October 7th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Mitch's family has moved from California to Illinois, where his artist parents feel that they will be more successful with their shop. Mitch hopes so-- he is quite fond of money, and backs up his affection with some realistic math skills. He applies these math skills to sports teams as well, and has on more than one occasion taken bets on games, hence the title of the book. Mitch's older brother, Kevin, is a decent football player on the high school team, but Mitch's small size and lack of athletic ability means that his skills are quite different from his brother's. Trying to fit in to his new school, Mitch investigates the sports options but realizes that the best way to connect with people is to offer them the opportunity to bet. Against the school rules? Maybe, but if you don't think about it too hard, you don't actually know this. Mitch enlists the help of football playing Jamie, who happens to be a girl but is good at sports and willing to help him collect money for his scheme. She's a little leery about the legalities, but when Mitch tells her that his family needs money, she keeps going. Mitch does make a few other friends and becomes involved in the life of his new school, but sooner or later his side business is sure to be uncovered. Luckily, he also makes himself valuable to the football coach, and the basketball coach approaches him at the end of the book, leading me to believe that there will be a book two!
Strengths: This has a lot of things going for it-- sports, a girl (even though Mitch IS. NOT. INTERESTED. IN. HER.), a unique problem at school, and some problems at home as well. I thought the voice was convincingly middle grade, even when Mitch talks about statistics and money and math. It's really, really hard to work math into a middle grade novel, and many have tried, but this was probably the most successful treatment of the topic that I've read. Hats off to Wertheim and Moskowitz for transitioning to MG fiction!
Weaknesses: Some of the math talk isn't quite as good as others, and it took a little bit of a stretch for me to believe that Mitch didn't know that taking bets was against school rules. On the other hand, we've had students at my school try to sell oregano in baggies and say that it's marijuana, so it's possible.
Proimos, James. The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton
October 7th 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Johnny is a lamb who was left on Ms. Mutton's door step, and because her eyesight is bad, she has raised him as a child. When he is old enough to go to school, so children notice, but he basically treated like an eccentric child. This book includes three Johnny Mutton titles; all are very anecdotal.
Strengths: The illustrations are great, and if I actually bought it, students would check it out due to the cover alone. However...
Weaknesses: This falls squarely on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line with the kindergarten setting. The formatting is more like a picture book than a notebook novel. This will be popular in elementary schools. It is not like Captain Underpants because there is too much "mushy stuff" between Johnny and his mother. Basically, he likes her. This is not usually a theme of middle grade books! Characters can like their parents, but also have to be slightly irritated by them, or somehow distance themselves.
That said, I have so many students this year that ONLY want to read books "with pictures" that I should probably buy it, but I have had to bite my tongue and NOT say "Middle school books don't usually HAVE pictures" (in a snotty librarian tone) so many times that I just can't.