Monday, February 29, 2016

MMGM- Magic Treehouse

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.

25387398Osborne, Mary Pope. Balto of the Blue Dawn (Magic Tree House #54)
January 5th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Jack and Annie are sent back to the Alaskan Territory in 1925, along with two kinds of magic powders: one will give them super skills that will help them with their mission, and the other will make everyone forget that they were there. They soon find out why they have been sent. They meet Oki, whose mother and sister are ill with diphtheria, and the medicine that they need has been delayed. Oki, whose uncle has sled dogs, is determined to set off to meet the dog sled teams that are delivering the medicine, but a bad storm is coming and his uncle does not want him to go. Jack and Annie use their magic powder to give them the knowledge and skill they need to become expert "mushers", and they take off. They manage to find Balto and Gunnar Kaasen just in time for him to discover that the package with the serum is missing. They find the package, and the delivery is made in time. Once they are sure that all is well, they travel back to Frog Creek and are glad to be warm!

The Magic Tree House books have been around for a very long time, and are a great introduction to a variety of historical events for beginning readers. They cover the basics, but I appreciate when they delve a little into some of the controversies: after reading Klimo's Togo, I knew that there were some issues with whether or not Balto was the dog who deserves the most acclaim. That is addressed briefly while still acknowledging that many dogs and mushers worked hard to avert catastrophe. 

A definite purchase for all elementary libraries, and a series which also does well with my struggling 6th grade readers. I appreciate that the cover style has remained the same over the past 23 years! I wonder if there will be a big party for the 25th anniversary in July of 2017? 

25387340Osborne, Mary Pope and Boyce, Natalie Pope. Dogsledding and Other Extreme Sports.(Fact Tracker #34)
January 5th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

This nonfiction companion to Balto of the Blue Dawn offers some very helpful information about the details of dog sledding, as well as additional information about the 1925 race to get medicine to Nome, and how this is celebrated in the running of the Iditarod. There were many things that I learned, even though I've read a number of books about dog sledding! There are also chapters about other extreme sports, such as mountain climbing, skateboarding, and the X Games. People who are famous for their endurance in many areas are given brief biographical coverage-- my favorite was Diana Nyad and her swimming, but there is also information about Ironman athletes and several professional skateboarders. 

The Fact Tracker books are wonderful to have along with the stories, especially since there are appendices with further resources, both print and digital, at the end of the boks. There are a lot of great online resources available at as well, including printable worksheets. The large print and clear layouts of these books make them a great introduction to nonfiction for early readers who are meeting an index for the first time. 

I can't wait to see what the next adventure will be!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Big Nate: Thunka, Thunka, Thunka.

25855502Pierce, Lincoln. Big Nate: Thunka, Thunka, Thunka. 
March 1st 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher (AMP! Comics for Kids)

I love Big Nate. He is everything that Greg Heffley isn't-- exuberant, hopeful, motivated, and well intentioned. He is also, like many of my students, frequently charging off at top speed in a completely wrong direction! 
It makes me very sad that the vast majority of my students no longer read the comic pages in the newspaper. Their families don't get the newspaper, and I don't think that some of them are even aware that the newspaper has comics in it! 

These comic strip collections, as well as the Big Nate notebook novels, are such fun, and judging from the state of all of my Big Nate books, my students agree with this assessment! 

In Thunka, Thunka, Thunka, Nate has to deal with a psychopathetic elementary "book buddy", Spitzy having a crush on a cat, and a bet with Gina as to whether he can go an entire week without getting a detention. He continues to struggle with Coach John's demands in gym class, his struggles with Mrs. Godfrey, and the attentions of Kim Cressly, who ends up on his baseball team. 

I have decided that every library that deals with middle school students needs to keep a stash of Big Nate around as penicillin for the "I don't want to read" affliction. He's bound to cure even the worst case of it! 

Fun Nonfiction Series

There is no reason that nonfiction has to be boring. I've looked into most of the titles in these series and purchased the vast majority. I've also READ them, and they really are fun. We forget how much students don't know about the history of every day objects. Since these are not trade books, they tend to be a bit pricey, but if I look at the number of circulations each book has, they are well worth it!

