus points for using Celtic mythology, and for a fair amount of action and adventure. Avid readers of fantasy will find this a refreshing change from standard fare.
Weaknesses: Rather depressing, and Ila worried me at the beginning of the book, because it seemed like she was perhaps severely autistic but the parents were in denial. The mother's illness is particularly scary, and the whole book had a feeling of a desperate need to save the world rather than adventure, which I found depressing. Somehow, even though there are difficulties, it's supposed to be more fun to save the world, even from an evil, fur-covered mythical cryptid.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Inadvertent Lessons

Sometimes, teachers impart the most important lessons just by being themselves. Sometimes, the teachers are unpleasant, and that really drives home the lesson in a way the teacher didn't even anticipate.

I never want to be one of these teachers. I never want people to hope I will retire. I never want people to think that I am a jerk who doesn't listen to their opinion and value it even though it differs from my own.

Part of the lesson one of my daughters learned today is that, even in 2014, there are still some people who think that "feminism" is a bad thing and who will use their rhetoric and position to try to subtly denigrate women.

So let's just review, shall we?


noun \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\ : the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

On the upside, my child now really understands what the women in the 1960s were facing.

A valuable lesson, yes.

But so very, very sad.

MMGM- Welcome to Dog Beach

Greenwald, Lisa. Welcome to Dog Beach.
15 April 2014, Amulet Books
E ARC from

Remy loves spending her summers at Seagate, but now that her grandmother has passed away, the house just isn't the same. Even her grandmother's dog, Danish, is no longer living, so all of her old haunts seem sad and empty. Things are even odd with her best friends Micayla and Bennett. Bennett is being all disgusting and boylike, wanting to spend time with Calvin instead of the girls, but even so, Remy is starting to look at him with twitterpated feelings. Micayla is going to be living on the island year round, and Remy resents that she is making other friends. Remy isn't too thrilled to be hanging out with Calvin's sister Claire, who is clothes obsessed, whereas 11 year old Remy just wants to enjoy summer. Remy starts to have quite a dog walking business, and this makes the summer more bearable. Not only does she get to know the owners and get back to ordinary life at Seagate, but the dogs help her through her other problems. Just realized that this is supposed to be the first book in a series. Awesome!
Strengths: I particularly like that Greenwald always gives her characters a unique interest, and Remy's somewhat reluctant dog business is fun. The interaction between the characters is very true-to-life for middle school, from the different levels of maturity to the small conflicts that seem very large at the time.
Weaknesses:There are quite a number of books where people spend the entire summer somewhere, and it just doesn't seem realistic to me. Also, I really disliked how Micayla's name was spelled. Michaela, Mikayla, okay. Micayla, not so much. Small quibble for a fun book.

18354016Goldsmith, Connie. Bombs Over Bikini: The World's First Nuclear Disaster.
April 1st 2014 by Twenty-First Century Books (CT)
E ARC from

This was a good overview of the effect of US nuclear testing in the Pacific on the native people there in the wake of the WWII bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It covers why testing was done, why this location was picked, how the residents were encouraged to leave "temporarily" and relocated by our governmnet, how the testing was conducted, and the the awful, awful aftermath of it. Well illustrated and laid out, this is a great introduction to a very ill-conceived idea. Like the book For the Good of Mankind, this made me wonder what on earth scientists were thinking. Yes, they wanted to investigate the effects of radiation on living beings, but smearing pigs with sunscreen or putting them in Navy uniforms? This did lead me to ask why people today can live in Nagasaki and Hiroshima while they can't live in Chernobyl-- the short answer is that there was a much smaller amount of nuclear fuel in the bombs, and a huge amount of nuclear fuel at Chernobyl. At 88 pages, with it's clear writing and thoughtful layout, this is a good addition to my collection of books about WWII.

18527506 Mitchell, Don. The Freedom Summer Murders
April 29th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.

On the other hand, this book weighs in at 256 ages and had an enormous amount of information. This is not an era covered in our history classes, and I don't think that students would tackle this for pleasure reading.

This was well researched, laid out, and written, but for my demographic it is just too long and complex. Drat. (See brief rant about nonfiction on 3/17/14.)

