Alexander, Kwame. Crossover.
March 18th 2014
by HMH Books for Young Readers
Copy from the publisher via Middle Grade Mania.
Twins Jordan (JB) and Josh Bell (aka Filthy McNasty) both play basketball, but have different styles on and off the court. JB showboats a little less and is concentrates more; he also has a girlfriend, which makes Josh rather jealous. Josh is loud and proud, and occasionally breaks out in some decent rap-style poetry. He also has a lot of trouble with impulse control, which gets him in trouble, at one point resulting in a bet with his brother wherein he loses five of his dreadlocks. To complicate matters, the boys' mother is their school principal, and their father is a former basketball playerwho had to retire due to knee injuries, and is not in the best of health. As an at home dad, he is supportive of the boys, but doesn't take care of himself, which leads to a tragic ending.
Strengths: Even though this is a novel in verse, I think that the boys who really like basketball will read it. Great cover, lots of good basketball details, and engaging characters. When Josh writes poems in rap, they are pretty good. There can never be enough basketball books; I will have to process this copy from HMH immediately because I have an 8th grader who has literally read all of my basketball fiction. Every single book. And I have more than the public library does!
Weaknesses: Note the "even though". Novels in verse are something my students do not like. While the rap poems are good, the rest could easily have been done in prose. It was slightly hard to tell the boys apart at the beginning of the book, but that got better. My only other objection is personal: I'd like some middle grade parents to live, but apparently I am in the minority on this.
Farber, Erica. Fish Finelli: Operation Fireball
April 1st 2014
by Chronicle Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Fish and his friends are back, and this time they are bound and determined to win the Captain Kidd motor boat race. Bryce, who is snooty and lives in a mansion, has a brand new, high powered boat, so it will be hard to beat him, but Fish has a lot of confidence in his old motor. He gets an older boy to help him redo the engine, and enters the race. Things go wrong, but Fish does the right thing. He doesn't win the race, but he wins some friends and the confidence of his parents.
Strengths: I liked this more than the first book, mainly because the plot is more realistic. Fish is a good character-- he means well, but things don't always work out for him. This had some fun action and adventure, with a touch of survival, and the side bars with factual information are usually interesting. (Some are a bit odd, like the one about Julius Caesar!)
Weaknesses: This is still a bit young for my group, but if I had an elementary library, I would definitely buy the series.
Egan, Kate, Wight, Eric and Lane, Mike. The Vanishing Coin (The Magic Shop Book 1)
April 22nd 2014
by Feiwel & Friends
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Mike and Nora are thrown together because they are neighbors and their parents get along, but Mike is always in trouble and Nora is more academically inclined. When Mike happens upon the White Rabbit magic shop, he is very interested in the tricks, and thinks that this might be something that he's good at. Descriptions of how to do several of the magic tricks are included.
Strengths: There is a lot of good information about magic tricks, and this is a pleasant enough story to read. There are a fair amount of illustrations.
Weaknesses: Too young for my students, who don't show any interest in magic. Also, it was rather depressing-- maybe Mike wouldn't be so dysfunctional if his parents limited his computer time and spent time with him instead of ignoring him while they work at home.