27178349Checkerboard Biography Library: Toy Trailblazers

Slater, Lee 

Barbie Developer Ruth Handler  
Board Game Builder Milton Bradley
Crayola Creators Edward Binney and C. Harold Smith 
LEGO manufacturers : the Kristiansen family
Play-Doh Pioneer Joseph McVicker
Slinky Innovators The James Family

cover_imagePilot: Brands We Know. Bellweather Media

Green, Sara.


cover_imageCheckboard Library: Food Dudes

Mattern, Joanne 

Ben & Jerry : ice cream manufacturers 
Clarence Birdseye : frozen food innovator
 The Kellogg family : breakfast cereal pioneers 
The Mars family : M&M Mars candy makers
Milton Hershey : Hershey's chocolate creator
Ray Kroc : McDonald's restaurants builder 
Robert Cade : Gatorade inventor 
William Wrigley Jr. : Wrigley's Chewing Gum founder 

17244238Enslow: Inventors at Work!

Various authors

The chocolate chip cookie queen : Ruth Wakefield and her yummy inventionby 
The coolest inventor : Willis Haviland Carrier and his air conditioner
Microwave man : Percy Spencer and his sizzling invention 
Scuba man : Jacques Cousteau and his amazing underwater invention 
The woman who invented windshield wipers : Mary Anderson and her wonderful invention 

Scholastic: You Wouldn't Want to Live Without...

At least 18 titles!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Last Boy at St. Edith's

23300078Malone, Lee Gjertsen. The Last Boy at St. Edith's
February 23rd 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jeremy's mother works at St. Edith's, a prep school with a decent academic reputation, but also a reputation for being staid and boring. In an attempt to increase enrollment, boys had been admitted to the all girls' school, but Jeremy has watched the number of boys dwindle, especially after they were all forced to be on the football team! When the only other boy left leaves, Jeremy tries to figure out a way to get his mother to let him enroll elsewhere. It's tough, though, because she wants him to finish middle school so he can get a good scholarship, and she doesn't want to send him to the local public school, fearing for his safety. With his friends Claudia and Emily, he embarks on a series of pranks that will hopefully get him expelled but not cause any permanent damage to anyone. Soon, he's filled the yard with lawn gnomes, covered a rival bus with Post It notes, caused some damage with snow on the roof, and generally made St. Edith's a more interesting place to be. When his final prank threatens to get his sister expelled, he has to come clean. 
Strengths: This had a lot of potential, since books about pranks are usually popular. I like the cover, and was glad to see that Jeremy didn't have any problems with having girls as friends, he was just tired of being the ONLY boy. 
Weaknesses: I never quite bought that Jeremy HAD to stay at St. Edith's. This might be an East Coast thing I don't really understand. The public school didn't sound that dangerous. Also, any books with an emphasis on film and drama don't do well at my school. 
What I really think: An amusing book, but one which would fall flat with my population. Definitely check it out if books about private schools or drama clubs are popular with your readers. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Guy Friday- Home Run

25816997Green, Tim. Home Run. (Baseball Great #4)
23 February 2016, HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Josh's father, never the most responsible adult, decides to take a coaching position in Florida and leave Josh, his mother and young sister in Syracuse. This makes sense, since his parents are divorced, and he's leaving his girlfriend, Diane, too. Josh is understandably upset comes up with a plan to run away just for the night, hoping to bring his parents back to a shared purpose. This backfires, and Josh ends up moving to Florida with his father and starting a new school and a new team. He's not there for long until he gets a panicked call from his mother; without Josh's child support, she's going to lose the house. Josh moves back home, and starts preparing for the fall ball season with a new coach. He hopes that he can win a home run contest that provides the champion with a new home, especially once his mother loses her job. His friend Jaden is hoping to win a journalism scholarship, and find out information about their new coach, but when she pursues the story, the coach threatens to ban Josh from the game. If he can't play, he can't make the home runs he needs to win the house. Will Josh be able to support his friend and make his own dreams come true?

This fourth book in the Baseball Great series (Baseball Great, Rivals, Best of the Best) continues several of the story lines from other books, and we get to spend more time with the characters. Josh's family has struggled with the divorce, and Josh's anger at both of his parents is very true-to-life. Benji continues to be a supportive friend and team mate, even if he really needs to lay of guzzling junk food and run more laps! Jaden's drive to be a journalist seems a little anachronistic, but it's good to see a young person with goals. 