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi Rubin, Susan Goldman. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
March 14th 2014 by Holiday House

At 120 pages, this moved along at a much brisker pace, with compelling stories from a variety of people along with an overview of the events of the summer. The inclusion of primary source material, photographs, and fantastic period drawings by Tracy Sugarman gives this a lot of punch, and the research is phenomenal. The appendices, bibliography and additional material make this one that a few students will read for pleasure, and many more will find invaluable for research.  This covered not only the Freedom Summer murders, but a lot of interesting information on the efforts to get people signed up to vote, the Freedom Schools, and the training for students from the North who traveled South to help with these efforts.

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

The Geography of You and MeSmith, Jennifer E. The Geography of You and Me
15 April 2014, Poppy
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Owen and his father have just moved to New York City so that his father can be the manager of a cousin's apartment building. The two felt a need to move away from Pennsylvania after the auto accident that claimed Owen's mother's life. Lucy lives in the same apartment building, but her jet setting parents are never home, often leaving her alone while they are in Paris or London. When a protracted power outage first traps Owen and Lucy in an elevator and then cancels school and makes staying inside unbearably hot, the two decide to hang out together, seeing the sights in the dark and sleeping on the roof. They feel a connection, but their lives go in very different directions-- Lucy's father takes a job in Scotland, then London, and Owen's father loses his job and the two decide to travel west. Based on an earlier conversation about postcards, Lucy and Own keep in touch using them, and meet up several times. They spend one final week together in New York, and while they would like to be together forever, don't know if that will actually happen.
Strengths: Smith is a master of high school romances that are suitable for middle school readers and are filled with palpable longing. Little do tweenagers know that the best romance is always the one that got away. The travel in this was great, Lucy and Owen are very realistic about what their lives will be, and it's all gorgeously romantic and bittersweet. Sort of like a protracted Before Sunrise.
Weaknesses: Talk about some bad parenting. Owen's father is so grief stricken that he can't even hold a job? Lucy's parents think it's okay to leave a 16 year old girl alone in NYC? I worried about Owen's college career, and while it looks like Lucy may get to live in London (which is never a bad thing), surely she will have abandonment issues later on. Of course, younger readers won't worry about this.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hipster Fashion

18354014 Karen Latchana Kenney, Ashley Newsome Kubley (Illustrations) Hipster Fashion.  What's Your Style series
Published March 1st 2014 by Lerner Publications

I feel compelled to say that the author and illustrator did a very nice job on this book. It was probably assigned to them by Lerner. While I can't speak to whether or not the trends are current (The Armchair Librarian does), it's a pretty book.

But I almost want to buy it just so I can laugh at it in ten years.

Where to begin? I knew some actual hipsters in grad school (hi, Anne!), and they did indeed wear "geek glasses", thrift store sweaters with moth holes, and combat boots with 1950s dresses. But they didn't set out to be hipsters. That's the thing: the whole point of being a hipster is to do something different. If a hipster saw something in this book, he would immediately stop wearing it because it was commercial and trendy, and therefore no longer hipster like. Since I have been wearing dangly owl necklaces since 2002, I've been dismayed at the reintroduction of them into the fashion world. One appears in this book. I don't think I can wear them anymore!

A couple of issues with information-- thrift stores don't really have much in the way of good vintage-- for a while I liked to wear polyester prom dresses from the 1970s to work, and I haven't found one in ages. Even my pleated skirts are hard to find. Vintage stores, perhaps, but the costs are probably out of reach for teen budgets. The book also suggests using Pinterest for clothing ideas, and I'm pretty sure teens don't use Pinterest. Their mothers, perhaps.

But I really want to read the other books in the series now, especially the Preppy one. 

Look! I'm a hipster! Geek glasses, actual 1950s dress.

This is from 2008. I bought the glasses in 1999. I don't wear them now.

