Banks, Kate and Sheldrake, Rupert. Boy's Best Friend.
July 14th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Lester has moved from Denver to Cape Cod. He isn't thrilled about it, but keeps trying to remind himself that "Moving is fun. Change can be positive." His mother, who is into yoga, reminds him about this frequently, but his dog, Bill Gates, is just there to welcome him home after rough days as the new kid in school. At school he meets George, whose best friend, Kyra, moved away. The two soon find that they have something in common-- George has a dog named Bart who waits for him so religiously that George has decided to observe him for his science fair project, inspired by the work of Rupert Sheldrake. Both boys start to observe their dogs, and George corresponds with Sheldrake via e mail about various methodologies and findings. Near the end of the experiment, a tragedy occurs, but both boys work together to try to comes to terms with their science projects as well as their lives.
Strengths: This had a lot of good scientific methodology in it. You would be amazed at the number of science teachers who want fiction books to go along with their curriculum-- this would be fantastic for animal studies, or even just the scientific method. I really appreciated the general upbeat tone of the book as well. So few middle grade books embrace positive thinking!
Weaknesses: George and Lester? Odd name choices. And I didn't realize that Sheldrake was a real person until the very end of the book-- a lot of books have "authors" who don't really exist. I could have done without the tragedy, but it was handled in a very good way.
What I really thought: Took a while to get into this, but ended up liking it. Nice length, and think it will do very well with my students. Science teachers should just order a classroom copy now.
Mantell, Paul and Jeter, Derek. Hit or Miss (#2)
April 28th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E Book from Ohio E Book Project
In this sequel to The Contract, young Derek is back playing baseball with his friend and neighbor Vijay. There is a new boy, Dave, and the other children make fun of him because he is very wealthy and has a driver, Chase, take him places in a Mercedes because his parents travel a lot. Derek goes over to Dave's without calling his parents and runs afoul of their rules (spelled out specifically in an actual "contract"), but they seem to like Chase and allow Derek to hang out with Dave. Derek also takes care of an issue that his sister, Shere, has with a fellow kindergarten classmate, but not in a productive way, and also gets in trouble for that. He and Vijay have a bit of a misunderstanding about Dave, and playing golf interferes with Derek's baseball swing, but everything works out in the end.
Strengths: This book is written to conform to one of Jeter's principles, "Think before you act", and Derek does a few things he shouldn't, but his parents deal with his trangressions in a constructive, if tough, way. It's nice that Derek tells Dave about his difficulty fitting in to the school because of his parents' interracial marriage. There's plenty of baseball, and this reads more like a middle school book than the first one did.
Weaknesses: Super preachy and formulaic, this got on my nerves a little bit. I also wondered how a kid from a mansion with his own driver was hanging around with kids from the Mount Royal Apartments,
What I really think: The first book has circulated well, and this is a very positive book, so I'm willing to overlook its small faults.