This is a little lighter on the sports action because so much is going on, but the Titans still get involved in lots of close-call games. I didn't know that there were such very elite travel teams that got sponsored by major companies like Nike, and I know sports fans like to imagine that they are on a team like the Titans, playing in huge tournaments and getting covered in the national press. 

Fans of Deuker, Lupica, Wallace and Bowen will enjoy this latest installment of Josh's baseball career. 

But WHY, Tim Green? Why must we make these books so sad? The baseball should start much earlier in the book, and give Josh a break before you wrap up the series!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Library Blather

The driving, wet snow was delightfully refreshing this morning... no, it wasn't. We've apparently reached that point in the winter where I can barely get dressed, testing in the library is starting, and foot surgery is starting to look like a fantastic vacation. 

My last observation is on 2 March, and after that I will be doing more mad cleaning (Overhead projector? Not so much anymore.) and setting up a Maker Space because that is apparently what we are all doing in libraries now. We're probably starting out with mainly cardboard/paper and building from there, although I still need to talk to my principals and teachers to firm things up. 

I'm also hoping against hope that I can get some rectangular tables on wheels and stackable chairs so that we can differentiate space so it can be more collaborative. My redesign five years ago stuck with the "rows of shelves and sea of tables" model which is not helpful. My shelving does move, but I am constrained by electrical poles. I would like to see a class set of tables right by the circulation desk so that we can have a class there AND a class using the Maker Space at the back. 

So we'll see. Next week, the weather should be a little better, my observation will be over, and we can start getting things ready for next year. It gives me something to do when I am closed for testing and make up testing. I like to panic WELL in advance. 

On the bright side, The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde!

25937835Hale, Shannon and Dean. The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde (#3)
February 9th 2016 by Candlewick Press

Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants are summoned away from their lovely brunch with Princess Sneezewort when the monster alarm rings, but there are only adorable bunnies that have come up from the monster realm. Duff the goat herder is not happy when the princess doesn't consider them a threat but instead makes kissy faces at them. Eventually, though, the bunnies eat everything and attempt to snack on the princess herself. The threat, once taken seriously, is dispatched with celerity, and The Princess in Black shows up to have lunch with Princess Sneezewort.

It was nice to see Duff be the voice of reason; it is not long now until he can be a monster hunter. The purple bunnies are adorable, and their quick replication and voracious appetites make them a serious threat, even if the princess can't immediately recognize it. It doesn't hurt that brunch and lunch look marvelous. 

These are great fun, and my students, even in middle school, adore them. On some days, like the ones this week, it's nice just to read something easy and FUN.

The Turn of the Tide

25387326Parry, Roseanne. The Turn of the Tide
January 12th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers

When Kai's community in Japan is hit by a tsunami, he runs from his school to try to rescue his grandparents, but is unable to get them to safety. He survives, but his parents, who work at a nuclear power plant, are very busy in the wake of the devastation, and send him to stay with his aunt and uncle who live along the coast of Oregon. His cousin, Jet, loves the sea and hopes to follow in her father's footsteps as a bar pilot. She's fine with Jet coming to stay, and knows that he is still dealing with the trauma of living through the tsunami, and is also not quite used to Jet's busy, Swedish-American household. Since it's summer break, the two spend a lot of time hanging around with Jet's younger brother Oliver. Jet's interest are firmly rooted in all things nautical, and she manages to talk Kai into overcoming his fear and homesickness to sail with her in a big community race. 

Strengths: The diversity in this is handled nicely-- Kai is predominately Japanese because he has lived in that country, but is comfortable with his Swedish roots as well, and those are addressed by Jet's families traditions. It's fun that Jet's mother is a cartoonist, and there is a ton of descriptive details about sailing, traveling, the Pacific coast and the dangers of shipping in the area. I also appreciated that this book is one that will be picked up by both genders-- neutral cover, lots of action, and a nice ensemble cast. 

Weaknesses: There's a LOT of information about sailing. I love that about middle grade books-- it's great to read about kids who are passionate about certain activities, but sailing isn't something that interests me, so I got a bit bored after a while. 

What I really thinkThe cover is a bit weak. I'll probably buy it, but it wasn't something that I immediately wanted to put on my order list. 