When teens start wearing long pleated skirts, turtlenecks, blazers, and Clarks loafers, I don't know what I will do!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Guy Friday- Grandmaster

17934426 Klass, David. Grandmaster. 
February 25th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Daniel Pratzer feels uncomfortable at his private school. He's not particularly good at anything and having trouble fitting in. When two seniors, Eric and Brad, ask him to participate in a big father/son chess tournament in New York City, he's pleased but confused. He's just a "patzer"-- a beginning chess player who's not very good. He then finds out that his father is the real object of their desire; when he was in high school, he attained the rank of grandmaster but abruptly left the game and never even mentioned it to Daniel or even Daniel's mother. He reluctantly agrees to go, and soon the group is in New York City, staying in a fancy suite and eating fancy meals provided by the wealthy and powerful fathers of Brad and Eric. Also in the city is Britney, Brad's girlfriend, who is pleasant to Daniel. When the games start, everyone is tense. Daniel is beat his very first game by Liu, a girl whose mother said that the official rules didn't require participants to be male, so they signed up. As the games progress, Daniel sees his father get more and more nervous and stressed out, and learns the real reason why his father quit playing. Can the group make it to the end of the tournament, and is winning really the important thing?
Strengths: This was very, very well done. I have never played a game of chess in my life, but this included a particularly brilliant theme that I've not seem often enough in MG/YA literature-- parents as a representation of what their children could become. It seems odd to concentrate so much on the father, but it becomes more about who Daniel wants to be, and how he wants to live his life. His father had special skills and renown (which Daniel doesn't), but he gave them up in order to have a calmer, more productive life. Other great touches include Brad's bad behavior and how his father deals with it, and Britney's reason for breaking up with Brad. I think that this one can be appreciated by any reader who has participated in something competitive. Very good.
Weaknesses: Some of the secondary characters were weak, and I would have given them smaller roles. I didn't quite believe that Daniel's sister Kate spent a lot of time TALKING on the phone. Texting, yes, but I don't know that anyone talks anymore!

My copy of You Don't Know Me fell to bits. Drat. I wish that the "library binding" that publishers use now held up the way that "library bindings" held up 40 years ago!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Nethergrim.

I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of fantasy books, until I get one that I like. This one looked like standard medieval monster fighting fare, but our School Secretary Extraordinaire, Amy, really liked it, so I soldiered through. I'm glad I did, because fans of The Ranger's Apprentice or The Last Apprentice will need to read this one. There are always a handful of students who only want to read medieval fantasy, so I need to get a few new titles every year.

17938370Jobin, Matthew. The Nethergrim. 
8 April 2014, Philomel
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Back in the day, Lord Tristan, the wizard Vithric and John Marshal managed to fend off the Nethergrim, a horrible monster who wants a tribute of seven children, but things have quieted down. Vithric has died, Tristan doesn't even feel like coming to the Fair, and John Marshal is busy with his holding and his fiesty daughter, Katherine, who should soon be married off. . Her friend Tom is an orphan who slaves under a cruel master, and  Edmund chafes at working at his father's inn and not being allowed to read. When the Nethergrim takes several local children, including Edmund's brother Gregory, the three all have their reasons for heading off in search of it. They battle bolgugs and thornbeasts, and Edmund's knowledge of forbidden magic comes in handy. When an evil wizard finds the children and is determined to make them the final sacrifices for the Nethergrim, Edmund manages to escape by jumping in a freezing river, and is eventually found by John Marshal, who tells Edmund information about the Nethergrim that no one else knew. The two manage to find Tom, Katherine and the other local children, and an epic battle with a surprise appearance by a face from the past. The group is victorious... but only for the moment. John fears that things will get bad, and only he has the information to save everyone. He takes off with Tom, whose master would beat him if he returned, and Edmund, Katherine, and Gregory return to the inn to await their next adventures.
Strengths: The setting (complete with map) is convincingly European medieval, there's a nice mix of monsters, and the action and adventure are great. Even a couple of trusty animals. The best part, though, is the trio of young characters, and the trio of the old guard. Tom, Katherine, and Edmund are good friends, even though Edmund is in love with Katherine. And who wouldn't be? Her father has taught her to handle swords, and she's brave and very effective at fighting monsters. She doesn't even have to pretend to be a boy, like Pierce's Alanna. Awesome.
Weaknesses: Aside from Katherine, there's not a whole lot that's really fresh fantasy, but the target demographic won't really know or care.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

World Wednesday-- The Lion Who Stole My Arm

18166939 Davies, Nicola. The Lion Who Stole My Arm
February 25th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
Also available when I read this as a Google E Book