25779091Lasky, Kathryn. Wild Blood. (Horses of the Dawn #3)
January 5th 2016 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Estrella is trying very hard to find food for her hungry herd, but is not having very much luck. Even Tijo is looking very thin. She thinks that if she can get the herd across the Mighties, they will be able to excape the evil El Miedo and live in peace. Haru is still helping the group, but the spirit lodge she is inhabiting (in an owl) is becoming weak. Haru tells Estrella that the herd should be split in order to get across the mountains, but Estrella is loathe to do this. Little Coyote, now called Hope, befriends a bee and gets some insight into the antics of El Miedo, and later becomes the new spirit lodge for Haru. When Estrella and many of her herd are caught by the Ibers and enslaved, they are very worried that their adventures in the new land have come to a horrible end, but after the mules have a riot and El Miedo is tricked with some gold nuggets, the group escapes. They make their way across the Mighties, but things do not go smoothly. Angela, who hoof is lame, gets washed away in the river and killed by a bear. The horses grieve, but once they make it through the mountain passes, they come into a sacred land. Abelinda has a foal, and a girl appears to be a companion to Tijo. 

This is the third book in this series after The Escape and Star Rise, and wraps up the story of Estrella's journey to the New World during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors nicely. I can't think of any other books that include Ibers and Chitzens! Since there is not much written about this time period, so the inclusion of a map is helpful. I would have liked to see some notes in the back about El Camino Real and what El Miedo is trying to accomplish, since it's clear that the author did her research. 

Horse books are a middle grade staple, and it's hard to find enough books for children who go on a genre spree. Both Marguerite Henry's books and Jane Smiley's Horses of Oak Valley Ranch series offer lots of horse details from a human perspective, but Lasky gives us some early US history from a unique equine perspective. 

Readers who are fans of Hunter's The Warriors series or Lasky's own Guardians of Ga'Hoole series and like to read books about animal interactions within the hierarchy of groups, or who like the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, will find this adventure in the ancient North American west to be both exciting and informative. 

Like The Warrior books, I didn't care for this very much. Too many characters, too many weird magical things happening, and, you know, the whole talking animals thing. I had to take notes to keep everything straight. The covers are great, though!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday

Peete, Holly Robinson. Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express
February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In alternating chapters, we hear from Charlie, a teen with autism, and his twin sister, Callie, about their experiences as they start a new year in high school, this time in separate grades. Both are frustrated by each other, as well as classmates who don't understand Charlie's eccentricities and are mean to him. This fictional book is described as being Peete's own children's descriptions of the daily struggles they face. 

I originally thought this would be nonfiction, especially with the lengthy forward by Peete herself. That would be a useful book to have, but somehow fictionalizing the story failed for me. I then expected more of a plot. Oddly, I didn't find the voices in this to feel authentic. My school has an autism spectrum unit, so I deal with students who face these challenges and see their interactions with others daily. We've even had cross country members on the spectrum, and I've dealt with some of their frustrations in that context. I don't know that any of these interactions have directly referenced autism, but the word appears on every other page of the book, even though Charlie doesn't want to be labeled or defined by his condition. ("I have autism, it doesn't have me" is his rallying cry.)

If this book were gently humorous, I could see it being both amusing and helpful, not only to my students who are on the autism spectrum, but for my students who are generally kind and understanding when dealing with them. Instead, this was somehow awkward and didactic, and I would feel uncomfortable handing this to my students, because it just doesn't seem to be helpful. 

I feel bad about this, since I'm sure Peete's intentions are to educate others and help everyone involved in addressing the needs of students with autism, but I just don't know that this is the book. 

Davies, Linda. Longbow Girl
February 23rd 2016 by The Chicken House 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Merry Owen is an archer, because her family was granted their land hundreds of years ago provided that they always would defend the king with a longbow. She lost an eye in an incident when her bow broke, but still does a very good job. She has been home schooled since her accident, but still has a friend in neighbor James, even though their families have been at odds for years. When Merry finds a very old book buried in the earth, it turns out to be very old and valuable, and may be the key to saving her family's farm from debt. Unfortunately, she also feels that the book is a danger, and that she is somehow missing a relict connected to the book. She decides, after hearing part of the book translated, that she needs to search underwater in a secluded pond, and when she goes deep enough under water, she travels back in time. Luckily, she goes to the exact period when her ancestors were in danger of losing their land to Henry VIII, and she is able to step in and use her archery skills to defend her family. 

774175Strengths: This one had several elements that will work for fantasy readers: archery, time travel, a strong female protagonist who uses her skills for good, a constructive depiction of a disability, and an evil villain who meets his doom back in time. I won't have a ton of readers for this, but think I have to buy a copy for my fans of Pierce's Alanna: The First Adventure. Loved that the family was intact and supportive, and James soccer career with Manchester United was very fun!

Weaknesses:The start was very slow, and there could have been a little more romance between Merry and James. And yes, there's probably enough fantasy books set in Wales. 

What I really think: I kept thinking of Bond's A String in the Harp, which I got rid of years ago because no one read the PermaBound copy and it smelled really bad. I also thought originally that this was set in Africa-- not once I started reading it, but just looking at the colors on the cover, and thinking it was by Nicola Davies, who wrote The Lion Who Stole My Arm. For Wales, I'd pick more of a blue based color scheme, I think!

Speaking of traditional, British-y fantasy, I'm super excited that Reading Warehouse had remaindered copies of Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lionness Quartet. You can bet I snapped up copies of those. So pretty. I still have a copy of the 1983 Alanna which looks very sad. Still circulates well, though. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Lincoln Project (Flashback Four #1)

25742691Gutman, Dan. The Lincoln Project (Flashback Four #1)
February 23rd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Four children in Boston are approached by Pasture Company CEO, Chris Zandergoth to take part in an amazing opportunity. Using a team of engineers, Ms. Zandergoth has managed to make a SUPER smart board; one that allows people to travel back in time. She is using this technology to further her own personal goal of getting photographs of famous historical events. Her missing photograph is that of Lincoln delivering his Gettysburg Address. The children are skeptical at first, even though they have no trouble fooling their parents into signing their permission slips, so David travels back in time to watch Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points in a basketball game. Convinced that this is the real deal, the children prepare to travel to the past, getting fitted with proper garments, learning Civil War era slang, and being given instruction on how to use a high end camera and a Text Through Time device. Having been given the standard instructions to lay low and not change history, the four go back... to the day before Lincoln's speech. After meeting Tad Lincoln, the four have to find some food and a place to stay, and show up in time to take their photo. Things go badly wrong when the local police think they are trying to shoot the president, but Lincoln himself manages to save the day. 

Gutman, who has utilized time travel in both his Baseball Card Adventures and Qwerty Stevens books, does a good job at making time travel believable yet again, even though the smart board is a more technological device than the baseball cards! I especially appreciated that the group was not traveling back in time in order to "fix" history-- Ms. Zandergoth's collecting of photographs had some historical value, but was mainly selfish. Why else would anyone go to such trouble to make time travel work?

There is a lot of diversity in the cast of characters, and this is even mentioned by one of them. David is African-American, Luke is slightly overweight, Isabel is of Hispanic descent, and Julia has wealthy parents who let her shop a lot but are largely absent. Ms. Vandergoth has ALS and is in a wheelchair. This is mentioned by supporting characters, but never by Ms. Vandergoth herself. 

The historical details are interesting, and Gutman includes a brief description at the end of the book about what events he made up and which were real. Tad Lincoln's problems are briefly addressed, John Wilkes Booth makes an unrealistic appearance, and the children get introduced to many facets of ordinary life that were at odds with the present day. Gutman's goofy humor and fast paced writing make all of his books good choices for middle grade readers, and this series is no exception. 

25152641Lloyd, Natalie. The Key to Extraordinary. 
February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Emma, who has been told that every woman in her family has had a dream of her destiny, feels that she has no special qualities. She eventually dreams of a key, and thinks that she is getting closer to finding the answers to her magical destiny, but is struggling just to get through the day after the death of her mother. She lives with her grandmother and brother and helps with the bakery, The Boneyard Cafe, that her grandmother runs. She also gives tours of the local cemetery. A developer is trying to buy up the bakery, and Emma hopes that she will be able to stay in Blackbird Hollow, her magical, quirky Southern town. Is saving her town her destiny? 