Pedru has a happy life in his village, but when he is coming home with his friends one night, they are out after dark, and Pedru is attacked by a lion. He loses his arm, but luckily, not his life. His father is the best hunter in the village, and points out that even though Pedru no longer has two arms, he still has the powers of observation that a good hunter needs. Pedru is determined to find the lion who attacked him, and when another villager is killed, Pedru and his father go hunting. They kill a lion, but it is not the lion they wanted. It did, however, have on a radio collar, which they return to the lion observation station. There, they learn that scientists are tracking and studying lions in the hopes that they can keep people safe from lion attacks by knowing where the lions are, and also by informing people of lion safety tips. Pedru decides to pursue this further, and eventually goes to college to study lions, and his whole family ends up working for a business that conducts lion tours.
Strengths: This slim volume had excellent information about what it is like to live in a fairly wild part of Africa and deal with the wildlife there. The scene where Pedru loses his arm is not overly graphic, and this would be a good book from about 3rd grade up. Pedru's initial reaction (to kill the lion) and his later realization (that lions need to be protected) make this interesting for middle school students as well. I certainly learned a lot about Africa.
Weaknesses:  I wish we had a specific location for this, and perhaps a map. The illustrations reminded me of ones from the 1970s, and I'm still not sure whether students will like them or not. It was a good call to go with the photo cover.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Time Slip Tuesday

18222703 Samworth, Kare. Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual.
March 4th 2014 by Clarion Books
Copy Received from HMH Middle Grade Mania

I wasn't quite sure how to categorize this book, but finally decided that it is fantasy nonfiction. That is, a nonfiction, informational book on an imaginary subject! Based on the premise that most of the birds in the world are extinct by 2031, this book pretends to be a catalog of bird parts for sale that can then be assembled into an actual bird. The pages almost count as information about different types of birds-- the different beaks, feet, feathers and other features are described a bit. The instructions on putting the bird together were a little weird-- the base bird arrives without feet, beak or wings and must be fed "welcome mix" and be sedated by a large meal and a glass of milk before their wings and feet are installed. There is even a page of birds that people made that didn't seem quite right, and the "catalog" explains what needs to be done to make the birds right. This is a very beautiful book, and it's good to see a picture book that isn't a biography or about a new baby, new school year, or going to bed, but it is a bit odd.

It's that time of year when I find myself scouring the clearance rack at Half Price Books because I've spent all of the board money for the year. I am conflicted about this-- I want the authors to get money, I really do, but how many times can I replace Erin Hunter books at full price? Or Wimpy Kid? Well, Half Price Books donates a lot of items to our school, so I like to patronize them as often as I can, and since I don't really buy books for myself... anyway, picked up these two on a recent trip.

In the Stone CircleKimmell, Elizabeth Cody. In the Stone Circle
April 1st 1998 by Scholastic 

Cristyn's professor father needs to finish his book so he can get tenure, so he takes Cristyn to a small town in Wales where her long dead mother once lived. She's disappointed, especially since they are sharing the house with another professor and her two children, Miranda and Dennis.There's nothing to do, so the children investigate the area and find that there is the ghost of a girl from long ago who seems to want their help when they make their way down into a creepy subcellar. There are other issues going on as well-- Miranda's father attempted to kidnap Dennis back in the States, and then shows up in Wales. There is a romance between the parents. The children need to do research to find out who the girl is and how they can help.
Strengths: I picked this up thinking it was perhaps In the Circle of Time, which I owned at one point and remember fondly. When I realized that it wasn't, I bought it anyway because it was 1.) Time travel and 2.) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. It doesn't have a horrible cover, considering the date of publication.
Weaknesses: Had its moments, but didn't knock my socks off. I am surprised that this wasn't in my library already, though.

16142129Lafleur, Suzanne. Listening for Lucca
August 6th 2013 by Wendy Lamb Books 

Sienna and her family move from Brooklyn to a big house along the Maine coast, hoping that it might have some effect on her young brother, who is selectively mute. Sienna is obsessed with lost objects and considered odd at her school in the city, but seems to make friends of all kinds easily in her new town. She also finds a pen with which she starts to write the story of Sarah and Joshua, who lived in the house years ago. Somehow, she feels that this story has something to do with her brother's lack of speaking, but is it a dangerous place for them to be?
Strengths: This had many elements of a good time travel story-- big old house along the coast, enchanted pen, connection with the past. A much better review of it was done by Charlotte at Charlotte's Library.
Weaknesses: There was something about this that didn't resonate with me. There was something about Sienna that made her annoying, and I didn't believe that she would make friends so quickly. Also, there was something not quite right about the pen-- it was introduced to abruptly and just didn't make sense. Lucca's mutism wasn't resolved to my satisfaction, either.