Like Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic this is set in a town where magic is a part of everyday life. The magical flowers are particularly appealing, and magical baking is always fun. Since everyone has a bit of magic in them, there are unexpected twists all through the book, which makes 

The characters are a bit quirky as well--the tattooed grandmother has an interesting past, although I wonder what sleeve tattoos really look like on 70 year old arms! Topher, Emma's brother, is also struggling with the death of the mother, but has an unexpected love interest show up in the town. 

Readers who enjoy magical realism like Ingrid Law's Savvy, Littlewood's Bliss, or Shulman's The Grimm Legacy will enjoy accompanying Emma on her journey to find out who she is and what her magical gifts are. I do wish the recipe for peach-lavender muffins had been included!

Monday, February 22, 2016

MMGM-Josh Baxter Levels Up

FINALLY! When I do Interest Inventories with my students, an overwhelming number of students mention VIDEO GAMING as a hobby. Books on the topic? Well, aside from Game Over, Pete Watson, there aren't. This book is brilliant! It's got the requisite dead parent and preteen angst, but it ALSO has a ton of video gaming references. To top it all off, it is also positive, upbeat and helpful. And has romance! Definitely my new favorite of 2016! 

Brown, Gavin. Josh Baxter Levels Up
February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Josh's mother has moved him and his sister yet again for her job, because it's been difficult finding employment after the death of Josh's father. He's not thrilled about his new school, especially after a disastrous first day that includes putting his combination lock on the wrong locker and leaving his clothes in the girls' locker room. Luckily, he is saved by Maya and welcomed into her group of friends. On the down side, though, he's managed to irritate football player Henry Schmittendorf, aka Mittens, and isn't keeping up with his schoolwork. His mother, wise woman that she is, takes away his video games, and his grades improve! He does get limited access when he has to practice for a video game decathlon that his school is hosting for a fundraiser, but he finds-- to his own great surprise-- that if he puts in the effort with his school work that he puts into his gaming, that he is less stressed and his life is happier!

The characters in this were all wonderfully drawn. Josh's escape into video games makes sense given his situation, but it's nice to see him decide that it's not a successful escape. His mother and sister are very supportive, even if he doesn't always take their advice. Even Mittens is realistically portrayed as a fellow student who is more popular and uses his position to try to make Josh's life more difficult. My favorite character is probably Maya, and I loved that she and Josh were friends and video game competitors well before he decides to ask her to the school dance. 

Since I have never played video games, there were many references that I didn't get, but any young aficionado of Mario Cart and other games will love the chapter endings with Josh's "score", and delight in how big a part the games play in Josh's life. 

This book just goes to prove that a book doesn't have to be boring and have an obscure topic or setting to be informative and helpful. Tween readers will love this title, and I hope that we see more books about Josh Baxter!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Role models in beginning readers

I was struck by the similarities and differences between these two books that came across my desk recently. Both are for early elementary students and have a B is for Betsy vibe, both feature supportive families and realistic problems, and both could be enjoyed by both boys and girls. 

When we do "Guys Read Pink" month at my school, I always wonder when exactly boys start wrinkling their noses at books with girls on the covers. Could it be that the books themselves are trying to set up these expectations? While I haven't read the first nine Princess Posey books, nothing in any of them seems to hinge on Posey wearing a sparkly tutu, yet there she is, sporting one.

I have huge objections to the princessification of young girls, having been raised at a time when it was perfectly okay to get a miniature electric iron, ironing board and Bissell sweeper for my 4th birthday. And yes, it then became my job to iron all of my father's handkerchiefs. My brother got trucks. I got a diaper bag for my doll. My daughters had plain jeans, primary colored t shirts, dolls, trucks, swords, art supplies, a kitchen set and a work bench. There were addenda to stories about how Cinderella married the prince but then went back to graduate school to get a degree in accounting. 

I enjoyed Princess Posey. I thought it had a good message about not giving up, about embracing something different, and had great characters with realistic reactions. But I worry that her tutu, no matter how small a part it plays in the story, will cause parents to take the book away from boys, thereby setting up the problems I see in middle school. 

Title IX was 40 odd years ago. Haven't we learned anything in the intervening time? Sigh.

25066557and ,. Lola Levine is NOT Mean
November 3rd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lola LOVES soccer, so she is very distraught when she accidentally tackles a classmate too hard at recess and gets banned from playing. SHe also has to deal with Alyssa, who is not very nice, and starts to make fun of Lola and call her mean. Lola is also very artistic (like her ponytailed father) and a writer (like her mother). She has other adventures in the book, like trying to comb her younger brother's wild hair, and helping with an escaped guinea pig. Eventually, she tells her parents about her issue at school, and they help her figure out a way to make the situation better. 

Strengths: Lola's mother is of Peruvian descent (like the author's), and there is some Spanish language thrown in, which is nice. The characters all feel very real, as do Lola's problems. I'd love to see a middle grade novel with a character like Lola!

Weaknesses: The pictures in this are a bit weak; they don't have the flair of Tuesday Mourning, LeUyen Pham, or Abigail Halpin

What I really think: Sadly, too young for my readers, but a must purchase for elementary libraries. I love that the third book in the series features a debate between a new student and Lola, who doesn't like pink and thinks ballet is silly, but learns that soccer and ballet have a lot in common! 
23153010      27415362

25614495 and  Stephanie Roth. 
Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy Vacation.
February 9th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the Publisher

Posey is worried that staying home for vacation will be boring, but she finds that there are plenty of things to do. She tries to learn to ride her new bike without training wheels, but crashes and loses a tooth! Posey has a sleepover, plays with her friends Nick and Tyler, and eventually learns to ride her bike with help from Grandpa Romero. 

Strengths: I would have enjoyed this series as a child, as would my daughters, both of whom took FOREVER to learn to ride a bike! Posey is an appealing character with realistic fears, but with the help of her supportive family and friends, she is able to confront them. The pictures are fun and full of personality. 

Weaknesses: If Posey didn't have that tutu on, I think that boys would pick up this series as well, and learn a lot from it. And Posey doesn't even wear the tutu in all of the interior pictures. Frustrating.

What I really think: This would be an excellent purchase for an elementary library, but it's clearly too young for middle school. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cartoon Saturday- Desmond Pucket

Tatulli, Mark. Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors
February 16th 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by publisher

Desmond is still a fan of making monsters (Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic), and he is sure that Principal Badonkus will let him participate in the school's Carnival of Horrors, but he soon finds out that the principal is now the superintendent, and the Cloverfield's new principal is Mr. Needles! The carnival is canceled, and Desmond is crushed. He and his friends try to find a compelling reason to have the event, and find that an unused gymnasium would make a great venue, and saving the librarian's job would be a great reason to have a fund raiser. They manage to talk Mr. Needles into having the event, but things don't go smoothly. Desmond's monsters get stolen, and there are other road blocks. Eventually, though, Desmond triumphs by using some great ideas to make his ride appeal to the widest range of people. 

Strengths: I liked this one better than the first; Mr. Needles seems to have calmed down, and it does have a great librarian! Desmond's plan is a really clever one. There seem to be more pictures than I remember the first one having, and lots of Desmond's art work. 
Weaknesses: Like Tashjian's Einstein the Class Hamster Saves the Library, there are several things in the book that are unrealistic. I can't imagine abandoned space in any buildings; maybe the old gym is being used for storage. Also, fundraisers can't save library positions. And using the old gym for a high school day care program for which the district charges enough money that the staff can have free child care-- great idea, but there are so many problems with that.
What I really think: Should probably break down and buy the whole series, since Notebook Novels are impossible to keep on the shelves. 

Teague, David. Henry Cicada's Extraordinary Elktonium Escapade
January 19th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Henry and his father move from Philadelphia to a small Texa town because the father is so overwrought by the (cancer?) death of the mother that he loses his job as a librarian because he spends all of his time trying to find a use for the metal the mother discovered, Elktonium, which is basically useless. Henry goes to school with Elktonium shoes and meets Theotis T. Otis, the school bully, as well as bullying victim Jurgen Mintfarm. He also finds Pim Pom, an abandoned, three legged dog. In trying to find a place for the dog to sleep, he puts the dog in an Elktonium pyramid, and is soon whisked away to Raisin, Texas, where he gets caught up in drama with Lulu the Tire Giant and her niece Tiffany. Lulu is trying to get Tiffany to because a ballet dancer since her parents are up in space. Henry goes back home and finds out that his mother might have known that the Elktonium helped people travel to other dimensions. He decides he must rescue Tiffany, so borrows General Hedgerow's motorcycle with a sidecar and takes off with Jurgen to Raisin. When they find out that Tiffany is heading to a competition in Nowhere, Texas, they are very worried because it is a ghost town, and Tiffany might become a ghost. When Lulu finds out the plan, she kidnaps Pim Pom, but is eventually tricked into going into the pyramid and ends up in jail.