Monday, April 07, 2014

MMGM- Frenzy

18296035Lettrick, Robert. Frenzy. 
8 April 2014, Disney-Hyperion

Heath is glad to be spending the summer at a camp in the Cascade Mountains. He has some good friends, and gets along as well as possible with the oddly calculating Will and even manages to elude the evil bullies Thumper and Floaties. He's concerned when one of the campers kills a porcupine with a squirt gun, and the camp staff thinks the porcupine has rabies, but doesn't think much of it. Then, one day, all the animals start turning on humans, and when the humans are bitten, they die agonizing deaths with purple lines running all over their bodies. Two dozen children from the camp manage to make it to the livery building where the canoes are kept. Will has a plan-- they will get into the river, since the fear of the water kills the animals, and make it to the next major town to get help. Will gives the children willing to leave noisemakers, telling them that the animals are afraid of the noise, but still, about half are killed. The rest work their way through the river, but along the way there are more deaths. Eventually, they take the wrong fork in the river and end up in a government lab where they find out secrets about the animal plague and try to formulate a plan to survive. Only four do, including Cricket, who is poisoned by a porcupine quill but responds well to the antidote.
Strengths: Wow. Not only does this have a FANTASTIC cover, but it is a multilayered book with lots of interesting stuff. On the surface, there is the blood and gore of people being killed by rabid animals, but then we have Will's conniving personality, and a struggle that Heath is having that I don't want to ruin by describing. Some good wilderness survival strategy as well (I love when they are in the middle of the river but then a bunch of BATS come out of the air at them!), decent science connections, and a tiny bit of romance. This certainly kept me turning the pages, and even with the lack of dystopia had a Hunger Games type feel.
Weaknesses: Very violent. Lots of death, since I think only four children survive. We're not just dealing with random, unnamed deaths, either, so I don't think I would buy this for an elementary library, since major characters end up with the Flash-- the "purple vines" of mutant rabies coursing up their arms and legs. I'm becoming less and less a fan of death in middle grade novels (can we please have ONE novel where the main character has BOTH parents?), but at least this is a disease contracted from animals, and not human-on-human violence.

19336132McCreeley, Havelock. My Zombie Hamster
July 8th 2014 by EgmontUSA 

Looking for something for students who are too young for Frenzy? Take a look at this title. The description says that it's good for middle school, but when I was about halfway in and there was still no zombie gore or violence, I gave up. I'd love some more zombie books along the lines of Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers, and this wasn't it for me. Need an elementary zombie book? Pair this with My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish.
"Matt Hunter and his buddies are looking forward to Christmas--actually, they're looking forward to receiving the latest sword-and-fantasy video game. But Matt's parents have other thoughts--they give him a fluffy little mammal, a hamster called Snuffles, for the holiday. And his grandmother makes it worse by giving him a hamster cage and wheel. But the hamster isn't all that cute--at least not after part of its cheek and belly fall right off--without bothering it a bit! And why is it staring at Matt with black beady eyes and a lean and hungry look?
Say hello to Anti-Snuffles, the zombie hamster! Or better yet, run!
This series combines middle-school readers' passions: humor, animals, and scary stories, into one unbeatable package."

16276839Richardson, Gillian. 10 Plants that Shook the World
February 14th 2013 by Annick Press

This book has a lot of very interesting information on pivotal plants-- papyrus, pepper, tea, sugarcane, cotton, cacao, cinchona (from which quinine is made), rubber, potato and corn.Aside from origins and uses, there are bits of information about points in history when each plant was particularly influential. I can see this being very useful as a Common Core nonfiction piece to go along with a lot of different novels. I wish it had been a bit more streamlined, however: there are occasional somewhat fictional pages, and the illustrations are a bit odd. At times, I felt like similar information was presented twice. Still, this is much easier to get through than something like Aronson's

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.