This was one wacky adventure, with plenty of humorous moments and laugh-out-loud silly escapades that younger readers will find amusing. 

For readers who like books with a touch of spurious science, like Carmen's Fizzopolis or Scieszka's Frank Einstein books, this will give them a super goofy, frenetic, space and time dimension bending adventure. It reads a little like Roald Dahl, with the super evil Lulu, who seems to have little motivation for belittling Tiffany, as well as the evil bully Theotis and the incomprehensible guidance conselour Skander, who cites Marlin Perkins in his dealing's with Henry. 

This may also appeal to readers who like ostensibly funny books that hide a heaping serving of sadness, like Gephardt's Death by Toilet Paper or Silberberg's Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. Since Henry and his father find out about the real uses for Elktonium at the end of the book, and they also now have Tiffany on their hands, I suspect there might even be a sequel. 


This is also one of those books where I feel, about two chapters in, that the author secretly hates me and wants me to suffer. Or the author doesn't understand what the target demographic wants to read, which is probably the case, since the author has two adorable dogs and is most likely not a bad person. 

There are some perfectly fine authors to whom I just don't vibrate. Wendy Mass, for example. Since this author also did Saving Lucas Biggs and Connect the Stars, I'm going to put him in this category. Perhaps his picture books are better. I have a hardcover of this, but will probably send it over to a friend who teaches 5th grade. I just don't see my students reading it. Sort of like The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, they'll check it out and bring it back later the same day. Sigh. 

Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?

26543120Wittenstein, Vicki Oransky. Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?
January 1st 2016 by Twenty-First Century Books 
Copy provided by Blue Slip Media

Starting with ancient methods of birth control, this book covers a variety of issues involved with women's attempts to control the number of offspring they have and the social issues that go along with the practices of various eras. The Victorians get a chapter of their own which addresses both the innovations in contraception, the desperate need for it among the poor, and the complicated social structures of the times. Once the book starts to cover the 20th century, when society started to more openly address these issues, things get really interesting. I did not know, for example, about Mary Ware Dennett, and the fact that she considered Margaret Sanger's attempts to make birth control and birth control information widely available detrimental to the movement because she was so outspoken! Sanger is much more widely known, so the fact that Wittenstein covers lesser known historical figures makes this book a great resource. The information about the development and wide-spread adoption of the birth control pill also informed me of people as issues of which I'd never heard. 

The politics of reproduction are addressed as well. There are even two sections entitled "Pro-life Tactics" and "Pro-Choice Tactics" that address the political stances of both groups in admirably calm language. While all sides are given mention and considered, and the tone of the book is very factual and even tempered, it's clear, even from the title, that this is a book about giving women as many options as they can about their own bodies. 

Other topics, such as advances in infertility treatment, surrogacy, sexual violence, and issues with reproductive rights around the world, are covered as well, making this an essential high school resource about reproductive issues that is an essential purpose for high school libraries. I can see this being used for debate topics, studies of social history, and women's studies, especially since the format is also very clear and readable, with graphs, charts and diagrams that support the text. 

I won't put it in my middle school library because, while frank and matter-of-fact, there is some information that some younger students might not know, and my rule of thumb is that I don't want books in my library to be how they find out about these matters. Even though the map in this book indicates that the state of Ohio requires sex ed of some kind, it's certainly not provided at my school, and I don't have time to fight with parents. 

From Blue Slip Media:

Before becoming an author, VICKI ORANKSY WITTENSTEIN prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant district attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney's office. She earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Vicki has written a number of science articles and books for the juvenile market, including Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, which won the 2011 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. Her book For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation was a Junior Literary Guild selection. Vicki and her husband live in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her website at

★"Though slim, this volume packs a wallop."  --Booklist (starred review)

"Well written and impeccably researched, this volume will appeal to budding activists and feminists and to those concerned about human rights." --School Library Journal

A Junior Library Guild Selection

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